Rolling stones with McClatchy’s Pruitt

September 11, 2008

mcclatchy1.jpgMcClatchy Chief Executive Gary Pruitt is one of those newspaper executives a reporter can get along well with because of qualities that are not always common to your typical CEO:

  • He leaves the jargon behind at interviews.
  • He is honest about bad news, making it easier to believe him when he delivers good news.
  • He believes in the product — good journalism — as fervently as he does in his duty to please shareholders (which in McClatchy’s case includes the company’s namesake family and a bunch of other unhappy people).

Trouble is, there isn’t much good news to tell about the newspaper business. Pruitt has said as much to us and others, but in his latest interview in the Sacramento News & Review, (which we found on Romenesko) he shows us how much he feels his employees’ pain:

This has been the worst year of my life, by far.

That’s a pretty grim assessment. Then again, he’s presided over a 90 percent drop in McClatchy’s stock price, he’s cutting staff by 10 percent, and there appear to be few options open to the company to change the way it’s set up. The primary obstacle is $2 billion in debt from its acquisition of newspaper publisher Knight Ridder just before the key advertising struts supporting the company snapped.

Here’s more from Pruitt, on the economy:

One of the things that I wanted to emphasize is, obviously, we’re impacted by the economic downturn… It’s difficult to tease out how much of this is cyclical, and therefore temporary, and how much is secular and permanent. People have a tendency to conflate the two and assume, “Oh my god, it’s the end of the world as we know it-so why do you feel fine?”

And on the near future:

You don’t want to cut expenses and hurt the company if it’s temporary… On the other hand, you want to keep the company safe and secure for the long-term future, and that’s a very difficult balance to strike. I remain optimistic long-term, but in the short run, things may get worse. I hope not, but they could. Sorting that out has been difficult, stressful, painful, whatever you want to call it.

And on his future at the company:

I came into this not because I had an MBA and I thought this was a good way to make money, but because McClatchy believed in First Amendment rights and quality journalism… When you see the bad revenue numbers, you go, “Oh god, this is so terrible, I don’t need this anymore.” But probably the only thing worse than staying would be quitting. It’s too important.

Aside from the whole McClatchy theme, there is a ton of exposition in the article about how much of a music fan Pruitt is, particularly of the Rolling Stones (and an anecdote about Pruitt meeting Mick Jagger and Keith Richards backstage, which is worth reading). There also is the inevitable pull-quote with lines from the Stones song “Gimme Shelter.” I might have picked, “As Tears Go By.”

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