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 AJR  Columns :    THE NEWSPAPER BUSINESS    

From AJR,   June 1998  issue

A Move Fraught With Symbolism   

Knight Ridder leaves Miami and heads for Silicon Valley.


By John Morton
John Morton (mortoninc@msn.com), a former newspaper reporter, is president of a consulting firm that analyzes newspapers and other media properties.     

A newspaper chain's headquarters is often located in the place where the company got its start. Witness the New York Times Co. in New York City, the Washington Post Co. in Washington, D.C., the Tribune Co. in Chicago, McClatchy in Sacramento, Times Mirror in Los Angeles.

Sometimes, though, changes in operations or the predilections of a chief executive or owner bring changes as well in the location of headquarters. Symbolism, too, can be a factor if a company seeks to recast its image in the eyes of advertisers or investors, or for more subtle reasons having to do with personalities and company history.

Gannett, for example, seeking a greater national image after its creation of USA Today, soon moved its headquarters from relatively isolated Rochester, New York, to Washington, D.C. (Well, actually, across the Potomac River in Rosslyn, Virginia, but you get the idea.)

Donrey Media for a long time had two corporate headquarters, in Las Vegas, Nevada, where founder Donald W. Reynolds preferred to live, and Fort Smith, Arkansas, where Donrey publishes the Southwest Times Record. After Reynolds' death, everything was consolidated in Fort Smith.

Now comes Knight Ridder, which recently announced it will be moving headquarters from Miami to California's Silicon Valley, where the company publishes the San Jose Mercury News as well as other dailies not far away. This actually will be the second move for the company's headquarters. Before the merger of Knight Newspapers and Ridder Publications in 1974, Knight had been based at its founding newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal. It then moved in the early 1970s to Miami, home of its then-major profit center, the Miami Herald. Ridder had been based at its St. Paul Pioneer Press and had family members at work at several of its properties, notably in San Jose.

The Knight Ridder move, which will be completed early next year, clearly falls under the rubric of symbolism, both obvious and subtle. P. Anthony Ridder, Knight Ridder's chairman and chief executive, cited the importance of the headquarters being located where "the best thinking about the future of the information business" is being done concerning "new technology and the emerging power of the Internet..."

"As a news and information company," he said, "we want to stay very close to developments related to the new medium. Knight Ridder people simply must be immersed in the kind of futuristic and entrepreneurial thinking found in Silicon Valley."

That's the obvious part of the symbolism, and it probably makes sense. Newspaper publishing as we have always known it is a mature business. Real growth in the long run is not likely to come from circulation and selling advertisements printed on newsprint, even though this traditional part of the business is still highly profitable because of newspapers' ability to raise advertising rates faster than the inflation rate.

Where real growth may come in the future is on the Internet, and this will depend on newspapers' skill in manipulating their vast databases to create products for the swelling ranks of Internet users. Knight Ridder has been an industry leader in these efforts, notably with development of the company's Mercury Center and Knight Ridder New Media, both based in San Jose.

ýow that Knight Ridder as a publicly traded company has remade itself into an essentially pure newspaper operation by spinning off non-newspaper assets, taking on a forward-looking image has become important lest the company suffer from the buggy-whip syndrome when examined by Wall Street analysts. The company probably could do this just as well from Miami, but moving to Silicon Valley polishes the image.

Not mentioned in the company's announcements is the fact that Tony Ridder is going home. For years he was business manager and ultimately publisher of the San Jose Mercury News, and clearly San Jose is where his roots are.

When Knight Newspapers and Ridder Publications came together to create Knight Ridder, it always was clear that Knight was acquiring Ridder and that the merged company's headquarters would be in Miami, a Knight city. Indeed, a company director who vigorously opposed the latest move is Alvah H. Chapman Jr., a longtime Knight executive and former chairman and chief executive of the merged company.

Now the first Ridder to be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the company not only is moving himself home but the company's headquarters as well. That the new home will be in a Ridder city may not have counted a whit in the decision, but the subtle symbolism remains. l