McClatchy in Bankruptcy

So, this story makes me sad:

McClatchy Co., one of the nation’s largest newspaper publishers, filed for bankruptcy protection Thursday, another harbinger of America’s deepening local news crisis.

The Chapter 11 filing will allow the Sacramento-based company to keep its 30 newspapers afloat while it reorganizes more than $700 million in debt, 60 percent of which would be eliminated under the plan. If the court approves, it would also hand control of the 163-year-old family publisher to a hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management, its largest creditor.

It makes me sad because McClatchy is the newspaper company that I worked for, way back in the day — it was the owner of the Fresno Bee, which gave me a job as a movie critic and opinion columnist in the early/mid 90s. I was also syndicated through McClatchy’s news service. In my remembrance it was a pretty good company to work for, or, at least, was back in the early-to-mid 90s.

It’s particularly sad that the company will now be controlled by a hedge fund, since historically the hedge fund playbook for newspapers is to buy them and strip them for parts. Some McClatchy papers were already running, shall we say, very lean (I visited the Fresno Bee offices a couple of years ago and the entire newsroom appeared to have shrunk to the size of what the entertainment department was when I was there). I don’t expect that Chatham Asset Management will be exactly staffing up anytime soon.

A sad day, for the newspaper industry and for the folks who work at McClatchy. I would like to think the company will get itself set right again, but, well. I’m not optimistic. We shall see.

33 Comments on “McClatchy in Bankruptcy”

  1. What do you see as the future of real, paid, professional journalism in this internet era? Asking for a friend.

  2. Reminder to everyone to support good media! I subscribe to The Guardian (as opposed to the NYT, which I subscribed to for years but keeps disgracing itself). I also send a monthly donation to DemocracyNow.org and send a bit each month to a couple of left bloggers. I wish I could send more, good media is so important.

    Dropped the New Yorker after a long time after they did that event featuring Trump fascist Steve Bannon.

    I’d be interested to hear others’ media subscriptions.

  3. I grew up reading a McClatchy paper, the Modesto Bee, every day. Sad, but not entirely unsurprising. I can’t tell you the last time I actually read a physical newspaper. I take the paper from work every day to use as lining for my snake cages, but beyond that, I have no use for a physical newspaper these days.
    Frankly, most news outlets these days are disappointing and I’ve found myself having the hardest time even reading local news online.

  4. Yeah, sad news indeed. BHM bought my local paper right around the time I got my journalism degree and moved home. HAAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAHAHAHAHAAAAA!
    I do not work as a journalist and it takes four days’ worth of the Roanoke Times to cover the kitchen table for pumpkin carving.

  5. My hometown newspaper is the Washington Post, which is doing OK. I get home delivery and read it every morning.

  6. For myself, I’ve been reading physical papers regularly. Ottawa Citizen (someone else in the family subscribes, despite their parent company also being in the clutches of a US hedge fund…in continuing defiance of Canadian media ownership law), New York Times, Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. Also the local weekly Orléans Star and a few others like it on a more irregular basis.

    I keep thinking that the newspaper can and should make a proper comeback, but the ways and means to that end are being systematically removed by people who know better and still don’t care to act on the knowledge.

  7. I got my start as a newspaper reporter. I’ve always subscribed to my local paper everywhere I lived, but now I think I’m the only person on my block, and possibly in my subdivision, who gets the daily paper. In related news, my newspaper “reorganized” a few weeks ago and bought out a bunch of the employees.

    I really consider it my duty to support local journalism, but I can’t see how it can be cost-effective to deliver ii. I keep waiting for them to send me a notification that they’re going digital-only. I’ll keep subscribing, though.

  8. If it is not brought to them on a screen and live as it is happening the average modern person has no thought of spending the time required to read and understand what is going on in the world. The loss of the newspapers is a tragedy.

  9. John, you might want to check your basement. There’s a John M Scalzi is posting here – I thought you had your doppelganger… contained.

  10. I too read the Modesto Bee growing up. I’m in Davis now and it is sad that the Sunday Sacramento Bee is smaller than the weekday versions in the 80’s. The Davis Enterprise publishes 3 days a week and appears to have a staff of 6-10 writers.

  11. My home town newspaper, the Eugene Register-Guard, was family owned for about 150 years, until they sold out to Gatehouse Media (now Gannett). While they were family-owned, it was a great newspaper, but since the sale I’ve seen a steady decline. I still have a digital subscription in order to read the home town news, but I can see letting that lapse in the foreseeable future.

    Our local paper here in Portland, the Oregonian, is owned by Newhouse, and had been slowing turning into crap. They’ve eliminated a lot of veteran reporters, and they now only deliver four days a week (digital editions are available the other three days), and much of what they print was posted on their web site\ days, if not weeks, earlier.

    Across the river in Vancouver, the Columbian has quit having a Monday edition at all (not even electronic). My wife has a digital subscription to get access through their firewall for what little they have.

    Nationally, we have a digital Washington Post account. We used to subscribe to the NY Times (first paper, then electronic), but they’re a pale shadow of what they used to be.

    I really miss having a good, informative local newspaper.

