Knight Moves

The Pioneer Press cedes control of to the mother ship

It doesn't help that Knight Ridder has already told the Newspaper Guild of the Twin Cities that none of the Web employees in St. Paul will be covered by the existing union contract--further evidence that the participation of actual reporters in this new venture will be limited. "The company has told us there will be no guild members laid off. Guild people working online will be given an opportunity to work for the new company as nonunion employees or go to work for the Pioneer Press," Mike Sweeney, the guild's executive officer, says. "All we know is that they're planning on closing the [online] operation at the paper and moving it off site. But they still haven't decided how they're going to set it up or where it's going to be. Will they eventually allow us to negotiate a union contract? My hope is that they will. My guess is that they won't. Knight Ridder isn't exactly union friendly."

In this case Knight Ridder hasn't been very media savvy, either. "If we're going to be successful in the Internet, we've got to be free to compete with everybody," chairman and chief executive officer Tony Ridder told reporters the same day he announced the company's internal split. "If that hurts the print business, we're a separate division and free to operate in a way that allows us to do that."

Jeff Tolbert

As if a CEO's admission that he expects to one day compete against his own newspapers weren't enough, Bob Ingle, president of Knight Ridder's new media operations, then publicly predicted a paperless future. "Before too much longer it will be more cost-effective to give away electronic devices than to maintain circulation systems and departments," he told a gathering of newspaper executives from the Midwest earlier this month. "We'd all better keep an eye on the date when it no longer makes economic sense to make investments in press capacity." The former print editor from San Jose then guessed that the newspaper would go the way of the dinosaur within a decade.

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