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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fond farewell Knight Ridder

Yesterday's Miami Herald had a long piece on its parent Knight Ridder and its community involvement in both Miami and Miami-Dade county. The newspaper chain will no longer cease to exist after its merger with McClatchly Co. on Tuesday.

The article is mostly a nostalgic look at the Herald and KN's past. KN did alot for Miami, and they will be missed. Who knows, maybe McClatchly will have a similiar involvement with the community it will soon be serving. Only time will tell.

Two other notes-

*- The Herald announced their website will be changing soon. As a frequent visitor of Newspaper websites, I've always said you couldn't tell one KN newspaper from the other online except by the title at the top of the webpage. Look at the Miami Herald, Wichita Eagle, Bradenton Herald, and Philadelphia Enquirer sites for example and you'll see what I mean.

*- Today's Herald had an article about the new owners.

Open Post- Bright & Early, Bloggin Outloud,

In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, with homes destroyed, lives devastated and government overwhelmed, President George H.W. Bush turned to the man in Miami he knew could lead a badly needed recovery effort.

It was Alvah Chapman Jr., retired chairman of Knight Ridder, which owns The Miami Herald. Chapman quickly enlisted James Batten, Knight Ridder's chairman, and We Will Rebuild, a private effort that would collect and distribute $27 million in hurricane aid, was born.

''Knight Ridder has had a very powerful, very positive impact in the community,'' says Armando Codina, chairman and chief executive officer of Codina Group, a large Miami real estate concern.

At 4 p.m. Tuesday, when its sale to The McClatchy Co. is final, Knight Ridder, whose roots go back to the 1890s, will cease to exist. Its influence in South Florida already is mostly gone.

''I don't know that Knight Ridder has any influence,'' says Merrett Stierheim, the former Miami-Dade County manager and longtime civic activist. ``The Herald has some influence.''

Knight Ridder's impact in South Florida in the 32 years since Knight Newspapers merged with Ridder Publications in 1974 has risen and fallen with the personalities of its leaders, the company's financial vigor and the challenges and needs of the community.

As a corporate citizen, it has touched nearly everything -- politics, crime, homelessness, drugs, charity, sports arenas, hurricane relief, the old Florida Philharmonic, the new Miami Performing Arts Center.

The source of Knight Ridder's power was its position among the business giants of that era in South Florida. Miami in the 1970s and 1980s was a city of corporate headquarters -- Southeast Bank, AmeriFirst Bank, Burdines, Eastern Airlines, National Airlines, Ryder System, Jordan Marsh.

At the top: Knight Ridder.


Much of the power that Chapman and Knight Ridder wielded was in private. In 1971, a dozen chief executive officers formed a fraternity called the ''Non-Group'' -- so powerful that Maurice Ferré, Miami mayor in the 1970s, called it ``the shadow government of Dade County.''

It met once a month in members' homes to discuss the public's business. Its co-founders were Chapman and Harry Hood Bassett, chairman of Southeast Banking Corp.

''If I faced a problem as county manager, I could tell Alvah I would like to meet with the Non-Group,'' Stierheim says. ``Things got done.''

Example: raising $3.5 million for a redevelopment project in Liberty City in 1980. Chapman secured the money with seven phone calls.

As the Non-Group's activities became known, some complained that such public business should be done by local governments in public. Ferré agrees, but says the businessmen were filling a political vacuum created by Miami-Dade's tangled system of feuding cities with weak-mayor governments.

The Non-Group also was criticized for being almost entirely white non-Hispanic males -- the corporate CEOs.

''The community's problems will not be solved until the power structure opens itself to the fact that power must be shared,'' said Eduardo Padron, then vice president of Miami Dade College and now the president.

Codina, who became the Non-Group's first Hispanic member, agrees: ``In today's world, the best way is to call on diverse groups of people to get behind a goal.''

Chapman was sensitive to the situation.

''We started [the Non-Group] with only 12 people,'' he says now. ``With 12 CEOs, there were no females or others. There was no choice. It became broader eventually.''


Chapman, who came to Miami in 1960 to work for Knight Newspapers, helped orchestrate the 1974 merger that created Knight Ridder. He became its CEO in 1976 and its chairman in 1982. He retired as chairman in 1989.

As chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce in the 1970s, he helped reorganize it into ''action committees'' to promote downtown development. It helped set the stage for a $2 billion building boom that included the Government Center, the former CenTrust Tower, the Hotel Inter-Continental and the Bayside Marketplace.

Chapman's authority didn't come only from his place atop Knight Ridder.

''It was his personality,'' Ferré says. ``He's a very dedicated, honorable, Christian, all-American Southern gentleman. He has a vision of right and wrong. People felt honored to follow him.''

Says Chapman: ``I learned about service to others from my father, who was a civic leader in Columbus, Ga., and active in Bradenton, where I grew up.''

He learned duty, honor, country as a ''knob'' at The Citadel, and as a B-17 pilot over Germany in World War II.

Another influence came to the fore in 1993 when he teamed with Alex Penelas, then a Miami-Dade commissioner, to create the Dade County Homeless Task Force. Chapman's involvement stemmed from a 37-week Bible class that he and his wife, Betty, had taken at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables.

''At the end of the class, the 27 members each made a commitment to do something to increase spiritual values,'' Chapman says.

Learning that 8,000 homeless people lived on Miami-Dade's streets, the Chapmans chose that as their mission.

Result: the Community Partnership for the Homeless, which operates two Homeless Assistance Centers, one in downtown Miami, another in Homestead. They provide food and shelter, case management, healthcare, day care and job training in a campus setting.

''I'm prouder of that than anything else,'' Chapman says.

