Friday, March 31, 2006

KCSM-TV will fight obscenity fine

As expected, KCSM-TV will fight a proposed $15,000 fine by the FCC for its repeated use of the F-word and S-word during a Martin Scorsese documentary on jazz music. And the public station won't have to pay any attorneys fees as it takes on the FCC -- Margaret Tobey of the Morrison & Foerster law firm will take the case pro bono, according to the Examiner. The FCC contends that the station should have aired the documentary later in the evening, when it was less likely that children would be watching. The documentary, “The Blues: Godfathers and Sons,” aired from 8 to 10 p.m. on March 11, 2004.

Gore's SF-based TV network grows

Al Gore's Current TV will become available in 7.5 million additional homes as part of a deal with Comcast, boosting the San Francisco-based network's distribution to 28 million homes. The network, founded last year by Gore and legal services mogul Joel Hyatt of Atherton, is aimed at viewers 18 to 34 and features videos made by viewers who express their opinions. The network is also asking its viewers to create commercials for Sony that it can air.

2 months before fate of KR papers is known

The process of selling the 12 Knight Ridder newspapers McClatchy doesn't want will take longer than anticipated — perhaps as long as two months, according to the LA Times. The problem is that Billy Dean Singleton, head of MediaNews which owns eight dailies in the Bay Area and 40 across the country, has only bid on six of 12 KR papers for sale — San Jose, Contra Costa, Monterey, St. Paul and KR's two Philadelphia papers. Gannett, which was assumed to be interested in at least some of the dailies, didn't submit a bid. Local buyers have expressed an interest for the Contra Costa, Monterey, St. Paul and Philly. A union effort to buy the 12 papers, financed by supermarket magnate Ron Burkle and reportedly the United Arab Emirates, hasn't gone far. Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. sent a letter to McClatchy giving ranges of possible sale prices but said an offer would only come if they could see the books of the papers. So far, the books of the 12 papers were only opened to those who made bids in the first round for Knight Ridder. In addition, analyst John Morton has said that KR and McClatchy are reluctant to show the unions their financial data. [Chron: Feds look into purchase of KR papers]

Thursday, March 30, 2006

East Bay developer eyes CCTimes

George Avalos of the Contra Costa Times reports he's been told by three sources that East Bay housing developer Albert D. Seeno Jr. is interested in making a bid for the CCTimes, one of the Knight Ridder Inc. newspapers that McClatchy Co. bought but now plans to spin off. Avalos said Seeno could not be reached for comment. Seeno's family is a major force in Contra Costa County. His father, the late Albert Seeno Sr., founded A.D. Seeno Construction Co., which has built thousands of homes in the county and dominates the home-building industry in Pittsburg. The younger Seeno, who is in his early 60s, has operated Nevada casinos, built shopping malls and auto malls, and heads dozens of companies. In 2002, Seeno paid $1 million in fines and publicly apologized after his company pleaded guilty in July to violating the federal Endangered Species Act for destroying rare red-legged frogs, according to the CCTimes. In a 2003, East Bay Business Times story, Senno said he decided to start talking to the media because "all those stories don't represent my views." He told reporter Katherine Conrad the public was getting the wrong idea about his companies. "My friends don't understand how people get brainwashed as to what they read."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Feds examine impact of Merc, CCTimes sale

The antitrust division of the Department of Justice is looking into the possible sale of the Mercury News and Contra Costa Times to Dean Singleton's MediaNews Group, according to John McManus (pictured) of the web site gradethenews.org, who says he was personally interviewed today (March 29) by a DOJ attorney. The attorney "expressed interest in whether a purchase of Bay Area Knight Ridder papers by MediaNews might raise the rates businesses pay to advertise," McManus wrote. "The DOJ attorney conducting the interview asked about the impact of a MediaNews buyout on advertisers, rather than on consumer prices or news quality. But he was willing to listen to concerns about concentration of ownership on the news product." [AP: Congressmen seek DOJ probe into KR deal in Minneapolis-St. Paul] [Sacramento Bee: McClatchy gets at least three feelers for KR papers] [NY Sun: Clinton emerges in union group bidding for KR papers] [Reuters: Moody's cuts KR, McClatchy debt rating to one notch above junk]

Tony Ridder won't bid for Mercury News

It wasn't exactly news for those following the sale of Knight Ridder, but the Mercury News is reporting tonight on its web site that company CEO and chairman Tony Ridder (pictured) won't be bidding for the Merc or other Northern California KR papers being sold by McClatchy Co. As we said, this isn't exactly news -- on March 12, the AP said KR spokesman Polk Laffoon dismissed speculation that Ridder would bid for his old papers. And yesterday, the LA Times, in a story headlined "Silicon Valley Yawns at 'Merc' Fate," reiterated the fact that Ridder wouldn't bid. But the Merc story tonight says that Ridder, who was publisher of the Merc from 1977 to 1986, visited his old paper today (March 29) to tell employees in person that he wouldn't be bidding. He said he made an effort to raise money for a bid when he heard that McClatchy, after it agreed to buy Knight Ridder, would be selling 12 of the chain's 32 papers. But lawyers convinced him to drop his effort because, as chairman of KR, he would still have to make a number of important decisions before the sale closes. If Ridder tried to buy part of the company he would have to be shut out of that process. "I decided on the very, very strong advice to me to drop it. So I have."

Panel to discuss life after ink

The future of newspapers -- and whether the news will be written in ink or HTML code -- will be the topic of a Commonwealth Club discussion Thursday (March 30) in San Jose. The panel will include, from left, former Knight Ridder news VP Jerry Ceppos, Center for Citizen Media director Dan Gillmor, Salon editor-in-chief Joan Walsh, and moderator Jim Bettinger, director of the Knight Fellowship Program at Stanford University. Not pictured from the panel is Peter P. Appert, a Goldman Sachs analyst. One question they'll all address is the impact of McClatchy's purchase of Knight Ridder. See the Commonwealth Club web site for details.

If Singleton wins, 3 local papers may close

If MediaNews chief executive Dean Singleton succeeds in buying Knight Ridder Inc.'s newspapers in the Bay Area, he will end up with two competing newspapers in each of the following communities:
  • San Mateo — MediaNews owns the San Mateo County Times. Knight Ridder owns the San Mateo Daily News.

  • Pleasanton — MediaNews owns the Tri-Valley Herald. Knight Ridder owns the Valley Times.

  • Alameda — MediaNews owns the Alameda Times-Star. KR owns the Alameda Journal.
While neither Knight Ridder nor MediaNews have publicly discussed what's next for these papers, Sammy Papert III, principal executive of the newspaper consulting firm Belden Associates, was quoted in the March 14 Contra Costa Times as saying that he doubted both Pleasanton papers would remain in business if Singleton acquires KR's Bay Area papers.

If MediaNews were to acquire Knight Ridder's Bay Area papers, its daily circulation in the region would go from 297,952 to 824,560 per day, dwarfing the Chronicle, which reports a daily circulation these days of 400,906.

Meanwhile, the AP reports that two Congressmen from Minnesota have asked the Justice Department to review McClatchy's takeover of KR, citing concerns about media consoliation and the possibility that Minneapolis-St. Paul area might cease to be a two-newspaper community.

3 Vietnamese papers fill Viet Merc's void

The Mercury News reports today that three Vietnamese-language newspapers and a news web site have jumped into the void created when the Merc pulled the plug on its weekly Viet Mercury publication. Merc writer K. Oanh Ha says that the situation underscores "the vibrancy of ethnic media even as mainstream newspapers face uncertain futures." Ha's story points out that the Bay Area has about a dozen Vietnamese publications, six Chinese dailies are available locally, and Indian-Americans can choose from at least six monthly and weekly publications. "If all the mainstream media went on strike, I wouldn't miss a beat,'' said Ling-chi Wang, a prolific reader of Chinese publications who heads Asian-American studies at the University of California-Berkeley. "What I read in Chinese papers is so much richer than mainstream content ... There's many more pages of news about Asia.''

