OK, one more on this navel-gazing subject and then I’ll move on to something else.
I thought you might find this piece, about a letter that former Knight Ridder journalists circulated over the last few days, interesting in light of the current situation in which the corporation — and, more relevantly to you and me, its newspapers — find t hemselves.
Here is their statement, as reported by Editor & Publisher:
John S. Knight, a founder of the company known today
as Knight Ridder, believed –- and proved — that excellent journalism is
good business. The undersigned, all alumni of Knight Ridder, have lived
As did the late Jack
Knight, we believe profit is not merely nice but necessary. Knight
Ridder routinely has generated double-digit operating profits -– such as
last year’s 19.4 percent. We understand the obligation of an
institutional investor to maximize return on investment. An investor
for whom double digits are insufficient is free to sell Knight Ridder
stock. An investor who instead demands the sale or dismantling of
Knight Ridder merely in the name of a larger profit margin is engaged
not in good business but in greed.
did Jack Knight, we speak out of confidence in, not fear of, the future
of the good business of excellent journalism. There is durable value in
businesses that treat their citizens, their communities and their
employees with respect. New technology is an ally of, not a threat to,
trustworthy and nimble media. Competition gives rise to innovation and
efficiency, much as recent declines in print circulation have been
accompanied by increased electronic readership.
Ridder is not merely another public company. It is a public trust. It
must balance corporate profitability with civic purpose. We oppose
those who would cripple the purpose by coercing more profit. We abhor
those for whom good business is insufficient and excellent journalism
We have watched
mostly in silent dismay as short-term profit demands have diminished
long-term capacity of newsrooms in Knight Ridder and other public media
companies. We are silent no more. We will support and counsel only
corporate leadership that restores to Knight Ridder newspapers the
resources to do excellent journalism. We are prepared collectively to
nominate candidates for the Knight Ridder board. We wish to reassert
John Knight’s creed.
The signers, all of whom are listed at the link, include some highly prominent former journalists and executives who have left the KR ranks in recent years. The group said they "are prepared collectively to nominate candidates for the Knight Ridder board," candidates who see the newspapers’ mission as they do.
Corporate’s reaction, expressed in E&P by KR spokesman Polk Laffoon, was that "This is a fine gesture and a well-intentioned gesture by good and honorable people." He went on to say that "Unfortunately, the reality is that more than 90% of
Knight Ridder shares are institutionally held and more than a third of
them are held by three institutions."
Mr. Laffoon, vice president for corporate relations, was quoted by The Philadelphia Inquirer as saying:
"I wish there were an identifiable and strong
correlation between quality journalism as we all define it and strong
and growing newspaper sales. If that were the case, we would not only
know how to meet some of the challenges we would face today, but we
would thrive on doing it. I wish it were that simple. Unfortunately it
So now you’ll want to know what I think, as a current employee of a Knight Ridder newspaper. Well, on that subject, I’ll quote the composite character played by Eric Bana in "Black Hawk Down" — based, incidentally, on a series of stories by Mark Bowden, a former reporter for The Inquirer. Mr. Bowden is one of the "alumni" who signed the above statement.
Mr. Bana was speaking to an actor portraying a real-life hero of the battle of Mogadishu, Staff Sgt. Matt Eversmann:
"You know what I think? It don’t really matter what I think. Once that first bullet goes past your head, politics and all that (expletive) just goes right out the window…. Just watch your corner; get all your men back here alive."
Good advice, that, even if no literal bullets are flying. Nobody in San Jose or on Wall Street is asking what I think, and my situation — and those of the people and pages for which I’m responsible — will pretty much be the same whatever I think. We’ve got plenty to deal with right here, addressing the issues of importance to all of us in South Carolina, and trying to put out better journalism each day that we do it. That’s my mission, and that’s how I intend to occupy my time while all the big money people work out their politics and all that stuff.
When I’ve got something else to say about it, I’ll let you know.