Caught in the anxious middle of the Knight Ridder deal are employees of the twelve newspapers scattered around the country, which have just changed ownership and will be changing hands again sometime soon. David Hanners, general assignment reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, joins Bob to discuss daily journalism when you’re being bought and sold and bought again.
BOB GARFIELD: St. Paul Pioneer Press general assignment reporter David Hanners is one of those who has been in a state of ownership anxiety for months. He and his fellow reporters at the Pioneer Press have awaited news of their future, and they thought that Monday would bring some resolution. But instead, with McClatchy immediately announcing plans to resell his paper, he's right back where he started. He joins us now for a view from the ground. David, welcome to the show.
DAVID HANNERS: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: So you're sitting there on, you know, pins and needles for months, and –
DAVID HANNERS: My reaction was one of kind of nervousness, because McClatchy already owns a newspaper in this market, The Star Tribune over in Minneapolis, and my immediate thought was what do they need two newspapers for in the Twin Cities? And I didn't think our future looked too bright.
BOB GARFIELD: And, of course, they were having similar thoughts over at McClatchy. They immediately put The Pioneer Press on the market, and you found yourself in a very familiar situation. Tell me about your [CHUCKLES] history in another city and another newspaper sale.
DAVID HANNERS: Yeah. I used to work in Dallas, at The Dallas Morning News, the newspaper that prevailed in the newspaper war down there. And we saw kind of the same thing happen at The Times-Herald, the other paper. When I went to work there in the early '80s at The Morning News, The Times-Herald was owned by Times-Mirror. They eventually sold out. And over the course of those differing owners, The Times-Herald really lost a lot, lost a lot of good people, just had trouble covering the news and getting the newspaper on your doorstep and putting ads in the paper, and eventually it folded. And they sold the assets to The Morning News.
BOB GARFIELD: I want to suggest one scenario - that the situation there in St. Paul improves. Haven't you noticed a loss of resources for doing the kind of reporting you would like to do there in St. Paul, and isn't there the possibility that whoever the new owner is could actually feather your nest?
DAVID HANNERS: Yes. That's entirely possible, and there are a couple of, I think, prospective buyers in the wings that I think could do that. There's one of them in particular, a deal being put together by the Newspaper Guild, that looks very attractive to us, and I would think a new owner would like to come in and show how nice he or she is and, you know, throw around a lot of money. And I'd be more than happy to help them spend it.
BOB GARFIELD: Okay. That's the best-case scenario. Tell me what's the worst case, from your point of view.
DAVID HANNERS: The worst case, I think, is a repeat of what I witnessed in Dallas with the Times-Herald. You know, a new owner comes in and they're not really committed to journalism. They see the profit number and they bleed us dry. And there's really nothing left of us after a while, and closes us and then sells the assets to McClatchy. The thing that I'm having trouble understanding is if McClatchy owns us, why do they want to keep a competitor in business? I think that's the question that a lot of us in the newsroom are having, because we're kind of the people on the front lines of the newspaper war that we've been fighting. We wake up every morning thinking of some way to screw over The Star Tribune and get some story that they don't have. And their people wake up pretty much the same way.
BOB GARFIELD: You mentioned the interest of the Newspaper Guild as a potential purchaser of The Pioneer Press. Ever been to a Guild meeting?
DAVID HANNERS: [LAUGHS] Oh, yeah. In fact, I was an officer in our local – [OVERTALK]
BOB GARFIELD: Well, I don't want to be insulting or anything, but do you think [LAUGHS] this is a group that could publish a newspaper?
DAVID HANNERS: Your insinuation there is well taken. In a word, yes. One of the things that I think the Newspaper Guild deal has going for it, is it divorces us from the need to make obscene profits. The Pioneer Press's profit is double digits, which most businesses around would be happy with. Wall Street, it seems, has wanted media companies to just make sky-high profits, and good journalism costs money. I mean, I'm sorry. I don't know if running a newspaper is rocket science or not. You know, I've just seen it from the newsroom side, and I know what I do isn't rocket science. That's why I went into it. But I think we are savvy enough to recognize good businesspeople who could come in, you know, make the smart moves that it takes to keep us profitable but who also realize that constitutional franchise that we have and that we have, you know, a duty and an obligation under that franchise to, you know, print the truth and raise hell.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, all the best in so doing. David, thank you very much.
DAVID HANNERS: Well, thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: David Hanners is a general assignment reporter for The St. Paul Pioneer Press.