Chapman's leadership roles sometimes chafed editors and reporters at The Miami Herald. In 1978, when Chapman was president and CEO of Knight Ridder Newspapers and president of The Miami Herald Publishing Co., he directed the publishing company to contribute $16,000 to fight a state referendum to permit gambling casinos in Florida.

The Miami Herald also editorialized against the casinos. Casino supporters cried foul, asserting that Chapman was interfering with the newspaper's editorial independence.

John McMullan, Miami Herald executive editor at the time, strongly denied that Chapman, his boss, had interfered in an editorial stance. But he wrote: ``It was an unnecessary burden to have our credibility questioned because of gifts made by business members of The Herald. It tended to undermine our efforts.''

Today, Chapman's position has softened: ``John had the right to his opinion. And we did better the second time. [Another unsuccessful casino referendum was held in 1986]. We contributed individually, not through the corporation. That made people more comfortable.''


In 1989, Chapman retired as chairman, and Batten, a veteran Southern newspaperman, took over, retaining the position of CEO. P. Anthony ''Tony'' Ridder became Knight Ridder president.

As chairman, Batten dived into community affairs, often in tandem with Chapman. Batten, as a reporter in Charlotte, N.C., and Washington, D.C., had covered the civil rights era, the Ku Klux Klan, controversial Alabama Gov. George Wallace and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

''I'm sure it influenced him,'' says his wife, Jean. ``He felt very strongly that the Non-Group should become more inclusive.''

Taking over as co-chair of the Non-Group, Batten helped select 21 new members, including blacks and Hispanics, explaining: ``Unless we are successful in reflecting fully the nature of the communities we seek to serve, we simply will not be as successful as we must be.''

After Hurricane Andrew, he worked closely with Chapman on hurricane relief, quickly calling 50 community leaders to set up We Will Rebuild, raising money and lobbying then-Gov. Lawton Chiles for more help.

In 1993, Batten helped negotiate an end to an economic boycott organized by Miami's black community. The boycott, spurred by the snubbing of South African anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, had cost Miami-Dade's tourist industry at least $25 million.

In 1989 Knight Ridder, under Batten, agreed to donate three acres of land on Biscayne Boulevard for a Miami Performing Arts Center -- stressing, however, that both Chapman and Batten considered Bicentennial Park a better site. The transfer was formally approved while Ridder was CEO.

Batten died of a brain tumor at 59 in June 1995.


Ridder, who had been in Miami for Knight Ridder since 1986, became chairman, retaining the title of CEO. He had been born into the Ridder newspaper family, eventually rising to publisher of The San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News. He came to Miami in 1986 as president of Knight Ridder's newspaper division, and in 1989 had become Knight Ridder president.

Ridder led one major, if brief, campaign in Miami -- in 1996. The Miami Heat basketball and Florida Panthers hockey teams had declared their home at the old Miami Arena too small. They were threatening to move to Broward County, which was offering a new $212 million arena.

Ridder's campaign -- shuttling among Heat officials and city and county leaders -- worked, in part. The Panthers went to Broward, but the Heat stayed in Miami. Ridder's efforts were applauded by Chapman and Miami-Dade Mayor Steve Clark, although Ridder -- and The Miami Herald -- got a lambasting from Broward.

Ridder declined an interview request for this report but answered some questions by e-mail, via Polk Laffoon, Knight Ridder's vice president/corporate relations. Concerning his community activities in Miami, Ridder said: ``Until I became CEO, they didn't really want me. They wanted Alvah Chapman, Jim Batten and Dick Capen -- the company's CEO, president and publisher of The Miami Herald, respectively. When Dick Capen left The Herald, they wanted Dave Lawrence. I was just a corporate executive.

``After I became CEO, I read in the newspaper that the Heat's effort to build a new arena in Miami was dead, and that the team was resigned to moving to Broward. I felt that would be a terrible thing for Miami-Dade. I called [Heat owner] Micky Arison and asked him if he would give me 30 to 45 days to put together a coalition to keep the arena in Miami-Dade. He agreed. I pulled together some people and, importantly, we came up with a financing plan to keep the arena in Miami. I don't think that was insignificant for the community.''

In 1995, the Knight Ridder Center for Excellence in Management was created at Florida International University's College of Business Administration with an endowment of $2.04 million from Knight Ridder (matched by the state) and $1.2 million from Chapman and his wife.


In 1998, Ridder led the move that transferred Knight Ridder's headquarters from Miami to San Jose. In an e-mail response Friday, written by Laffoon and approved by Ridder, he explained: ``We moved Knight Ridder to San Jose to ensure that our newspapers could take maximum advantage of the Internet. Silicon Valley is the world center of Internet activity.''

Chapman, Ridder's mentor, was stunned by the 1998 move. ''I feel terrible,'' he says now. ``I voted against it. Unquestionably, Knight Ridder has a reduced role now in the community.''

''Tony Ridder never had his heart in Miami,'' ex-Mayor Ferré says. ``He didn't fit. He didn't see the future of this community. He's an all-American guy, and this is not an all-American city. This is Tomorrowland.''


The move wasn't the only factor reducing Knight Ridder's clout here. Many of Miami's powerful corporations had died, moved away or merged. Eastern Airlines, National Airlines, Jordan Marsh, Southeast Bank and Burdines are gone. A major base of Knight Ridder power, the Non-Group, is no more.

A new generation of political leaders has emerged -- Miami Mayors Xavier Suarez, Joe Carollo, Manny Diaz, Miami-Dade Mayors Alex Penelas, Carlos Alvarez. The old political vacuum has been filled.

Chapman, now 85, still passionate about newspapering, concludes: ``I feel terrible about the sale. Knight Ridder will no longer exist as a company. But I feel that if the company had to be sold, McClatchy is a good company to buy, own and operate it.

``I hope [McClatchy Chairman] Gary Pruitt will come to Miami quite strong.''

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