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THE McCLATCHY-KNIGHT RIDDER DEAL

Silicon Valley Yawns at `Merc' Fate

March 28, 2006|Joseph Menn | Times Staff Writer

There's no shortage of billionaires in Silicon Valley. But do they know the way to San Jose? That could explain why no local bidder has emerged for the valley's hometown paper, the San Jose Mercury News.

Knight Ridder Inc.'s flagship daily is one of 12 newspapers that McClatchy Co. of Sacramento plans to sell as part of its deal to buy the San Jose-based company.

In other cities where Knight Ridder papers are on the auction block, business leaders and politicians are scrambling to put together bids and return the publications to local ownership. But there appears to be no similar rush to keep "the Merc" in local hands.

Former Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor, a promoter of amateur journalism, proposed on his blog that Yahoo Inc. make an offer and drew few responses. New-media consultant William Luciw, who suggested that a consortium of local investors step forward, was likewise greeted with deafening silence.

"I don't understand it," Luciw said. "Larry Ellison could write a check for it."

Oracle founder Ellison, well-known multibillionaire and impulse shopper, is only one of the valley residents who, on paper at least, could easily handle the Merc's expected price tag of $300 million to $400 million.

According to Forbes magazine's list of the richest Americans, 19 billionaires live in the area, including brokerage founder Charles Schwab, Intel Corp. co-founder Gordon Moore and Apple Computer Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs.

Some business leaders said they were hoping that Tony Ridder, Knight Ridder's chief executive, would lead a bid for the still-profitable paper. But Ridder told another industry executive that he wasn't interested.

That has left a vacuum that no one seems ready to fill, which some attribute to the valley's extreme preference for the cutting edge over tradition. After all, many on the Forbes list got there by founding or investing in Google Inc., Yahoo, EBay Inc. or other online firms that are eating the newspaper industry's lunch.

Not all of the local powers even read the Merc anymore -- let alone debate the merits of buying the company, said restaurateur Jamis MacNiven, proprietor of a favorite deal-making spot, Buck's of Woodside.

"Nobody's interested in buying the paper that I know of," he said. "It seems like yesterday's news."

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