Daily News names new editor

The Knight Ridder-owned Daily News Group -- which includes free dailies in Palo Alto, Los Gatos, San Mateo, Burlingame, San Mateo and Berkeley -- announced today that it has a new executive editor. As the PPC reported yesterday, former executive editor Diana Diamond left the paper on Monday. She said she was fired but publisher Shareef Dajani said she and the company decided to go their own ways.

The following is today's page one story announcing the new editor. Since the Daily News doesn't put its copy online, the story is pasted below.

Headline: Ryan takes editing helm at Daily News Group

Lucinda Ryan, a longtime Bay Area journalist, has been named executive editor of the Daily News Group.

Having started her journalism career at the Alameda Journal in 1987, Ryan went on to work as an education beat reporter for The Montclarion. Ryan later joined the Oakland Tribune as a general assignment reporter, eventually becoming city editor of the San Leandro Times. She went on to join the Daily Review in Hayward as city editor and worked there until returning to the Alameda Journal as editor about five years ago. Ryan has won two East Bay Press Club awards for editorials and one award from the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

"I know how important local newspapers are and, as a longtime fan of the Peninsula and its towns, I know that residents and business owners are involved with their communities," Ryan said. "Our newest publication, the East Bay Daily News, is also providing readers in Berkeley, Oakland and neighboring cities with stories that affect them. News specific to Rockridge, Piedmont, Montclair and other East Bay communities is different — often impossible — to find in that region's metropolitan dailies. The need for local news has not diminished, but the newspapers that carry it have."

Shareef Dajani, publisher of the Daily News Group, said that Ryan's background in community news would be valuable to the future of the newspaper chain. "One of the staples of the Daily News is local reporting, and moving forward, we are looking to grow upon that," Dajani said.

Ryan replaces former Executive Editor Diana Diamond, who served the Daily News for more than a year. Diamond had a passion for Palo Alto and the Daily News Group of papers and her presence in the newsroom will be missed. — Staff Report.

McClatchy gets offers for 12 KR papers

Kicking off an auction that could last several months, McClatchy Co. says it has received offers for the 12 newspapers it doesn't want to keep after acquiring Knight Ridder. MediaNews (the company headed by Dean Singleton that owns the Oakland Tribune, Marin Independent Journal and San Mateo County Times among other Bay Area papers) would not say if made a bid for the Knight Ridder papers, according to the AP. A company spokesman would only say that MediaNews was talking with investment bankers throughout the day and that the situation was "very fluid." KR papers up for grabs locally include the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Palo Alto Daily News Group and Monterey Herald. The Newspaper Guild, backed by supermarket magnate Ron Burkle (who frequently uses UAE funds to make acquisitions) also bid, along with housing developer Toll Brothers, which wants KR's Philadelphia newspapers. Gannett would not say if it bid for any of the papers.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Diana Diamond out at Daily News

Diana Diamond is no longer executive editor of the Palo Alto Daily News group of free dailies. Diamond told the rival Palo Alto Weekly that she was fired Monday (March 27) without warning. The Weekly quotes Daily News Publisher Shareef Dajani as saying her departure was "basically just a parting of the ways. We both agreed to go our own way."

The Weekly quotes Diamond as saying that the only hint she had was a review last week in which Dajani discussed her objections to recent decisions eliminating the Monday issue of the San Mateo Daily News and changing deadlines to conform with other Knight Ridder papers. Prior to that, "there was not one note, one e-mail or phone message criticizing my work," she said. "I was shocked."

Diamond was passionate about her job as editor. "She felt her six-day work weeks had resulted in significant improvements in stories and headlines," Weekly editor Jay Thorwaldson wrote. "Prior to last November's election, Diamond spent 79 hours conducting interviews with political candidates and wrote endorsement editorials in 49 different community races, she recalled."

Replacing Diamond will be Lucinda Ryan, editor of the weekly Alameda Journal, also a Knight Ridder paper. Dajani was general manager of the Alameda weekly before he became publisher of the Daily News Group in January.

Diamond's departure came a day before bids were being accepted for Knight Ridder's Bay Area newspapers, including the Daily News Group.

Diamond has been a Daily News columnist since 2000, writing about local politics and community issues. She received awards from the PPC in 2002 and 2005. She became executive editor in March 2005. Previously Diamond was president of a public relations company, an editorial writer for the San Jose Mercury News, editor of a magazine for the legal profession and managing editor of a chain of 49 weekly newspapers in suburban Chicago.

Silicon Valley yawns at Merc's fate

Silicon Valley has no shortage of billionaires, but none of them are interested in buying the San Jose Mercury News, the LA Times reports today. Today (March 28) is the deadline for bids for the 240,000-circulation newspaper. "In other cities where Knight Ridder papers are on the auction block, business leaders and politicians are scrambling to put together bids and return the publications to local ownership. But there appears to be no similar rush to keep 'the Merc' in local hands," LA Times reporter Joseph Menn writes. Former Merc columnist Dan Gillmor suggested on his blog that Yahoo buy the paper, but he got little response. Woodside billionaire Larry Ellison could write a check for the paper, but isn't interested, and neither are the other 18 billionaires in the Merc's circulation area, Menn says. Knight Ridder chief executive Tony Ridder, who also lives in Woodside, has said he's not going to bid. Not many local power brokers even read the "Newspaper of Silicon Valley" any more, said Jamis MacNiven, proprietor of Buck's of Woodside, a restaurant where VCs make deals. "Nobody's interested in buying the paper that I know of," MacNiven told Menn. "It seems like yesterday's news." [Chron: Singleton likely to acquire KR papers in Bay Area] [LA Times: Syrian immigrant with a rags to riches story wants Monterey Herald] [Minneapolis Star Tribune: Tony Ridder's son Par, now publisher of KR's St. Paul paper, hopes to stay in newspaper business] [UPDATE 1:15 p.m. E&P: Guild says it submitted "competitive, aggressive" bid]

Change at the top for KCBS 740

CBS Radio is moving its Seattle programming director, Mike Preston, to San Francisco where he will have the newly created title of VP/Programming for News (KCBS-AM 740) and Classic Hits (KFRC-FM 99.7). Ed Cavagnaro will continue as director of news and programming for KCBS, according to RadioandRecords.com. Additionally, Ken Kohl, who launched CBS Radio's Free FM (KIFR 106.9), will now become vice president of news and talk programming for CBS Radio's six-station Bay Area cluster. Kohl previously was Northern California director of news and talk programming for Clear Channel (overseeing KNEW 910, KQKE "The Quake" 960, KFBK 1530 Sacramento and KSTE 650 Sacramento) is jumping to CBS. Bay Area Radio Digest notes that Preston had previously worked as "Mark Preston" at KDON Salinas, KOKQ Monterey and KSFM Sacramento. He also was program director at KWSS in San Jose in 1986.

Columnist to run for mayor of Berkeley

Zelda Bronstein, who writes the "Public Eye" column on local issues for the Berkeley Daily Planet, is stepping down in order to run for mayor of Berkeley, according to a column by Becky O'Malley, part-owner of the twice-a-week paper. "In her place, we’re asking other people who are involved in local politics in the East Bay to try their hand at writing Public Eye columns," O'Malley writes. "Anyone who is both a good writer and a participant in the action is welcome to try out for this slot." Previously Bronstein was chair of Berkeley's Planning Commission. Owner O'Malley used to sit on the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Fired radio host Krueger settles with KNBR

Sports talk host Larry Krueger (pictured), who was fired by KNBR 680 after he criticized the Giants for having "too many brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly," has settled his lawsuit against the station, according to the Chronicle. Krueger declined to provide details about the settlement, citing a confidentiality clause. But the AP quoted Krueger as saying, "I'm more than pleased with the way it was settled." Krueger, program producer Tony Rhein and program director Bob Agnew were all fired. Krueger and Rhein, in separate lawsuits, claimed that KNBR fired them to appease the Giants, who own 1.5% of the team. Krueger is now doing sports commentary on KGO-AM 810 weekdays and KHTK in Sacramento on the weekends.

