Thursday, April 30, 2009

April 30: New Knights Are Needed

By Sylvia Gurinsky

My recent reading includes a book that's 21 years old: "Knight," a biography of publisher John S. Knight that was written by legendary Miami Herald columnist Charles Whited in 1988.

It's a wonderful read, chronicling Knight's development of his publishing empire. One of my observations was that Knight, who died in 1981, was astute about what was happening to newspapers and where they might go.

Knight was reluctant to have Knight Newspapers go public in 1969, and equally hesitant at the merger with Ridder Publications in 1974. He decried the increasing corporate influence on newspapers and was concerned about executives who did not have knowledge of the journalism side of the business.

The current troubles with newspapers are Exhibit A that he was right. His own company, which became Knight-Ridder, went into a freefall after the successes of the late 20th century and was swallowed up by McClatchy, with some newspapers being sold - including Knight's flagship Akron Beacon Journal, now owned by a Canadian company.

Aside from the issue of the Internet, there is also the result of years of erosion of solid community coverage and understanding.

What will fix it?

New Knights, or new Katharine Grahams - in other words, new people who have knowledge both of the nuts and bolts of journalism and a balance sheet, and commitment to and confidence in the future of their media.

A lot of people have been predicting the death of newspapers and even the death of journalism. Both predictions are premature. Newspapers - in whatever form - and journalism will survive, provided the people who run them and the people who work for them care about the first priority - informing the public.

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