Rough Justice

Paper trail: Gary, Gary, quite contrary, how does your income grow? Through mergers and buyouts and cutbacks and layoffs and a myriad of employee woes! Yes, it’s been a very good year for McClatchy Co. CEO Gary Pruitt. Fresh off the acquisition of Knight Ridder Newspapers, McClatchy’s compensation board jacked the annual salary of Sacramento’s most affluent Rolling Stones fan by another $50,000 or so, pushing Pruitt over the $1.1 million mark.

According to the Sacramento Business Journal, the former surfer-cum-publishing-industry golden boy stands to earn another $1.38 million if he achieves “specific performance goals that have not been determined.” While these unspecified specifics have yet to be spelled out, based on McClatchy’s current year-to-date performance, Bites hazards to guess Pruitt will have no trouble clearing the bar.

Certainly he should be able to at least duplicate the company’s stellar stock-market performance, which has seen the price-per-share plummet 27.5 percent—an accomplishment for which Pruitt was awarded a $1 million bonus this year. Recent financial-market headlines bode well for the golden one’s future pay increases: “McClatchy sees ad revenue down in first half of 2007,” reports Reuters; “McClatchy total November revenue falls,” notes MSN Money; “McClatchy sees weaker classifieds in ‘07,” informs BusinessWeek.

Yep, it looks like it’s going to be a bad year for McClatchy, which is to say a good year for Pruitt. Black is white. Down is up. Bad is good. Somehow it all reminds Bites of that fabled Jimi Hendrix tune, “If Six Was Nine.” It’s worth noting that Pruitt, in addition to digging the Stones, is a diehard Hendrix fan.

Angry bees: Pruitt was by no means the sole recipient of the McClatchy compensation board’s largesse. Vice presidents Bob Weil, Frank Whittaker, Pat Talamantes and Howard Weaver each will earn annual income in the neighborhood of $500,000 next year, with the potential to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more in incentive bonuses. Yes, indeed, it truly is good to be bad.

Unless of course you’re among the hapless denizens of that brick-clad cubicle farm on Q Street, a.k.a. the Sacramento Bee. It must truly suck when your own paper reports on the potential beginnings of its pending demise, as occurred last week when the Bee noted that it had offered to buy out the contracts of four regional reporters. The correspondents, including two from San Francisco and one from Los Angeles, also have the option of returning to the hive, where the bees were a buzzing last week, an anonymous Bee source told Bites.

“People are pissed Pruitt got that $1 million bonus,” fumed the source, who was on the way to the company Christmas party for what looked like some serious two-fisted drinking. According to the source, panic is beginning to set in among staff members, and more buyouts, perhaps even some layoffs, are feared to be in the works for the near future.

Vultures validated: The recent shenanigans at McClatchy and the Bee make SN&R owner Jeff vonKaenel‘s recent cover story (”Greedy Vultures,” December 14) seem all the more prescient.

In case you missed the story, vonKaenel claims that profit-hungry corporate shareholders are rewarding newspaper executives for stripping down their news operations. Sounds like an apt description of what’s going on at the Bee to Bites.

What’s it all mean? Among other things, expect the continued erosion of Sacramento’s last remaining daily paper, a sorry state of affairs that even vonKaenel, who David-like has competed head-to-head with the Bee goliath for nearly two decades, laments. Even Bites is forced to admit that without the Bee to pick on, there would certainly be a lot less to write about in Sacramento. As the ancient Arabian proverb so wisely notes, “Keep your friends close, and hold your enemies closer.”