Freelance TV photographer shot dead

John Johnson, 45, who has worked as a freelance photographer for KTVU Channel 2 and other stations, was killed by a man who went on a random shooting rampage in Elk Grove, according to the Sacramento Bee. Four others were injured. Arrested was Aaron Norman Dunn, 28, who was hospitalized after he was shot by sheriff's deputies who confronted him during the rampage Saturday. In addition to shooting news video, Johnson was a cameraman for Maloof Sports & Entertainment, owner of the Sacramento Kings. His wife Karen said they were "just going on a Saturday evening date" when the shooting occurred. In addition to his wife, Johnson leaves behind three children.

Maybe editors should run newspapers?

Dan Neuharth (left) -- a Bay Area psychotherapist, writer and the son of USA Today founder Al Neuharth -- suggests in a commentary in Tuesday's USA Today that the problem with newspaper companies is that too few of them are headed by journalists. By Neuharth's count, 11 of the 13 CEOs of major publicly traded newspaper companies have little or no experience in the newsroom. John S. Knight (right), Knight Ridder's first CEO, insisted that editors, not business people, run his newspapers. According to Neuharth, Knight also said these words to Wall Street analysts the day Knight Ridder went public in 1969: "Ladies and gentlemen, I do not intend to become your prisoner." Knight died in 1981 -- and 25 years later, his company was forced to put itself on the block by Wall Street investors. [Merc: Small furor erupts over who can bid for 12 KR papers]

Publisher delivers new newspaper

Jeramy Gordon (pictured), former managing editor of the Palo Alto Daily News, has been bit by the entrepreneurial bug and has started his own daily newspaper in Santa Barbara. We had an item last week about Gordon's new newspaper, but we used an old photo -- could have been his high school picture. Anyway, he sent us this photo of himself delivering newspapers at 5:30 in the morning. "If it looks like I just rolled out of bed, it's because I did," Gordon tells us in an email. His five-day-a-week paper, the Santa Barbara Daily Sound, will be modeled after the Palo Alto Daily News, which also started with the publishers delivering the paper by hand.

Marin County to open payroll records

In a victory for open government, the Marin County Supervisors have dropped a policy that would have prohibited the public from seeing the salaries of most county employees. The supervisors' change of heart followed a number of articles and editorials in the Marin Independent Journal. The newspaper argued that the ban violated the state Public Records Act. Jack Govi, assistant county counsel, said he believed the county would be within the law by withholding the salaries, but there were other factors to consider, such as the public's right to know. "The greater public good is total and complete openness," said Supervisor Charles McGlashan, adding that county employees should be notified that they are being "outed." The board's action takes effect in 60 days from last Tuesday (March 21) to give county employees notice. Keri Brenner is the Marin IJ reporter who reported the controversy. She was honored March 11 by the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter, for her work last year exposing Marin County's ballooning pension program. Meanwhile, a suit the Contra Costa Times filed against Oakland, which refused to release the salaries of city employees who make over $100,000 a year, is pending before the California Supreme Court. Both a trial and appelate court ruled in favor of disclosure in that case.

Internet law may protect racist Craigslist ads

Racially discriminatory apartment ads on craigslist -- which say things such as "No Minorities" or "African Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me so that won't work out" -- may be perfectly legal under the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects Internet forums that post ads and opinions submitted by their users. The San Francisco-based internet site founded by Craig Newmark (pictured) is being used by housing advocates who contend such ads violate the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which applies to newspaper ads. But reporter Mike Hughlett of the Chicago Tribune reported Sunday that experts believe the Communications Decency Act, or CDA, may trump fair housing laws. Hughlett points out that a federal judge in California cited the CDA in a 2004 decision dismissing a suit by two fair housing groups against Roommates.com, a roommate search service. The case, which is on appeal, is similar to the one against Craigslist.

CCTimes IT manager dies during 10K race

George Vanner, information technology manager at the Contra Costa Times and an avid runner, collapsed and died while participating in the Mercury News 10K race on Sunday, the Merc reported this morning. Vanner, who has been with the Times for two decades, was a father of two. He completed the 6.2 mile race the previous year and also enjoyed step aerobics. "I used to make fun of him because I'm the worst couch potato and eat junk food. He was very fit -- running, aerobics, the conventional taking care of yourself,'' said Mona Hatfield, IT director at the Times.

10 questions for McClatchy's chief executive

Ken Doctor (pictured), former KR Digital vice president, has 10 questions for McClatchy chief executive Gary Pruitt now that he has agreed to purchase Knight Ridder. Among them: "Were you surprised that Tony Ridder was surprised that you were going to re-sell 12 of his papers, including his hometown Merc?" and "Was it coincidence that 8 of the 12 KR properties you immediately put on the sales block were Newspaper Guild operations, making your chances of achieving significant cost savings more difficult?"

Burkle could be removed from divorce bill

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, makes the following point in a commentary: A bill moving through the California legislature that would cut off public access to financial records in divorce cases could easily be tweaked to remove the appearance of a political payoff to campaign funder Ron Burkle. So why don't the bill's backers make the change? Burkle, who is fighting to keep financial records in his divorce secret, is the billionaire who is helping the Newspaper Guild in its bid for the Mercury News, Contra Costa Times and 10 other Knight Ridder newspapers up for sale.

Union isn't alone in not getting data

The Newspaper Guild union, which complained Friday that it hasn't received the information it needs to bid on the 12 Knight Ridder newspapers for sale, isn't alone. McClatchy Co., which is spinning off the dozen papers as part of its acquisition of Knight Ridder, said in a statement (as reported in the New York Times) that it had not provided such information to any of the "dozens of parties" who have contacted McClatchy. McClatchy said that the only potential buyers to receive information so far were those that had signed nondisclosure forms leading up to the bidding for all of Knight Ridder, and that McClatchy had given them nothing further. This could complicate the process for some, the Times speculated. It also gives an advantage to newspaper companies like Dean Singleton's MediaNews and Gannett, because they were the only ones big enough to pursue Knight Ridder when it was intact. Bids for the 12 newspapers are due at 5 p.m. tomorrow (March 27). Among the papers up for grabs tomorrow are the Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Palo Alto Daily News and Monterey Herald.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Details of KR's sale to McClatchy revealed

Behind-the-scenes details of McClatchy chief executive Gary Pruitt's successful bid for Knight Ridder were revealed today in a front page story in the McClatchy-owned Sacramento Bee.

Reporter Dale Kasler says that after the bids were opened on March 9, KR's investment banker asked McClatchy to sweeten its initial bid. The final price of $67.25 a share, or $4.5 billion plus the assumption of $2 billion in debt, took hours of haggling to reach. On Friday, March 10, McClatchy execs celebrated as they flew to New York on the company's Falcon 200EX jet, listening to Bruce Springsteen, blues legend Leadbelly and others from Pruitt's music collection.

The deal was finalized Saturday, March 11, in a law office in a W. 57th St. skyscraper known as Black Rock, better known as the headquarters of CBS. McClatchy's acquisition of KR was announced to the public on Monday, March 13.

Today's story didn't shed much more light on why McClatchy is selling the San Jose Mercury News than what has already been reported. Pruitt is quoted as saying he thought he'd keep the Merc until an analysis showed the paper had slim profit margins and slow population growth. As for Tony Ridder's claim that he was shocked to hear McClatchy was going to sell the Merc, Pruitt said, "We did our best to be forthright with Knight Ridder about divestitures."

