Carrion, wayward son

Photo Illustration by Don Button

V for vomitorium: “Vilified vulture has its virtues,” averred the Sacramento Bee’s B-1 headline on January 6, and Bites couldn’t help but wonder if the sudden need to resurrect the turkey buzzard’s sullied reputation might have something to do with the SN&R’s December 14 cover story, “Greedy vultures: How corporations are stripping away the true value of daily newspapers.” Indeed, it seems Bee reporter Blair Anthony Robertson might have had a certain seven-figure salaried CEO in mind when he wrote:

“They eat rotting things, God-awful smelly things. They’re bald, red-faced and ugly. Get too close to one—as if you would ever want to—and it might fend you off by upchucking all over you.”

Sounds like McClatchy Co. wunderkind Gary “Just Do It” Pruitt to Bites. Not that Golden Gary is bald, red-faced or ugly. He’s actually buff, blond and boyishly handsome. But let him get too close to your newspaper and he might just chew it up and spit it back out at you. That’s no joke, as the persistent reader will discover shortly.

Minnesota massacre: When we last checked in on Pruitt, he was throwing employees overboard in a desperate attempt to right McClatchy’s badly listing stock price, mired in the low 40s since the Knight Ridder mega-merger last summer made McClatchy the second-largest newspaper chain in the country. It was a gutsy move, albeit made with other people’s money and livelihoods, and despite stormy weather it seemed like smoother sailing was just around the corner. Then Pruitt pulled the plug, and the Minneapolis Star Tribune went down the drain.

If the name of the newspaper doesn’t ring a bell, it should. Pruitt first made a name for himself back in 1998 when he staked McClatchy’s fortune on the $1.2 billion purchase of the Star Tribune and remarkably won the gambit. Everybody loves a playuh, and Pruitt got his just props from the usual Wall Street wankers, who were noticeably silent when, on the day after Christmas, McClatchy unloaded the Tribune for $530 million, roughly half what the company originally paid for it.

To say the sale came out of nowhere, like that iceberg the Titanic struck, is to admit you believed all the bullshit playuh Pruitt’s been pushing the past decade or so—all that crap about staying true to journalism’s mission, about serving growing communities such as Miami, Minneapolis and—dare we say it?—Sacramento. Turns out we’ve all been played, and no one’s more pissed off about it than Star Tribune columnist Nick Coleman.

Picking scraps: A clue to the seriousness of Pruitt’s commitment to good journalism and the 5 million Minnesotans the Star Tribune serves can be found in the private equity firm the newspaper has been sold to, Avista Capital Partners. As Coleman put it in his scathing column on December 30:

“On the day after Christmas, the McClatchy Co. took the Star Tribune to the return window and sold us to a company that removes medical wastes, drills for oil and (quoting its Web site) ‘operates four off-shore jack-ups, three mobile off-shore production units and one self-propelled completion and work over rig’ in the Gulf of Mexico.”

What’s it all mean? Bites thinks Coleman is correct when he suggests the Star Tribune is “ripe for the plucking. Despite lip service to the cause of quality journalism, in the end McClatchy folded like a cheap lawn chair under a steady gale of Wall Street demands,” he fumed.

And so even as the vultures circle over Minneapolis, the Sacramento Bee resurrects the buzzard’s River City reputation. “A turkey vulture can smell a meal from 1,000-feet overhead,” Robertson enthuses—a fact the denizens of Q Street easily can verify by simply turning their gazes skyward.