As a bankruptcy auction takes place to determine who will own McClatchy, the parent company of The News & Observer and The Herald-Sun, Raleigh mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin is appealing to the federal judge in the case to consider “the public good” in his decision.
McClatchy, the nation’s second largest news company, entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February. Until that time, the Sacramento, Calif.-based company had been under the control of the McClatchy family for 163 years.
After the Friday auction, the judge in the case will sign off on a sale on July 24. The known bidders are hedge funds Chatham Asset Management, McClatchy’s largest creditor, and Alden Capital Group, which owns the Media News Group chain and a third of the Tribune Company.
In a letter dated July 9, Baldwin told Judge Michael E. Wiles of the Southern District of New York that “The News & Observer was founded in 1865 to help expose corruption in politics, and has continually prided itself on digging deep into local issues to ensure accountability and maintain the public’s trust in government.”
Even as the newspaper industry has faced layoffs and financial challenges, Baldwin wrote, “The News & Observer continues to break ground, telling stories that people need to hear, and other news organizations do not tell.”
Public service, Pulitzer Prizes
Baldwin told The News & Observer on Friday that she wrote the letter because she believes local journalism is important for communities.
“As a former journalist, I firmly believe that local newspapers make our cities better, they make our states better, they make elected officials more responsive,” she said. “They also hold us accountable, which we should be, and I just believe in the mission. I believe in local journalism, and I know the difference it can make.”
In her letter, Baldwin cited The News & Observer’s leadership in the early transition to online news, its deep local roots, its commitment to public service journalism and its three Pulitzer Prizes.
“Local newspapers are a non-governmental form of checks and balances, crucial to the public good,” Baldwin wrote. “Because of the News & Observer’s commentary, the government of North Carolina has been more responsive, more honest and of greater service to the public.”
Baldwin joins mayors in Miami, Kansas City, Sacramento and Lexington, Ky., in public support of the McClatchy-owned newspapers that serve their cities:
▪ Miami Mayor Francis Suarez wrote to Wiles in support of the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. “We seek to ensure that the Miami Herald and McClatchy’s other papers emerge from the process with owners who are locally rooted and locally invested in our community, motivated primarily by a desire to serve the broader public interest, not the narrow bottom line,” Suarez wrote.
▪ Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas praised the work of The Kansas City Star, particularly as its staff worked “tirelessly to keep up with COVID-19 numbers, protests, and violent crime in our city,” and asked Wiles to keep that valued reporting in mind when making his decision. “As the mayor of a McClatchy city, I would urge you to choose a steward for this company that would build on the journalistic traditions of two of the most storied names in the business — McClatchy and Knight-Ridder — rather than degrade them.”
▪ Mayor Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento told Wiles that The Sacramento Bee “needs to be bolstered and rebuilt, not milked for whatever profit it can still produce.”
▪ Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton, writing in support of the Herald-Leader, told Wiles that the Herald-Leader “holds our feet to the fire through investigative stories and in-depth coverage. While it’s not always comfortable, it’s always important to challenge the decisions cities make, and to deeply examine the actions of government.”
Raleigh Mayor Letter to Bankruptcy Judge by Kate Murphy on Scribd
‘Locally invested in our community’
Baldwin’s letter struck a similar tone, emphasizing that the area needs “a strong daily paper that is locally rooted and locally invested in our community, motivated by the desire to serve the broader public interest and not the narrow bottom line.”
Baldwin wrote that as a former journalist who reported on education, health care, police, courts, the legislature and local government, she saw firsthand the difference local newspapers make in people’s lives by ensuring that government was “more responsive and responsible.”
“When making your decision, please consider the needs of Raleigh and our 475,000 residents — and the difference a local newspaper makes.”
In addition to Raleigh, Durham, Miami, Kansas City, Sacramento and Lexington, McClatchy owns 24 newspapers in other cities, including The Charlotte Observer, the Fort Worth-Star Telegram in Texas and The State in Columbia, S.C.