Web site celebrates local TV's past

This ad for KTVU's "Action News 10 PM" from 1976 is one of many images on a web site celebrating the history of Bay Area TV. The site, www.uhfnocturne.com, "exists to preserve what memories we still have of watching local TV in northern California from its beginnings to the late 1980s." The site says that not much remains from the early days of Bay Area TV. "TV stations tended to erase and reuse expensive broadcast-quality videotape in the earlier years. For many of these shows, all we've got left are fading, fragmented memories." It wasn't readily apparent who owns the site (it's registered to an Oklahoma City company and email on the site goes to a person named "Lon"), but site has recollections about shows from the past including "Dialing for Dollars," "Creature Features" and "Dr. Jean Scott." The site also has ads promoting local TV news shows and talent. [PPC Feb. 20: KPIX puts its historic film clips online]

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Local broadcasters to remember Murrow

Legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow (pictured in his "See It Now Studio") will be the topic of a special presentation Thursday (March 30) in Berkeley presented by the Bay Area Broadcast Legends group, the Northern California Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) and the National Television Academy. Richard W. Jencks, former president of the CBS Broadcast Group, will be the night's speaker. Video and audio of Murrow will also be shown. The idea for the event was inspired by the George Clooney film "Good Night and Good Luck," which focused on Murrow's investigation of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Visit the RTNDA web site for details. (Click on the photo for a larger version.)

Homebuilder Toll to bid for KR's Philly papers

While there apparently is no local bidder interested in the Northern California Knight Ridder papers up for sale, the Associated Press reports that luxury homebuilder Bruce Toll of Toll Brothers wants to buy The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News. Brian Tierney, a Philadelphia advertising and marketing specialist, told the AP that he and Toll have enlisted prominent city business owners to join in a bid. Toll also owns car dealerships and other businesses. Tierney said he had called the offices of Dean Singleton of MediaNews Group Inc. in Denver, Ronald Burkle of Los Angeles-based Yucaipa Cos., and other likely bidders for the papers, hoping to form a partnership.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A day without newspapers is like ...

From Jerry Coleman, the long time announcer for the San Diego Padres -- "A day without newspapers is like walking around without your pants on." (Thanks to Micki Carter for that gem.)

Judge rejects Bonds' initial move in lawsuit

A judge today (March 24) rejected Barry Bonds' attempt to stop the authors and publishers from making money on a book claiming the Giants outfielder used steroids. Bonds is not suing for libel, but instead contends that the authors of "Game of Shadows," Chron reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, violated California's business and professions code by using grand jury transcripts that were supposed to be secret. While San Francisco Superior Court Judge James Warren did not throw out the suit, he said it had little chance of success, according to an Associated Press report. It is widely believed that Bonds is avoiding a libel suit because that would subject him to cross-examination under oath by the defendants. [Chron: Bonds loses round one, but federal judge is asked to begin contempt proceedings over grand jury transcripts]

Do employee ownership plans work?

The Washington Post has researched the history of employee ownership programs. One program at a Peoria, Ill., newspaper made employees rich. But programs at United Airlines and Weirton Steel Corp. left workers worse off. But industry analyst John Morton says a plan by the Newspaper Guild to buy 12 Knight Ridder papers, including those in Northern California, is better organized than most.

Union wants more info from McClatchy

Newspaper Guild President Linda Foley (pictured) complained today that the union's private equity partner, Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Companies, hasn't been provided sufficient information to make a bid for 12 Knight Ridder papers being sold by McClatchy. But newspaper industry analyst John Morton says he suspects McClatchy fears that "the union is just fishing for information ... They're probably afraid they'll arm the Guild with negotiating leverage they wouldn't otherwise have." Eight of the 12 Knight Ridder papers being sold by McClatchy are unionized. In the Bay Area, the Mercury News and Monterey Herald are unionized while the Contra Costa Times and Palo Alto Daily News group are not. [Merc: Guild needs more information to 'perfect' its bid] [UPI: Guild urges openness in newspaper bidding] [Reuters: Union says it has been denied access to McClatchy data] [Guild's press release]

2 papers follow lead of 'SaveTheMerc.com'

Union leaders and workers at the Monterey Herald have set up a web site called "SaveTheHerald.com", which looks and feels a lot like the "SaveTheMerc.com" web site that went online last week. Both papers are in the same boat -- McClatchy Co. bought Knight Ridder but decided not to keep 12 of the chain's 32 papers including those in Northern California. However, no such sites have popped up for the KR-owned Contra Costa Times or Palo Alto Daily News group. Both are non-union, however, while the Merc and Herald are unionized. The union at the KR-owned St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press has also launched a rescue site, SaveThePioneerPress.com. Unlike the sites at the two California papers, the Pioneer Press site asks readers to contact McClatchy chief executive Gary Pruitt. McClatchy has set Tuesday as the deadline for bids for the 12 papers. [Pioneer Press workers take case to the web]

Columnist: UAE eyes Knight Ridder papers

When Beverly Hills billionaire Ron Burkle bids for a company, some of his money typically comes from the Dubai Investment Group, owned by the government of the United Arab Emirates, according to the New York Daily News. Such was the case last year when he unsuccessfully bid for Albertson's and the commodities broker, Refco Inc., the paper said.

San Francisco Examiner columnist P.J. Corkery says that Dubai is backing Burkle's bid for 12 Knight Ridder papers including the San Jose Mercury News and Contra Costa Times.

Burkle, through his Yucaipa Cos., is making a white-knight offer on behalf of Newspaper Guild union. The union says Burkle has promised to let employees become part owners of the papers if Yucaipa is the winning bidder.

If Burkle is successful -- and the bids are due Tuesday -- the parent company of these newspapers will have an unusual if not unprecedented cast of characters on its board of directors including Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. It would likely be the first time in history that a former U.S. president sat on the board of a company that owns newspapers.

Corkery, in his March 8 column, reports that Clinton is Yucaipa's chief marketing guy. Burkle pays him $10 million a year, Corkery's says, for services which are mostly to drum up money in Dubai. Corkery reports that Clinton flies so often to Dubai on Burkle's Boeing 757 that he calls it "Air Ron."

Burkle's relationship with the Rev. Jackson goes back to the 1990s. The Chicago Tribune, in an April 8, 2001 story, reported that Burkle gave Karin Stanford a job and helped her with a home mortgage after she gave birth to the married civil rights leader's child in 1999. The Tribune also alleged that Burkle helped Jackson's two adult sons obtain an Anheuser-Busch distributorship in Chicago. Shortly after the deal, Jesse Jackson dropped his 15-year boycott against the company's beers.

The Guild has said that it does not believe Yucapia will play any role in the newsroom. Corkery's sources say that the UAE is mostly interested in the land and other financial assets of the companies it has been trying to acquire.

[Union at Monterey Herald to launch 'SaveTheHerald.com'] [AP: Burkle's firm to bid for 12 KR papers] [Merc; Gannett back in the picture] [Wash. Post: Burkle's firm confirms it will bid] UPDATE ON MARCH 29: NY Sun: Clinton emerges in union group bidding for KR papers

Bonds to discuss steroids on ESPN show

Those who have covered the Giants know that Barry Bonds usually refuses to talk to reporters. But Bonds, who is being paid an undisclosed amount by ESPN to do a reality show, is going to respond on that program to allegations he used steroids, producer Mike Tollin told Daily Variety. The report in Variety came out Thursday (March 23), same day that Bonds' lawyer announced that he would sue the two Chronicle reporters, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who wrote the book "Game of Shadows" that detailed Bonds' alleged steroid use. Also named as defendants are the Chronicle, Sports Illustrated (which published excerpts of the book) and the book's publisher, Gotham Books. The suit isn't a libel action -- that would allow the defendants to question Bonds under oath -- but instead a claim that the plaintiffs violated California's unfair business practices law by using secret grand jury transcripts in the book. The suit asks a court to seize profits from the book and hold contempt hearings to determine how the reporters obtained transcripts of grand jury proceedings in the Balco steroids lab case. As for the TV show, Bonds is expected to offer reasons why the steroid allegations are untrue. For instance, Bonds will deny that he took steroids because he was jealous of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa during their home-run race in 1989. "Anyone who knows me knows I'm not jealous of anybody," Bonds says on the show, according to Variety. "I'm proud of what Mark McGwire did; I'm proud of what Sammy did. They lifted the game."

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Former Palo Alto editor starts new daily

Jeramy Gordon, former managing editor of the Palo Alto Daily News group, today launched a free daily newspaper in Santa Barbara. Gordon, 23, is the sole owner of the Santa Barbara Daily Sound, which is starting out with a circulation of 3,000 per day, Monday-Friday. Today's issue was hand-delivered by the paper’s staff and volunteers, including Gordon. The paper contains a combination of local news and a mix of state, national and international news.

