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Bidder for 12 Knight Papers Hires Ex-Editor

April 12, 2006|Joseph Menn | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles investor Ron Burkle is turning to a former insider as he pursues 12 Knight Ridder Inc. newspapers now on the block.

Burkle's Yucaipa Cos. said Tuesday that it had hired James Naughton, a former executive editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer -- the largest of the papers McClatchy Co. is selling as part of its acquisition of San Jose-based Knight Ridder.

After leaving the Inquirer in 1996, Naughton served for seven years as president of the Poynter Institute, a training center for journalists. As Knight Ridder shareholders agitated for a sale of the company last fall, he led a group of company alumni pressing for ownership that would invest in news coverage at the expense of short-term profit.

In an e-mail to that group Tuesday, Naughton said that ownership by Yucaipa, which has the backing of a union representing newspaper employees, "is the most opportune outcome on the horizon."

Naughton said in an interview that he wanted to help Yucaipa recruit leaders and plan strategy at the papers because the investment firm had "the wherewithal financially to handle them appropriately and has a long-range strategy." Naughton, 67, said he wouldn't take a full-time position if the Yucaipa bid succeeded.

McClatchy, based in Sacramento, plans to keep 20 Knight Ridder dailies. Yucaipa signed a confidentiality agreement Tuesday to get financial data on the Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News.

A group of local investors bidding for just those publications, meanwhile, said it had hired a former Knight Ridder vice president for advertising, Jerome Tilis, along with the former labor-relations chief at the Inquirer and the Daily News.

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