Remaining Knight Ridder papers on block await news of buyers; no word from McClatchy on plans

CLEVELAND, Ohio , June 1, 2006 () – Six former Knight Ridder Inc. newspapers awaited word Wednesday on possible suitors as the deadline passed for bidding on the mid- and small-sized papers.

There was no immediate word on how many bids were submitted, when new owner McClatchy Co. might decide on possible buyers or whether the papers would be sold as a group or one by one.

McClatchy, based in Sacramento, bought Knight Ridder's 32 newspapers in March.

With buyers found for six larger newspapers -- including The Philadelphia Inquirer -- McClatchy turned its attention to the six smallest. Among those, most attention has focused on the Akron Beacon Journal, the largest of the six remaining papers and once the flagship of Knight Ridder.

The remaining five papers to be sold were the American News in Aberdeen, S.D.; the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota; the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota; The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

The papers are located 40 miles apart and compete in some of the faster growing Cleveland and Akron suburbs, including Medina County and northern Summit County.

And 25 miles farther south, the parent of Akron competitor The (Canton) Repository, Copley Newspapers based in San Diego, also reportedly was interested in the Beacon Journal.

In both cases, merging the nearby papers might offer advantages through joint advertising sales and combined business side, printing and reporting work. Savings through merged operations would make sense for either Advance or Copley, according to Larry Grimes, president of the W.B. Grimes newspaper brokerage in Gaithersburg, Md. He said he has heard of ''plenty of interest'' in all six papers but had no direct knowledge.

The remaining five papers to be sold were the American News in Aberdeen, S.D.; the Duluth News Tribune in Minnesota; the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota; The News-Sentinel in Fort Wayne, Ind.; and the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Other possible bidders that have been mentioned include Yucaipa Cos. of Los Angeles, a financial backer for newspaper unions; Black Press Ltd. of Vancouver, British Columbia; and HM Capital Partners of Dallas.

McClatchy and HM Capital had no comment Wednesday. Advance, Copley, Black and Yucaipa didn't immediately return messages seeking comment.

McClatchy previously agreed to sell The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News to a Philadelphia investment group and to sell four other newspapers to MediaNews Group Inc., a privately held company based in Denver.

The Beacon Journal has won four Pulitzer Prizes, journalism's highest honors. The newspaper has average weekday circulation of about 128,000 daily, down 7.4 percent over the same period last year. The population of Akron, once the nation's tire-making capital, has been stable in recent years, down about 2 percent since 2000 to about 220,000.

An industry report in early May showed daily circulation fell 2.5 percent at U.S. newspapers in the six-month period ending in March. Newspaper circulation has been in general decline for years as many people, particularly young adults, turn to other media outlets including cable TV and the Internet for news and information.

Charles Knight bought the newspaper in 1903 and became publisher four years later.

His son, John S. Knight, became editor and publisher in 1933. He began a series of buys that made the Beacon the flagship of one of the nation's largest newspaper groups, Knight Newspapers. In 1974, the group merged with Ridder Publications to become Knight Ridder Inc.

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