“The idea of a free newspaper is so under-explored these days,” said Gordon, a graduate of Menlo College. “Why pay to read the news when you can get it for free?” The free newspaper will be supported 100 percent by advertisers and will offer cheap enough ad rates that even small, independent businesses can get their message out to reader.

Gordon said he got the idea to start a free paper from his former bosses and mentors Dave Price and Jim Pavelich. Price and Pavelich founded the Daily News Group, a chain of six free dailies in the Bay Area, which were sold to Knight Ridder in 2005. Gordon worked at the Daily News for four years, his last year as managing editor.

“Free dailies are the wave of the future,” Gordon said. “As more and more people get tired of buying those big awkward broadsheet newspapers, they’ll see just how valuable our product is.” Gordon can be contacted at (805) 564-6001. [Competitor in Santa Barbara covers arrival of new rival (subscription required)]

Bonds to sue over steroids book

Barry Bonds' lawyer told the Associated Press today (March 23) that he plans to file a lawsuit over the book "Game of Shadows," which alleges the Giants slugger used steroids. Attorney Michael Rains sent a letter to an agent for the authors of “Game of Shadows,” alerting them of his plans to sue Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, publisher Gotham Books, the Chronicle and Sports Illustrated, which published excerpts earlier this month. Rains will ask a judge Friday (March 24) to issue a temporary restraining order forfeiting all profits from publication and distribution, according to the letter. Rains will ask a federal judge to initiate contempt proceedings “for the use of illegally obtained” grand jury transcripts the authors used in writing the book. During those proceedings, the reporters might be forced to reveal who gave them the transcripts. [Chron gets a phone message from lawyer, warning of suit]

Long corrections for 2 KR stories

Two stories about the Knight Ridder saga in the past week have resulted in lengthy corrections. This morning the New York Times ran this correction to reporter Damon Darlin's story on Monday about the troubles at the Mercury News:
    An article in Business Day on Monday about plans by the McClatchy Company to sell The San Jose Mercury News and 11 other newspapers that it is acquiring as part of its purchase of Knight Ridder misstated the average operating profit margin at the papers McClatchy is keeping. It is 30.3 percent, McClatchy said, not 12 percent. The article also misstated the number of papers among those being sold whose workers are represented by unions. It is 9, not all 12.

    The article also misstated the role of Susan Goldberg in newsroom cuts at The Mercury News and her title at the time. She did not close the paper's foreign-language weeklies; that decision was made by the publisher. She was managing editor when the paper stopped printing its Sunday magazine and a separate book section; she has since become executive editor.

    The article referred incorrectly to the revival of employment in Silicon Valley. The region has regained about 10,000 of the 178,000 jobs it lost since the dot-com collapse; it has not recovered them all.

Remember that Chronicle story that said a couple of KR vice presidents were going to pull down as much as $30 million a piece on stock options following the sale of the newspaper chain? That story was loaded with errors too. Here's the correction:
    An article in Tuesday's Business section misstated the amounts officers of Knight-Ridder Inc. stand to collect from the sale of the corporation to McClatchy Co. On completion of the sale at the agreed price of $67.25 per share, Chairman and CEO Tony Ridder will receive approximately $14.2 million from sale of stock and $6.5 million from exercise of options, for a total of approximately $20.6 million. That amount would represent proceeds, not profits. Similarly, Senior Vice President Mary Jean Connors would receive approximately $7.6 million from sale of shares and exercise of options; Chief Financial Officer Steven Rossi would get $5.1 million; Finance Vice President Gary Effren would get $2.6 million; and General Counsel Gordon Yamate would get $1.8 million.

Hearing set on Burkle bill to seal records

Next Tuesday will be a big day for billionaire Ron Burkle. That's the day he is expected to submit a bid for several Knight Ridder newspapers including the Mercury News and Contra Costa Times as part of a union buyout of the papers. Also Tuesday, a bill (SB 1015) that will keep parts of his divorce records secret is scheduled to be heard by the state Assembly Judiciary Committee, according to a "Legislative Bulletin" from the California Newspaper Publishers Association, or CNPA. The bill's sponsor, State Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Los Angeles, temporarily put the bill on hold on Tuesday because he didn't think he had the votes for passage due to scrutiny from newspapers including the LA Times, the Torrance Daily Breeze, Associated Press, Scripps Howard News Service, Vacaville Reporter and Auburn Journal, according to CNPA. Now the CNPA says the bill is alive again and Tuesday's hearing should be an important one.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sam Chu Lin had guts, determination, talent

Christopher Chow of Asian Week has written an indepth piece on broadcast pioneer Sam Chu Lin of Sunnyvale, who died March 22. The former reporter for CBS News, KRON-TV and many other stations is described by Chow as a "one-man Asian American news wire service" who was always curious and proud of his heritage. The article details how Chu Lin succeeded in an industry that previously did not allow Asians on the air.

Burkle's battle to seal records ignored

This morning, two major articles (in the LA Times and Mercury News) came out scrutinizing Billy Dean Singleton, whose Media News company is expected to bid for Knight Ridder's newspapers in the Bay Area. However, with the deadline to submit bids for the paper six days away, little attention has been paid to Ron Burkle (pictured), the billionaire supermarket magnate who is financing a union bid to buy the papers.

The only major story on Burkle was by the Chronicle last week, a generally positive piece by Carolyn Said that carried the headline "Newspapers may have an angel." No mention was made of Burkle's attempt to seal records in California divorce cases. He spent more than $100,000 in legal fees to fight the release of records in his own divorce and then he backed a bill (SB 1015) in the California Legislature that would seal similar records statewide, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Late Tuesday, the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, withdrew the legislation.

This morning, the Merc had a story about how interest among its employees is growing in a union buyout of the paper, and it contains one sentence about Burkle's attempts to seal public records: "In addition, Burkle has had a contentious relationship with the media, particularly in recent years over his attempts to keep his divorce records secret." No other information about his attempts to seal records was given. The article, by Chris O'Brien, did say that Burkle refused to be interviewed for the article, which might give readers an idea of what Burkle thinks about news gathering.

However, a web site for lawyers, law.com, has a story this morning about the Burkle bill. Terry Francke, general counsel of the open-records advocacy group Californians Aware, has also written a stinging letter that says, "SB 1015 in its February 16 amended version is needless because, after more than a century and a half of experience, no one but Mr. Ron Burkle has called for the secrecy proposed by this bill." As the Press Club reported March 15, the California Newspaper Publishers Association issued a "Legislative Alert" to its member newspapers, asking them to write editorials opposing the Burkle bill.

The San Diego Union Tribune story also says: "Last year, [Burkle] had his employees buy stacks of copies of the Los Angeles Business Journal to keep people from reading an article about his divorce in the newspaper. His spokesman said he was trying to protect his child."

The Newspaper Guild, in a March 17 FAQ about its bid for the KR papers, doesn't mention Burkle's attempt to seal divorce records. But the FAQ gives an answer to whether Burkle would attempt to influence news coverage by his newspapers: "[Chris] Mackin, the Guild’s consultant, replied that he has seen no evidence of Burkle’s interest in a playing a political role with newspapers. All discussions that have taken place with Burkle and Yucaipa have focused on newspapers as an investment opportunity. Yucaipa’s track record to date also would suggest its respect for allowing management -- in this case publishers and editors -- to do their jobs without interference."

In a sense, most of the dailies in the Bay Area have a conflict of interest in reporting about Burkle. The Knight Ridder papers (Contra Costa Times, Merc, Palo Alto Daily News Group, Monterey Herald) may soon be owned by him. The ANG newspapers (Oakland Tribune, Marin Independent Journal, San Mateo County Times and others) are owned by Singleton, who is also bidding for the KR papers. And the Chronicle will have to compete with whomever wins the KR papers.

