Amid our local newsroom dramas, I wonder if Anders Gyllenhaal regrets his last career move.
Gyllenhaal quit as editor of the Star Tribune in 2006, just days before McClatchy Co. announced its sale to Avista Capital Partners. There were some hurt feelings at 425 Portland — the captain leaping off the raiders’ pirate ship for a seemingly safer corporate schooner, McClatchy’s Miami Herald.
Then yesterday, McClatchy socked the Herald with a 17 percent budget cut.
How bad are things in Miami? Reporters have hired shrine-building Santeria priests to save their jobs. The cuts are bigger than McClatchy’s 10 percent corporate mandate, and bigger than the 10 percent Strib editors now grapple with.
To be fair, the Herald didn’t undergo a round of buyouts that Stribites suffered through last year. Until yesterday, McClatchy was considered one of the better chains at insulating its newsrooms from economic vagaries. At the Strib — down 80 positions since Gyllenhaal left — those days have clearly passed. And now they have for Herald: Gyllenhaal lost 60 newsroom jobs in one fell swoop.
The trends are scary down Hialeah way. Much was made of the Strib’s 7 percent circulation drop between March 2007 and 2008 — Miami had a bigger plunge, down 11 percent daily and 9 percent on Sunday during a period neatly coinciding with Gyllenhaal’s tenure. The paper is no longer among the 25 biggest nationally.
McClatchy, like Avista, faces crippling debt, but Miami’s predicament might be worse than Minneapolis’s. Avista at least asserts that its coming 10 percent cut will right the economic ship. But ex-journalist and current media investor Alan Mutter estimates McClatchy’s 10 percent workforce cut will make up only about a quarter of McClatchy’s projected $295 million ad-sales drop.
Happily, McClatchy’s surfin’ CEO Gary Pruitt will not cut his excellent Washington bureau, inherited in its 2006 Knight-Ridder purchase. Those reporters were practically the only ones to call b.s. on the Iraq War run-up, and their excellent Guantanamo series currently graces the Pioneer Press’s front page.
Back when the Strib was sold – largely to capture unique tax advantages — the debt-embracing Pruitt basked in the glow of his “fast-growth” market strategy based on places like California and Florida. That growth, of course, was largely a mortgage mirage that compromised McClatchy’s future, leaving managers to talk bravely of reinvention while Gyllenhaal’s minions contemplate chicken entrails.