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Knight Ridder Union Seeks Political Aid

April 01, 2006|Joseph Menn | Times Staff Writer

The union working with Los Angeles billionaire Ron Burkle to buy 12 newspapers from McClatchy Co. is asking elected officials to lobby the Sacramento company on behalf of labor's effort to acquire the publications.

Burkle's Yucaipa Cos., working with the Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, submitted a bid Tuesday on the papers McClatchy is selling as part of its acquisition of Knight Ridder Inc. As of Friday, the partners had yet to hear anything from McClatchy, union President Linda Foley said.

Meanwhile, McClatchy has held talks with MediaNews Group over that firm's bid for several of the papers, including three in California, according to people familiar with the process.

U.S. Reps. Sam Farr (D-Carmel) and Mike Honda (D-San Jose) agreed to the union's request that they write to McClatchy Chief Executive Gary B. Pruitt urging him to provide financial information that Yucaipa needs to mount a viable bid, aides to the congressmen said Friday. Both lawmakers' districts include papers that are up for sale -- the Monterey County Herald in Farr's district and the San Jose Mercury News in Honda's district.

Other politicians, including California Controller Steve Westly and several mayors, have also weighed in on the union's behalf. Westly is running for governor, and Burkle is a major donor to the Democratic Party.

The financial data the union is seeking were given to MediaNews and other companies involved in the bidding for all of Knight Ridder.

A spokesman for McClatchy declined to comment Friday on the bidding process or the lawmakers' entreaties. McClatchy hopes to reap $2 billion or more from selling the 12 Knight Ridder papers, Wall Street analysts said. That would value the papers at about 10 times their annual cash flow, or roughly what McClatchy paid for Knight Ridder.

At least one bidder -- not Yucaipa -- is placing a higher value than that on some of the papers, industry sources said. Neither Yucaipa nor MediaNews would disclose how much it bid.

Other announced bidders include a group led by Philadelphia-area businessman Bruce Toll, who said he was seeking the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. A St. Paul, Minn., group wants that city's Pioneer Press, while Forum Communications of Fargo, N.D., is seeking three papers in Duluth, Minn., and the Dakotas.

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