by Fiona Morgan
Maybe someone should invite Howard Weaver out for a nice game of golf. The retired McClatchy executive seems to find it hard to keep his hands off the keyboard, and it's a rather sensitive time for employees -- and former employees -- of the newspapers he used to oversee.
After launching a defensive back and forth in the comments thread of Romenesko yesterday with News & Observer reporter Joe Neff, Weaver today raised the topic again on his blog, Etaoin Shrdlu, where he has continued to opine about the newspaper business and McClatchy's role in innovating it -- and, perhaps inadvertently, fed the fire of resentment rising in those who see McClatchy's poor business decisions as the root cause of The N&O's recent layoffs.
While today's post demonstrated sympathy toward those who've lost their jobs, Weaver repeated an earlier assertion that The N&O was in bad shape long before McClatchy came along:
I don’t apologize for expressing the facts as I know them. It simply isn’t helpful to build mythologies based on anger and blame that don’t reflect reality. [...] For example, those who argue that McClatchy took over a thriving N&O and greedily ran it into the ground are misinformed, and perpetuating that myth hurts the cause of reconstruction.
Frank Daniels, Jr., whose family sold the newspaper to McClatchy in 1995, tells the Indy that Weaver is the one perpetuating a myth, at least in part.
"As far as we were concerned, we were doing extremely well. Financials had nothing to do with our decision to sell," Daniels says. "So he’s just mistaken."
Some background: In March, Weaver's post blasting both sentimentality and high-minded theory elicited anger from a number of commenters, among them retired N&O metro columnist Dennis Rogers, who wrote:
Your company bought our perfectly content and profitable newspaper a decade ago. Why? Because we were damn good (we'd even managed to win the community service Pulitzer without your leadership), we made money and we were among the nation's most innovative. And you have bled us dry ever since. [...] You have ruined us, Howard. The thin pages you have left behind are a sad commentary on what used to be a great American newspaper. The newsroom management of our paper has performed heroically to meet the challenges brought on by your mismanagement. And they have wept with us when the deep cuts you and your henchmen demanded in the name of protecting your stock portfolios sent good people out into the cold.
"I'm sorry about your anger, Dennis," Weaver replies. But he adds:
We didn't ruin you. (The News & Observer was a failing business when McClatchy bought it. The Daniels didn't believe in its future and it wasn't doing well.) And no matter who owned that paper, the loss of advertising and revenue crash would have screwed them.
"He’s partially correct," Daniels says. "McClatchy didn’t run it into the ground until the economy started going to hell and they bought Knight Ridder and got saddled with all that debt. So it would not be fair to blame McClatchy all straight through. But when they took it over, it was a thriving and successful business." In asserting otherwise, Daniels says, "Howard is just mistaken and, in my judgment, probably ignorant."
At the time of the interview, Daniels had just returned from a pleasant round of nine holes.