The Loss of Knight-Ridder

Here in Idaho, discussion concerning the recent sale Knight-Ridder to McCatchy has largely centered on the impact the sale will have on the Statesman. Over at the Guardian, for example, Dave describes the attitude in the newsroom as one of “muted optimism.”

The mood in the newsroom was euphoria that they escaped reacquisition by Gannett, muted optimism about McClatchy, and a little remorse at the loss of Knight-Ridder before anyone really got to know them. They all rejoiced like emancipated slaves when Gannett sold out to Knight-Ridder only a few months ago. Now McClatchy, owners of a group of Californian papers, will be the master in the Big House. With 80% of the stock controlled by the family, it could be good news or bad for Boise readers.

I fear what may be lost with the sale are not just the 12 newspapers that McCatchy plans on selling (although those may be local tragedies for those communities), but the loss of a newspaper chain that was committed to hard-hitting investigative journalism. Over its history, Knight-Ridder newspapers won 84 Pulitzers, many for investigative journalism. Among the MSM, Knight-Ridder’s Washington Bureau has provided the singularly best coverage of Iraq. Regular readers of the Statesman could detect a notable improvement in the quality of National and International news during the short time KR owned the paper.

A hint at what the loss might means was brought home to me as I thought about the Kempthorne nomination. Chris at Liberal is absolutely right in saying:

Allowing Governor Kempthorne to be confirmed as the 49th Secretary of the Interior is a mistake. It’s not about patting ourselves on the back and saying “Hey our Guv. is moving up”. Although it’s also not about “Yes! We got rid of him” either. Governor Kempthorne who has an environmental record that comes pretty close to a then Governor George W. Bush and is about to be placed in charge of 388 parts of the National Park system, 544 wildlife refuges and more than 260 million acres of multiple-use lands.

Those of us who have closely followed Kempthorne realize why his nomination is such a huge mistake. Unfortunately, for the rest of the country Kempthorne is pretty much an unknown. As high profile bloggers spread the word to the rest of the nation (see here & here for example), they use as their source a Knight-Ridder article from 2003 when he was a candidate to head the EPA. Will McClatchy continue the KR commitment to investigative reporting? Given their interest in the bottom line, my position is one of “guarded pessimism.”

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