One paper without a conflict is the Bay Guardian, which has in today's issue a six-sentence item about Burkle's attempt to seal his divorce records, and the incident in which Burkle's employees bought up copies of the LA Business Journal, but doesn't mention SB 1015.

Singleton sees his strategy as tough love

What is it like when Billy Dean Singleton (pictured) buys a newspaper? "Your job is on the line, and you had to make an instant impression that you were worth keeping," said Debbie Arrington, a feature writer who was at the Long Beach Press-Telegram when Singleton bought it from Knight Ridder in 1997. "The older copy editors who went through the process, they all felt like they were being sent to the glue factory." Singleton, who owns several Bay Area newspapers including the Oakland Tribune and Marin Independent Journal, is believed to be the front runner to buy Knight Ridder's Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Palo Alto Daily News Group and Monterey Herald. But, as LA Times reporter Joseph Menn reports in today's edition, Singleton and his top editors say he is simply practicing tough love in an industry badly in need of a dose of reality. In an era when newspapers are losing readers and advertisers to the Internet, Singleton has taken big risks by buying papers no one else wanted, then using drastic measures to make them profitable. (Photo of Singleton in his Denver office by Ellen Jaskol for the LA Times) [Bids due Tuesday (March 28) for 12 KR papers, including Merc, CCTimes]

Burkle taps ex-KR publisher as adviser

Billionaire supermarket magnate Ron Burkle has hired the former publisher of Knight Ridder's Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, Robert Hall, to be his adviser as he attempts to buy several KR newspapers, including those in the Bay Area. McClatchy Co. agreed to buy KR last week, but then announced it would spin off 12 of the chain's 32 dailies including the San Jose Mercury News, Monterey Herald, Contra Costa Times and Palo Alto Daily News group. Burkle's investment banking arm, Yucaipa Cos., is financing an effort by the newspaper Guild to buy the papers and then allow some degree of employee ownership. As the Philadelphia Inquirer pointed out in today's edition, "Hall's move to help Yucaipa puts him on the same side as union leaders who confronted his former management team over the bargaining table during his tenure as the Knight Ridder-appointed head of The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News from 1990 to 2004."

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Singleton talks to the Mercury News

Talk about awkward circumstances. Mercury News reporter Pete Carey today (March 21) interviewed the man who may soon own his newspaper, Billy Dean Singleton (pictured). Singleton wouldn't talk about a possible bid for the San Jose newspaper, which has been put up for sale by McClatchy Co. after it acquired Knight Ridder. But Singleton talked about his approach to buying newspapers: "When we've taken over difficult situations, we've done what we needed to do to make them work," Singleton told Carey. "Our preference is to buy good newspapers that are doing well. That's what we've mostly done in past 15 years. In the early years we took on some challenges because that is what we could do then.''

Singleton's MediaNews company already owns the Marin Independent Journal, Oakland Tribune, San Mateo County Times and other Bay Area papers under the Alameda Newspaper Group (ANG) banner. Acquiring the KR's Bay Area papers would push MediaNews' circulation in the Bay Area to nearly 800,000, nearly double that of the Chronicle.

Carey's story recounts how Singleton bought the Denver Post in 1987, at a time when many in journalistic circles predicted that struggling paper was about to fold. He's credited with a turnaround at the Post that included a Pulitzer Prize in 2000. (The Merc, which is about the same size as the Denver Post, hasn't won a Pulitzer in 16 years.)

But after Singleton bought the Houston Post, he was forced to close that paper. Layoffs also came after Singleton bought the Oakland Tribune in 1992. But with a smaller staff, the Tribune has remained in business. Referring to his purchase of the ANG papers, Singleton said: "You can't sit there and lose money forever. ...We did some cutbacks to get them back into the black.''

KR 'orphans' likely to go to different parents

The 12 newspapers McClatchy Co. will sell as part of its purchase of Knight Ridder will likely be purchased by separate buyers, a McClatchy spokeswoman told the Associated Press today (March 21). Whether that means the four papers Knight Ridder owns in the Bay Area will be sold as a group or individually wasn't disclosed by McClatchy spokeswoman Eliane Lintecum. Bids are due Tuesday (March 28). Last week, McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt told the McClatchy-owned Sacramento Bee that after a "rigorous analysis" he decided the San Jose Mercury News wasn't profitable enough to keep. But in an apparent effort to make the Merc attractive to a buyer, he decided to put KR's other Bay Area papers (Contra Costa Times, Monterey Herald, Palo Alto Daily News group) up for sale in order to provide a buyer with a cluster of papers that could share various services.

Channel 5, KCBS moving to KR building

KPIX CBS 5 and KCBS-AM All News 740 plan to move their South Bay operations from North First Street into the ground floor of what is now known as the Knight Ridder building at 50 W. San Fernando in downtown San Jose, according to a report in this morning's Mercury News. With the pending sale of Knight Ridder to McClatchy, it is expected that KR will vacate the two floors it occupies in upper part of the 17-story building and remove its exterior signs. KPIX and KCBS will take over the 3,500-square-foot ground floor space once used by KRON for its South Bay Bureau in the 1980s and 1990s. The Merc story this morning didn't mention it, but 50 W. San Fernando is where Charles David "Doc" Herrold operated KQW, the world's first radio station to operate on a regular basis. (Other stations went on the air before KQW, but none broadcast regularly.) KQW later moved to San Francisco and became KCBS-AM. CBS 5 reporters Thuy Vu, Tony Russomanno and Len Ramirez will work in the new office when it opens in May along with KCBS reporters Matt Bigler and Mike Colgan.

Monday, March 20, 2006

KR workers urged to search for new owners

Jay Rosen (pictured), a New York University journalism professor and author of the PressThink blog, has a suggestion for the employees of the Knight Ridder papers that McClatchy didn't want to keep: Find some local people who will buy your newspaper from McClatchy. "Think about it, Duluth, and Contra Costa: who is there to get orders from? Who is going to tell you: no, you can’t use your newspaper (your column) for that?" Rosen continues: "You can even get involved in the events that might bring a better buyer to the fore. What are the bosses going to do, get mad and sell you?" Anybody listening in Walnut Creek? Palo Alto? Monterey? San Jose?

Rosen includes an insightful comment from former Merc tech gossip columnist Chris Nolan (pictured at right), who looked over the list of supporters on the savethemerc.com site that was set up by employees and Guild leaders. “The short version is that there is no one on that the list who can get anything done in Silicon Valley. It’s a list of San Jose movers and shakers, mostly civic and political activists. No John Chambers, no Andy Grove, no John Doerr. Those folks could care less about the Merc. They read News.com and the WSJ," wrote Nolan, whose work these days can be found at www.spot-on.com.

Gillmor says Yahoo should buy the Merc

Former Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor writes on his Bayosphere blog that Yahoo should buy the Merc and turn the Bay Area into a "living laboratory of tomorrow's journalism." Gillmor points out that a Yahoo board member is supermarket magnate and Democrat fundraiser Ron Burkle, who has agreed to bankroll a union bid to buy the Merc. Gillmor says, "Certainly, if Yahoo really means to be a serious player in journalism, it could do a lot worse -- way, way, way worse -- than to employ the still terrific (if vastly smaller than it was) editorial staff of the Mercury News along with the already talented journalists who work at the company."

NYT details problems facing Mercury News

The Silicon Valley "bubble burst, but Silicon Valley has come back. The Mercury News, however, has not." That's how the New York Times put it in a story this morning (March 20) about McClatchy's stunning decision last week to buy Knight Ridder but sell off several of its newspapers including the Merc, Contra Costa Times, Palo Alto Daily News group and Monterey Herald.

The story, by Times staffer Damon Darlin, says McClatchy decided not to keep the Merc because of its high operating costs -- it has a profit margin of 9% versus 12% for other Knight Ridder papers. The Merc's annual profits are estimated to be $22 million a year on revenues of $235 million.

The story recounts some of the pratfalls at the Merc over the years, such as its short-lived San Francisco edition. The Times points out that while the Merc was busy developing its web site and covering the tech boom, it missed the Craigslist phenomenon which has drastically reduced the paper's revenues. The Merc's revenue from help-wanted ads has fallen from $118 million to $18 million a year. The newsroom has gone from 404 people to 280 -- a 30 percent decline.

