That's the situation the folks at the San Jose Mercury News found themselves in today. After perhaps feeling some initial relief that McClatchy, the well-regarded owner of the Sacramento Bee and 11 other U.S. dailies, had submitted the winning $6.5 billion bid for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, they found out that their new owner plans to reduce his debt load by selling off some of the less promising papers in the K-R chain...and that his list of losers includes the Mercury News.
That leaves them still hanging fire, and more likely to end up with an owner who will "slash and burn" the newsroom in an attempt to cut costs and pull more profits out of the paper.
In a briefing last week to JMC faculty on the impending sale of the K-R chain, Editor-in-Residence Jerry Ceppos voiced some of those kinds of concerns and listed what he considered to be the three most likely outcomes for San Jose and the Mercury News. He didn't envision this one.
But Ceppos did offer one suggestion that now seems prescient. No matter who buys K-R, he said, we should watch for two things: whether journalists end up near the seat of power, and how much debt the buyer must take on to complete the buyout. That's what will determine whether or not the K-R buyout turns out to be good for journalism, he said.
From that perspective, things aren't looking so good for San Jose and the Mercury News.
In an article in today's WSJ, K-R Chairman and CEO Tony Ridder acknowledges that the "uncertainty is not over" for the 12 K-R newspapers that will be resold, "and I regret that very much."
In the same article, McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt said he did not anticipate having trouble selling those K-R newspapers, and that the proceeds would be used to pay down debt.