  12. I also started out as a newspaper reporter. I got kicked out of it via layoff at the right time (enough to be able to get a job in another industry, at least). I miss it, but I’m glad I’m not trying to work in the field any more either. I hate my job and the field I’m in, but at least it’s stable.

    I don’t think there is a future of paid journalism.I am just as bad as everyone else though in not wanting to pay for every single site I read on the Internet–that’s too much.

    McClatchy has been circling the drain for a long time, so this isn’t a shocker to me. Just sad.

  13. Dwight Williams: I lived not far from you, in Blackburn Hamlet, way back in the day (1970s).

    I’m the one person in a one-person newspaper in the Interior of British Columbia (the Ashcroft Journal, a weekly which this May celebrates its 125th anniversary). In the four years I’ve been full-time editor (and reporter, columnist, photographer, headline and cutline writer, and layout person) subscriptions have decreased, although the paper manages to keep going. I suspect it’s largely because, being a weekly small-town paper serving three area communities, I largely ignore national/international news (which people can easily get elsewhere) and focus on the purely local stories no one else will cover. ‘Big’ (read ‘outside’) media will swoop in if there’s a disaster or tragedy in our region, but after the initial coverage they’re gone, leaving me to do all the follow-up. A prime example is the massive 2017 wildfire season: the Elephant Hill wildfire started just outside town, destroyed more than 100 homes and buildings, and was 182,000 hectares before it was declared contained nearly three months later. Big media was here at the start for a couple of days (getting a fair number of facts wrong in their coverage) before moving on, and I spent two months correcting their errors, chasing up facts, and covering the many fire-related stories that followed.

    People read ‘The Journal’ because it is so local. They’re not going to find stories about the Rotary Citizens of the Year, the new Eco-Depot that’s coming soon, council news, minor soccer, the first responders charity hockey match, and much more anywhere else. And I’ve even broken one major Canada-wide news story, when I got an exclusive interview with the leader of a federal political party about her engagement (her now-husband, John, is a longtime Ashcroft resident and friend who I’ve known for years and acted with many times, and he thought it would be fun to give me the scoop).

    So small-town newspapers are still (in many cases) chugging along, but they need support, because believe me, you’ll miss them when they go, taking all that local news coverage with them.

  14. Thanks to Devin Nunes, I think we need to include a few cow jokes here. The Fresno Bee has been exposing him for a few years now and I’m afraid this just made his day. In fact, I think of McClatchy has one of the few newspaper companies still committed to investigative journalism but the harsh realities of print are destroying what was once America’s proudest institution.

    Interesting to see the Central Valley represent here. We lived in Modesto in the late 60s, early 70s and I finished high school there. Up here in Astoria, Oregon we’re fortunate to have a serious local paper, although the print edition is no longer daily. They actually hire journalists and have a deep connection to the community (especially young people and athletics). Small town papers are valued by local businesses because we have fewer big box stores and no local television. This is the only bright spot for me in American journalism.

  15. McClatchy’s Washington DC bureau was at the forefront of realistic news coverage during the Iraq war and the buildup to it. They really distinguished themselves.

    We subscribe to the Washington Post (home delivery Sat + Sun only, but I just look at it online). Local coverage in the Post has always been inadequate, and it’s worse today. All the local free weeklies (including the Gazette papers in Maryland funded by the Post) have gone away or are about to.

    I also send money to Mother Jones.

  16. Just WaPo here – mainly for the investigative stuff, the FOIA about the Iraq war/reconstruction was excellent (surprise – everyone knew it was a shambles at the time) and David Fahrenthold (yes I had to look up the spelling) for showing what a pauper Trump is. NYT opinion page is such a shambles I don’t subscribe as it would encourage them.

    You left out the usual hedge fund MO of looting the pension fund too, so destroying the retirement of the employees as they load up the company with debt, take huge “management” fees then pretend surprise when the company collapses as they make out the door with millions and the employees are left with nothing. See Toys”R’Us and pretty much any Bain or Cereberus deal for details. Privatize profits, socialize costs, it’s the American “capitalist” way!

  17. I’m sorry to learn this. Our hometown paper, the Denver Post, is currently owned–and being looted by–a hedge fund. It gets smaller all the time. My husband and I subscribe, but I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones on the block that do. We do digital for the NY Times. There are a couple of digital local news outfits in town, and I subscribe to one, but I will miss a paper newspaper. Not so very long ago, we had two. That was great, as they tended to keep each other honest.

  18. Growing up, my younger brother and I were paperboys for the Fresno Bee. So sad to hear this, Sigh. Change, while inevitable, brings both joy and sadness. This is one of the unhappy bits. Thanks for passing on the news.

  19. Pedro, I get all my news from the Babylon Bee, even though I don’t live in Babylon. Amazingly, there are some people who don’t take it seriously…

  20. Sadly, I think whatever local papers survive will be owned by billionaires
    I can’t see them ever being what they were or profitable again, too many revenue streams dried up

  21. This makes me sad in a number of ways. I trained as a print journalist and wrote for a few years, but got out of it when I saw the writing on the wall.