Editor Susan Goldberg (pictured) tells the Times that the paper's story is like many of the businesses it has covered. But Publisher George Riggs paints a more optimistic picture, saying employment in the region is back to where it was before the dot-com crash and tech execs are exercising stock options and pouring cash into the local economy. What's more, the Merc is predicting that circulation -- which is off by more than 15 percent -- will soon increase for the first time in six years.

Pruitt gets angry emails from 12 KR papers

McClatchy chief executive Gary Pruitt has been getting some angry emails about his decision to buy Knight Ridder and sell 12 of its papers, including those in the Bay Area. The emails have been coming from employees at those papers which are being spun off, according to a story in today's (March 20) Sacramento Bee by Dale Kasler. "The spinoff scenario brought Pruitt some of his worst moments of his chaotic week," Kasler wrote. "Employees at the 12 papers, who looked to McClatchy as a white knight devoted to quality journalism, peppered Pruitt with angry e-mails when they learned McClatchy wasn't keeping them, he said." Pruitt told Kasler: "I got some very nice and some nasty things said about me ... You get to the point where you can't let either of those things affect you." The thrust of the story is that Pruitt still has to convince investors that buying Knight Ridder was a good idea, although Bruce Sherman, the investment banker who forced Knight Ridder to sell, endorsed the deal. McClatchy stock fell 7 percent last week during a period when the overall stock market hit new highs. As for selling the 12 KR papers, Pruitt said he has received an "outpouring of interest" from potential buyers. [Letter to Romenesko: Get Warren Buffet to buy the 12 KR papers] [<

Poblete: Newsrooms lack racial diversity

Chron editorial writer Pati Poblette, in a column this morning (March 20), notes that her paper and others in the Bay Area don't have the same percentage of non-white newsroom personnel as the population they serve. And she said that in her experience at four different Bay Area newspapers, she's seen the effect a "non-diverse" staff has on the news: "I sat in countless meetings pitching stories from different ethnic communities at tables filled with all white males. Each time I'd hear the words: 'Why does that story matter to our average reader?' But all I really heard was 'Why would a white male from a middle-to-upper class community care?'" She points out that the New York Times is planning to hire a "diversity officer" and that it's time for other papers to follow suit.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Pruitt a former First Amendment lawyer

Gary Pruitt, whose McClatchy Co. is buying Knight Ridder, used to be a First Amendment attorney who represented journalists and fought for public documents, fended off libel suits and argued for the public's right to know. In an interview with the LA Times, he dismisses the conventional wisdom that newspapers are dying, but notes that he got Knight Ridder for a bargain price because of that prevailing view. Asked what made him proudest from the days when he represented newspapers and reporters in court, Pruitt said: "I cleared thousands of news stories and never killed one. ... I loved being a First Amendment lawyer. It was a great job. I reluctantly left it."

Panel to discuss future of journalism, media

With McClatchy buying Knight Ridder, but putting KR's Bay Area papers up for sale, panalists discussing the future of journalism tomorrow (Monday, March 20) will have a lot to talk about. Presented by the Society of Professional Journalists Northern California Chapter and the Commonwealth Club, the panelists will include: Chris Lopez, Contra Costa Times editor and vice president for news; John McManus, director of gradethenews.org; Randy Shandobil, KTVU Channel 2 political editor; Adam Rogers, Wired magazine senior editor, and Susan Rasky of the UC Berkeley J-school will serve as moderator. The event takes place at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 20, in Layfayette. See the SPJ web site for details.

10 ways to close open government loopholes

Longtime California open government watchdog Terry Francke (pictured) had produced a list of 10 lapses and limitations to California's laws requiring open records and open meetings -- and 10 solutions to those problems. For instance, how do you investigate whether a city council discussed something in closed session that should have been dealt with openly? He's got a solution in this opinion piece. And many of his solutions have already been tried by one community or another, so they're not unproven ideas. Francke is general counsel to Californians Aware, a group which helps journalists pry open the doors of government. (Francke's photo by Larry Dalton, from the Sacramento News & Review web site.)

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Bronstein: Bonds' book excerpt too costly

The New York Times answers some of the questions we raised March 7 when we saw that Sports Illustrated's web site and the AP beat the Chronicle on details about Barry Bonds' alleged steroids use disclosed in the new book "Game of Shadows" by Chronicle writers Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada. We were asking -- how did the Chronicle get scooped on information in a book by two of its own writers? Chron editor Phil Bronstein (pictured) told NY Times reporter Lia Miller that the paper rejected an excerpt of the book. "We had right of first refusal. It struck us at some point along the way the price was pretty high," Bronstein said. "We would be reprinting basic facts that had already been in the newspaper, but in a different form, and paying a lot of money for it." Sports Illustrated paid $10,000 to $15,000 for the excerpt. SI managing editor Terry McDonnell said his magazine (with a circulation of 3.3 million) was able to give the book a wider audience than the Chron (circ about 440,000). "It would not have been as big a splash in a newspaper as through us," McDonnell told the Times. "We could launch this with more firepower, and with a lot more attention."

Guild prez wants 'savethemerc' to include all

The union leaders behind the savethemerc.com web site report that they have received support from more than 100 concerned citizens, and they emphasize that the site is intended to be "inclusive" of both union and non-union Merc employees, according to an Editor & Publisher story by Miki Johnson. Although the site is supported by the Guild and is being organized by staffers who happen to be union officers or members, Guild President Becky Bartindale says they "wanted it to be inclusive of everyone who works at (the paper)...." The PPC reported Friday that the URL "savethemerc.com" was registered Feb. 22 by Russ Cain of Carmel, a retiree from the Knight Ridder-owned Monterey Herald and a longtime Guild official. The E&P article quotes savethemerc.com organizer and columnist Mike Cassidy as saying that a team of about 12 who are running the site began to meet last fall as the sale of Knight Ridder started to look inevitable. But Cassidy said the group was torn about when to post the statement on the site until the sale to McClatchy was announced on Monday (March 12). He said the sale "created a sense of urgency."

ESPN ombudsman: Put Bonds show on hold

Barry Bonds dressed up as Paula Abdul on the first day of Giants spring training probably to create interesting video for his new ESPN reality show. ESPN ombudsman George Solomon says ESPN should put the reality show and its April 4 debut on hold until allegations of steroid use raised in the book "Game of Shadows" are investigated by Commissioner Bud Selig and perhaps an independent investigator. Solomon, a veteran of the Washington Post sports editor, is also troubled by the fact that if any news concerning Bonds breaks in front of the reality show's cameras, it can't be used on ESPN's "SportsCenter" until it airs on the Bonds show first. "Game of Shadows," of course, is the book written by Chronicle sports reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, which cracked the top 10 of both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.com best-seller lists last week, according to the New York Times.

'Grade the News' chief flunks Singleton

Wall Street has little use for quality journalism, the glory days for most newspapers are behind them and the Bay Area may be on the verge of an unprecedented media monopoly -- those are the conclusions of John McManus (pictured), a former reporter, journalism professor and most recently executive director of gradethenews.org, which is scaling back after losing its funding. In an op-ed in Friday's Chronicle, McManus points out that technology is providing serious competition to traditional newspapers in both the newsroom and the ad department. He also voices his concerns about the liklihood that MediaNews, the company headed by Dean Singleton, will dominate the Bay Area newspaper business if allowed to buy Knight Ridder's local newspapers, including the Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Palo Alto Daily News Group and Monterey Herald. "Imagine one grocery chain operating all of the outlets surrounding San Francisco. There would be no incentive to compete on either price or quality," McManus writes. "But news is a commodity like no other. It's the only product with the power to define reality. That power is magnified when multiple newspapers speak with a single voice."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Pulitzer winner hit with restraining order

David Mitchell, the muckraking journalist who won a Pulitzer as editor of the Point Reyes Light, has been slapped with a temporary restraining order by the ex-prosecutor who replaced him at the Marin County newspaper, according to a report in this morning's (March 17) Marin Independent Journal. Robert Plotkin, 35, a former Monterey County deputy district attorney who bought the Light from Mitchell, claims that Mitchell, 62, grabbed him by the throat on Feb. 16 while the two were driving to lunch to talk about a story Mitchell wanted published. Plotkin said in court papers that he jumped out of the car and Mitchell nearly drove his car into the newspaper office's French doors. Mitchell told Marin IJ reporter Nancy Isles Nation that Plotkin was overreacting. "The guy is excitable and sometimes has a tendency to jump at shadows. He sometimes goes after the people trying to help him," Mitchell told Nation. Plotkin told Nation: "Since I took over the newspaper, it's been very difficult on Dave, and the loss of the newspaper has affected him very deeply, and I hope he'll be able to recover." The Point Reyes Light, with Mitchell as editor, won a Pulitzer in 1979 when it exposed the violent Synanon Cult. Mitchell this week received an award from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for his career achievements.

