Going down: Bites was driving by the Sacramento Bee offices at 21st and Q streets the other day and couldn’t help noticing the construction-debris chute running from the building’s second story to a dumpster on the street. All manner of refuse was being funneled through the chute and into the waste bin below: file cabinets, computer monitors, Thomas Kinkade paintings. Suddenly, a body shot down the chute and landed in the dumpster with a loud thump.
That’s one way to reduce overhead, Bites thought. Screw those expensive buyout offers. Ship ’em home in a body bag! Lord knows McClatchy Company’s stock price could use some shoring up. After hovering near a dismal $40 per share for months, it recently plunged 20 percent, to $32 per share, after January earnings failed to reach expectations. Some timely personnel reductions are just what the financial doctor ordered.
Bites peered over the top of the dumpster, wondering who might be sprawled on the trash heaped below. Dan Walters? Lisa Heyamoto? Rick Rodriguez? It couldn’t be Walters, whose massive ego alone would have clogged the chute. And Heyamoto’s highly disposable prose is too light to make that loud of a thump. Must be executive editor Rodriguez, who long ago stopped earning his keep. Wrong again.
It was McClatchy CEO Gary Pruitt.
Pruitt’s playlist: “That’s it, it’s over,” Pruitt said, dusting himself off. “Mainstream newspapers, R.I.P.” It was difficult to watch newspaper publishing’s former golden boy, who only last summer engineered McClatchy’s multibillion dollar purchase of Knight Ridder, an acquisition that transformed McClatchy into the second-largest newspaper chain in the country, tossed out like common garbage.
Had McClatchy’s board of directors given him the heave-ho? No. It turns out Pruitt got thrown down the chute after an impromptu pep rally for Bee employees went awry. Apparently, things have been a bit touchy at the Bee since the day after Christmas, when Pruitt sold the Minneapolis Star Tribune, McClatchy’s flagship paper, for less than half of the $1.2 billion the company paid for it in 1998.
“Hey, you can’t always get what you want,” shrugged Pruitt, a lifelong Rolling Stones fan who has accepted $1 million in performance bonuses over the past two years. “But if you try sometimes, you can get what you need.”
Whether McClatchy can come up with the scratch needed to cauterize its extensive wounds remains to be seen. The company reported a 5 percent loss in advertising revenue in February compared to the same month last year, and overall newspaper circulation is down 4.3 percent. The golden boy’s been singing a different tune lately—Pacific Northwest grunge, circa 1994—and apparently it hasn’t gone over well with Bee employees.
“I know I’m headed to the bottom,” he murmured, crawling out of the dumpster. “But I’m riding you all the way.”
Fun times: Caught between advertisers flocking to the Internet and a younger generation that just doesn’t read, these are dismal times for traditional publishing concerns, and not just daily newspapers. For instance, where would Bites be without being able to poke a sharp, pointed, poo-stained stick in the eye of, say, Sactown Magazine, which has been running Joe Carnahan’s bald mug on its cover some two months after the local filmmaker’s Smokin’ Aces utterly flopped?
Like comedy, today’s publishing marketplace is anything but pretty. That’s why Bites was pleased to learn that Comic Press News is no more. No, the local monthly, which has published a selection of the nation’s best political cartoons and commentary for the past 16 years, hasn’t closed its doors. It’s just changing its name. From now on, it’ll be known as the Humor Times.
“We feel it’s a better name, rolls of the tongue easier, and will not be confused with ‘funny pages’ type of comics so easily,” explained publisher/editor/founder James Israel. Sounds like BS to Bites, but ask Israel yourself at the paper’s “Sweet 16” anniversary party at Marilyn’s, April 26, 8 p.m. Entertainment provided by Free Hooch Comedy Troupe and political satirist Will Durst. Tickets are $15 at the door, $12 in advance and worth every penny. Seriously.