Wednesday, February 22, 2006


NEWSPAPER FUTURES: Knight Ridder columnist reflects on future after sale

Posted on Tue, Feb. 21, 2006

By Mike Cassidy
Columnist, the San Jose Mercury News

So, this is what doom feels like. My company is for sale and there is nothing I can do about it.

The newspaper executives and money managers have been through Mercury News headquarters checking for whatever they check for before deciding on a big purchase. I feel like a gunslinger in an old Western. You know the scene. The undertaker stops by before the shootout to take a few measurements. Just in case.

Forgive me for assuming you're up to speed. The potential sale of Knight Ridder, owner of the Mercury News, has dominated our waking thoughts here at the word factory. You have your own life, your own worries. Maybe you work at a company that is up for sale, or seeking a merger or thinking about throwing in the towel altogether.

I get it now. Really. In November, those who run Knight Ridder said they were willing to sell the company and its 32 daily newspapers. It's not that they want to sell. It's that Bruce Sherman, whose firm controls about 18 percent of the company's shares, said he's no longer satisfied with Knight Ridder's stock performance.

Just business

I've written plenty about this sort of thing in Silicon Valley. I thought I'd written with deep empathy for those whose lives were about to change -- most likely for the worse. But I had no idea. No idea what it's like to be working for Netscape one day and AOL the next. Or being PeopleSoft people transformed into Oracle people. Or to be working for Tandem, then Compaq, then Hewlett-Packard, then not at all, because, well sorry bub, layoffs are necessary. Just business. And now it's Knight Ridder's turn. The birds are circling -- a few of them vultures who make their money by plucking out a company's juicy parts and leaving the carcass to rot.

I know. It's unbecoming to be sentimental, worried, angry, sad, suspicious, dejected, discouraged, depressed, scared, revolted, just because the word on the street is that your company could make big money by dumping workers and slashing the pay of those it keeps. But I'm all those things. I've worked for the Mercury News longer than I've worked anywhere. Longer than I lived with my parents. Longer than I've known my wife. Longer than I spent in school. Longer than I've been a father.

About more than money

I suspect I speak for many with whom I share this building when I say that I like the paycheck, but that the Mercury News is more than a job. When we came to work here we came with a mission. We wanted to shine light in dark corners and make the world a better place. We wanted to expose corruption. We wanted to provoke thought, debate and, yes, laughter.

Sure, some of us are arrogant. Yes, we make mistakes. But at our best, we knit together a community. We tell stories that help you live your life. We expose chiselers who put political expediency above those they serve. We write about your kids' dance recitals or your favorite restaurant. We cover your sports team. We find the heroes at your local school and the villains in your local neighborhood. Of course we're worried about our hides. But we're also worried about you and the loss of quality journalism that might occur under owners who care little about such matters.

Wall Street says journalists should suck it up. Newspapers are businesses, they say. Newspapers need to make money. The more the better. No doubt newspapers must be profitable and thankfully the Mercury News and Knight Ridder are. But I don't believe that a newspaper is nothing more than a money machine.

If you do, dear reader, then we have failed miserably in our commitment to you.

Contact Mike Cassidy at or call (408) 920-5536.

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