  22. My local paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, is a shell of its former self. In its heyday, owned by the local Bingham family, its profits went back into coverage. I worked for one of the Bingham broadcast properties, WHAS-TV, back in the day and I can testify that they were good folks to work for. Now big chains own the Courier and the former Bingham broadcast properties. None of them is what it used to be.

    I’m unsure what the answer is. To be a valid, believable news source, you have to have enough people to cover city hall, the state legislature, the various police and fire agencies, natural disasters, and countless other types of stories. Unless you’re in a very small community, one or two people just can’t do it. I’m not sure where the money’s going to come from.

  23. I believe McClatchy did a much better job than almost all other news organizations in discovering information that suggested that Iraq II was a bad idea. Unfortunately not enough paid enough attention to their reporting then.

  24. Agree with John Lorentz above, The Oregonian is sorely missed. Sold out and stripped and now just about completely out of touch with Oregon, breaking news in the form of paid placements from their current corporate master. Subscribed for decades, finally had to kill the sub after their move to Kentucky HQ. Kept buying occasionally / Sundays but nowadays there is such little content and much of it right wing blow hard idiocy or feel good cotton candy news that I can’t justify it even with the dearth of local news everywhere. So sad about McClatchy now.

  25. I have to agree with everytone here that when a big (or medium-sized for that matter) company takes over a local paper, the quality/quantity goes downhill faster than a snowboarder. One of my very first state jobs was working on a federally funded project called The Connecticut Newspaper Project. Long story short, they cataloged and microfilmed old (17th to late 20th century) newspapers (I think overall about 30+ states participated in something similiar).

    One thing that I used to see was that back in the day, the newspapers were chock full of news, both local and national. However, when a larger company bought the paper(s) the quality dropped.

    Case in point: in the late 80’s/early 90’s, the The Journal Register swept in and started buying a slew of CT dailies/weeklies, until they had ownership of roughly 65% of the newspaper print media. They then proceeded to slash the content, slash the page count, up the ads, up the price and made all the front page mastheads in the same cookie cutter style.

    The end result of this barrage was about 70+ newspapers that weren’t worth the cost of the ink used and a company that eventually went belly-up and filed for bankruptcy/liquidation, leaving “assets” as collateral damage to wither away.

  26. Any time a newspaper, or chain, goes under, I think of Clay Shirky’s Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable

    The problem newspapers face isn’t that they didn’t see the internet coming. They not only saw it miles off, they figured out early on that they needed a plan to deal with it, and during the early 90s they came up with not just one plan but several.

    Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.

  27. I want a news source that filters through the info-tainment overload and just gives me the important part. And I don’t mean the most entertaining part.
    Local newspapers used to do that for local news, and nearest big city used to do that for national/international news. My own town hasn’t had a paper for slightly longer than I’ve lived here. Nearest small city which used to include my local news has disappeared in the last decade. Nearest biggish city paper thinks my town is outside their local interest area. Plus, like all of them nowadays, they can’t seem to tell actual news from info-tainment.
    When the papers started asking the readers what they wanted more of, I knew everything was going to hell in a handbasket. It’s all very depressing, and I suppose everyone should just get off my lawn.

  28. Disruptive capitalism at work! My local paper, the Dayton Daily News, is still in operation .. I subscribe to the online only version. Over the last several decades it has shrunk to about the size that my more local paper, the Piqua Dail Call, was back then. I suspect that the DDN will either fold or shrink to a very much more local or online only entity.

  29. I’m one of those people who grew up wrestling my parents and siblings to get first crack at the morning paper. As an adult, following my husband’s job around the country, I’ve always had a subscription to the local paper. In many of the small towns, I’ve had a subscription to the local paper and to the nearest big-city paper as well. But in my last 2 little towns, the closest city papers decided that it wasn’t economically feasible to deliver to the ex-urbs and cancelled my subscriptions. The local paper here comes out 3 times a week , and in the 3 years we’ve been here, it’s gone from a small-but-full-of-local-news-paper to a small paper that publishes local high school sports news and legal notices. I think many small town newspapers are only surviving because the law demands that legal notices have to be published, and usually published for 2-4 weeks. Once the laws catch up to the fact that the internet is here to stay, I’m afraid that small town papers will cease to exist.
    (My only demand to my husband about any future moves is that we have to be some place with a decent daily paper and a coffee shop. I’m afraid that unless we move soon, we’ll never be able to meet that first condition.)

  30. I am of the mind that here in Ottawa, my nation’s capital, we should still be seeing the Washington Post available at local retailers. But the decision to thwart my current desire on that point was taken years ago, it seems. A pity, as the management of that news service is one thing that Jeff Bezos is apparently getting right these days, for all his flaws in other areas.

    Barbara: I occasionally find myself visiting Blackburn Hamlet in the course of assorted errands taking me back and forth between Orléans and the Centretown-ByWard Market neighbourhoods of the downtown.

  31. What are some publications worth supporting? The Guardian is the least bad of the bunch, but I’m not giving them a cent while they continue to run Julie Bindel. The Intercept is pretty good too, though it’s rather small and focuses on Greenwald’s pet interests seemingly. Other than that? All trash.