Workers, union launch savethemerc.com

Employees and union leaders at the Mercury News yesterday (March 16) launched a web site, savethemerc.com, to rally public support for the 155-year-old newspaper, which is for sale along with other Knight Ridder publications in the Bay Area.

The two most talked about possible buyers are MediaNews, headed by Dean Singleton (right) who has a reputation of cost-cutting, and a company set up by the Guild union called ValuePlus Media, whose bid would be financed by supermarket magnate Ron Burkle (left), who has made headlines for supporting legislation to close certain court records. While the site doesn't come out and openly oppose Singleton, it has two links critical stories about him and one link to a favorable story about Burkle with the headline, "Newspapers may have an angel." No links are provided to stories about Burkle's attempts to seal divorce court records across California or about the opposition to that legislation from CNPA or the open government group CalAware.

The site includes an online petition saying they "do not want the sale of the Mercury News to lead to a smaller, less ambitious newspaper." Merc columnist Mike Cassidy (pictured) told LA Times reporter Claire Hoffman: "We wanted to make sure everyone understands what the stakes are ... It is important to let prospective owners know how concerned employees and readers are about what will happen with this paper."

The San Jose Newspaper Guild web site identifies Cassidy as one of the employees involved in the savethemerc.com effort. Others are Becky Bartindale, the local Guild president, and Jack Fischer, vice president. The URL savethemerc.com was registered Feb. 22 by Russ Cain of Carmel, a retiree from the Knight Ridder-owned Monterey Herald and a longtime Guild official.

Savethemerc.com lists as its supporters politicians in the area -- people who the Merc normally covers -- including U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; former Republican Congressman Tom Campbell; former San Jose Mayor Susan Hammer, a Democrat; Assemblyman Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto; Carl Guardino, chief executive of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. One politician who isn't on the list is San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales, who has been accused by the Merc of making secret deals with the city's trash hauling company. A criminal grand jury is now investigating Gonzales.

[E&P's story about the new website] [KPIX CBS5: Merc employees launch 'Save the Merc']

KCSM-TV might fight obscenity fine

An update to our item yesterday about the FCC's proposed $15,000 fine against KCSM-TV in San Mateo for allowing the s-word and f-word to go out over the air during a documentary: The San Mateo Daily Journal is reporting today (March 16) that the station is considering fighting the fine. Reporter Dana Yates quotes KCSM General Manager Marilyn Lawrence as saying that the matter will go to the San Mateo County Community College District, which holds the station's license. The district, which is tax-supported and whose board is elected by county voters, will decide whether to challenge the obscenity ruling, or possibly pay it because the legal fees for such a fight might exceed the amount of the fine.

KRON affiliates with Fox's new network

KRON Channel 4, which gave up its NBC affiliation in 2000, will become an affiliate of a new network being created by the parent company of Fox Broadcasting. My Network TV will feature English-language prime-time soap operas similar to the popular telenovelas on Spanish-language stations. The new network will be headed by former Reagan communications adviser Roger Ailes, who built the Fox News Channel into the top-rated cable news network. Since the new network prefers that the soaps air between 8 and 10 p.m., the future of KRON's "9 'O Clock News" and "The Dr. Phil Show" are in limbo. General Manager Mark Antonitis told Chron reporter Victoria Colliver he doesn't know when Channel 4 will air the network's programming. KRON's move leaves KBWB Channel 20 without a network. It had been a WB affiliate, but that network is shutting down in August. The WB's owners (AOL Time Warner and Tribune Co.) have joined with CBS to create a new network called CW, which will air on CBS-owned Channel 44. Channel 44's current network, UPN, is closing in August as well.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

KCSM-TV faces $15,000 fine for obscenity

KCSM-TV in San Mateo is facing a $15,000 fine from the Federal Communications Commission for repeated use of the f-word and s-word during a 2004 PBS documentary on blues musicians. "(T)he gratuitous and repeated use of this language in a program that San Mateo aired at a time when children were expected to be in the audience is shocking," the FCC said in a Notice of Apparent Liability (pages 23-27) posted on the agency's web site yesterday (March 16). KCSM admitted that the words were used before 10 p.m., after which obscene language is allowed in many cases. In its defense, KCSM said in a letter to the FCC: "[T]he intent of the program is to provide a window into [the world of the individuals being interviewed] with their own words, all of which becomes an educational experience for the viewer." The doucmentary would have inaccurately reflected the viewpoints of those who were interviewed if the s-words and f-words were edited out, the station said. KCSM is licensed to the San Mateo County Community College District, a tax-funded agency whose board is elected by voters countywide. The TV station previously operated on Channel 60, but now only has a digital TV signal and provides a feed to cable systems and satellite companies. [The FCC also levied fines against CBS for its infamous 2004 Super Bowl broadcast where Janet Jackson revealed her breast and for an episode of "Without a Trace" that was deemed to be obscene. The FCC notices can be found at http://www.fcc.gov/]

KRON news dabbles with product placement

KRON president and general manager Mark Antonitis (pictured) is quoted in a Hollywood Reporter article today (March 16) about how local TV stations are jumping on the product placement bandwagon. "We're all trying to find ways of integrating commercial messages into content that satisfy the audience and advertisers without hurting our product," Antonitis said. "When you're an independent, you've got to do what you can to survive." So that meant local spas paid to be featured in an 11-day "Spa Spectacular" series on Channel 4 last month and viewers were offered an opportunity to purchase half-off gift certificates at the spas. KRON anchors told viewers that the spas paid to be on the news as part of the station's policy of disclosing product placements. The Hollywood Reporter article also says Australia's tourism marketing agency paid KRON to run a weeklong series about the country in its morning news. The tourism agency also paid all expenses for a five-member news crew to travel to Australia and sponsored trips to Australia for viewers who won a contest. Antonitis said: "...if we can have the added benefit of a new revenue source and give something to our viewers that they wouldn't be able to get otherwise and advertisers get their products advertised, it's a win-win-win."

Pruitt challenges idea that papers are dying

McClatchy chief executive Gary Pruitt, in a commentary in this morning's (March 16) Wall Street Journal, disputes the conventional wisdom that newspapers are a thing of the past. After reeling off a number of statistics about the health of newspapers, Pruitt says, "Simply put, more people want our products today than wanted them yesterday; this is hardly the profile of a dying industry." And he's not just talking about the economics of newspaper publishing, but the need for newspapers if democracy is to thrive: "Self-government depends on continuous civic conversation, which in turn depends on people having a common vocabulary. Without a shared sense of what the problems are, there's little hope of finding solutions. That shared middle -- a place where people basically agree about the facts and the issues, even if they differ over what to do about them -- is where we believe our responsibilities as newspaper owners lie. And it is under assault by spinmeisters, partisans and ideologues. They all have their place in a democracy -- but it is not in the center. Our place is." Pruitt's company signed a deal this week to acquire Knight Ridder's 32 newspapers, and now he's planning to resell 12 of them including the Merc, Contra Costa Times, Palo Alto Daily News group and Monterey Herald.