Another newspaper chain seeks shelter from storm
Debt-ridden McClatchy files for bankruptcy protection
NEW YORK — McClatchy, the publisher of the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and dozens of other newspapers, has filed for bankruptcy protection as it struggles to pay off debt while revenue shrinks because more readers and advertisers are going online.
McClatchy said Thursday that its 30 newspapers will continue to operate normally as it reorganizes under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, helped by $50 million in financing from Encina Business Credit.
The company hopes to emerge from bankruptcy protection in a few months as a private company, with majority ownership by a hedge fund that’s currently McClatchy’s largest shareholder and debtholder, Chatham Asset Management. That would end 163 years of family control.
It’s also looking to unload its pension obligations to a federal corporation that guarantees pensions, so that employees would get the benefits they were entitled to.
McClatchy did not announce any layoffs and tried to reassure employees, saying that while “we are always looking at opportunities to improve operational efficiencies,” the Chapter 11 process is “not geared around cost take-outs.”
The newspaper industry has been deeply hurt by changing technology that has sent the vast majority of people online in search of news. Media companies have tried to shift online, with varying degrees of success, as their print ad revenue and circulation declined. Complicating matters, internet companies Facebook and Google receive most online ad dollars.
While some national newspapers, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, are adding digital subscribers, helping them navigate advertising declines, many local outlets have had a difficult time. That has led to a string of consolidation, much of it involving investment firms.
Gannett, the USA Today publisher, was bought last year by GateHouse, a chain managed by private equity firm Fortress, in a deal helped by a high-interest, $1.8 billion loan from another financial firm, Apollo. It is the largest newspaper chain in the U.S. Another large chain, MediaNews, is owned by a hedge fund with a reputation for cutting costs and jobs, Alden Global.
McClatchy’s 2006 purchase of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain for $4.5 billion added to McClatchy’s debt and contributed to its financial woes as the industry’s decline accelerated in subsequent years.
Though financial results aren’t yet final, the company estimates that 2019 revenue fell 12.1% from the previous year, its sixth consecutive annual decline. McClatchy said its digital-only subscriptions have grown almost 50% to 200,000 over the past year.
But that growth has not offset the loss of advertising revenue that once flowed to its print newspapers.
McClatchy said it remained committed to journalism. “When local media suffers in the face of industry challenges, communities suffer,” CEO Craig Forman said.