Gannett is the largest, and most profitable, newspaper company in the nation, most famous for its national newspaper, USA Today. It acquired the Statesman in 1971. Knight Ridder is the nation’s second-largest newspaper company, known for such newspapers as the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News. Knight Ridder is trading the Tallahassee Democrat in Florida and an undisclosed amount of cash for three Gannett-owned Northwest newspapers: The Statesman, the Olympian, and the Bellingham Herald in Washington.
Statesman Publisher Leslie Hurst will become publisher at the Gannett-owned State Journal in Lansing, Mich., while Knight Ridder’s vice president of marketing, Michael Petrak, 47, a former general manager of the Kansas City Star, will be the new Statesman publisher in Boise. Statesman employees were informed of the surprise deal last Wednesday, and on Thursday, Knight Ridder Chairman and CEO Tony Ridder was in Boise, touring the Statesman plant, meeting the employees and shaking hands.
Initial word is that Knight Ridder is impressed with the profitable Statesman, and doesn’t plan big changes right off. A key unknown, however, is whether the Statesman’s top editors, who work directly for Gannett, will leave the company to remain at the Statesman or move on to other Gannett properties.
Just as Gannett wanted to increase its presence in Florida, Knight Ridder clearly found the Statesman attractive. Ridder said in a statement, “As we continue to review our portfolio of newspapers, other print products, Internet sites and investments, we are constantly impressed by the performance of our mid-sized and smaller newspapers – especially those in growth areas. This exchange gives us the opportunity to add three newspapers in robust western markets. Each one performs strongly; together, they will make a very solid addition to our existing lineup.”
In a separate deal, Knight Ridder also sold the Detroit Free Press to Gannett, and Gannett sold the Detroit News to MediaNews Group Inc., the company headed by Dean Singleton.
Knight Ridder enjoys a solid reputation among journalists, and it’ll be interesting to see how the ownership change affects the newspaper. In addition to its other holdings, Knight Ridder owns 49.5 percent of the Seattle Times Co., and an array of Internet properties including RealCities.com. The deal still must undergo regulatory review, and could be finalized by early September.