Comstock's magazine 0618-JUNE 2018 - Page 45

and the capture of the Golden State Killer — the latter story occuring the day after the recent round of layoffs were announced. “To say McClatchy will be able to survive and evolve in a digital platform — we don’t have that answer,” says Keith Herndon, author of The Decline of the Daily Newspaper: How an American In- stitution Lost the Online Revolution, in an interview with Comstock’s. “This transition is ugly and disruptive, and we are in the middle of it,” Herndon says. The Dark Knight There are reasons to harbor hope that Sacramento’s premiere newspaper company can slug away competitors long enough to catch its breath and grow again. But if McClatchy is ulti- McClatchy's printing press, located in Midtown Sacramento, circa 2016. mately swallowed by a techie takeover, fingers will fly at the firm’s former leader, whose youthful exuberance em- Editor & Publisher magazine, saying, bodied the company at the crest of its “The idea is to remain lean and efficient confidence, right before the fall. even in good times so that we can ride Gary Pruitt looked younger than out the bad times and avoid that kind his 27 years when he first arrived at Mc- of boom-and-bust scenario, which Clatchy in 1984. Blessed with a playful leads to numerous layoffs.” confidence and breezy blond hair, he At the time, McClatchy had a repu- possessed a fierce intellect but looked tation on Wall Street for playing it safe the part of a handsome surfer. He first and only purchasing metro newspa- gained favor with the newsroom as legal pers that dominated their high-growth counsel and a First Amendment soldier markets. Pruitt would ultimately use for McClatchy, before working his way that philosophy to justify the compa- up to chief executive officer in 1996. ny’s largest and riskiest purchase on Despite his good looks and extreme March 12, 2006. On that day, McClatchy confidence, Pruitt was well-liked by bought the nation’s second-largest executives and reporters alike; he ap- newspaper chain, in an infamous peared to have McClatchy’s public transaction that one analyst called “a service mission flowing through his dolphin swallowing a small whale.” blood. He’d greet journalists by name, Howard Weaver, the company’s smiling and waving as he strolled past chief editorial executive at the time, them in the cafeteria. Walters describes recalls that first discussion of the Pruitt as a “go go-getter” type who was deal ta king place on a Tuesday in ear- “trying to make a name for himself.” ly November 2005. A few McClatchy “He was sure of himself and kind of executives sat around the table at Crepe- interested in doing big things and mak- ville in Midtown Sacramento, when ing big deals,” Walters recalls. chief financial officer Pat Talamantes Pruitt himself described his busi- pulled out his BlackBerry to show his ness strategy in a 2001 interview with colleagues a message from the boss. June 2018 | comstocksmag.com 45