Newspaper chain McClatchy files for bankruptcy protection

McClatchy Co., the publisher of the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and dozens of other newspapers across the country, is filing for bankruptcy protection.

NEW YORK — McClatchy, the publisher of the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and dozens of other newspapers, has filed for bankruptcy protection as it struggles to pay off debt while revenue shrinks because more readers and advertisers are going online.

McClatchy said Thursday that its 30 newspapers will continue to operate normally as it reorganizes under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, helped by $50 million in financing from Encina Business Credit.

The company hopes to emerge from bankruptcy protection in a few months as a private company, with majority ownership by a hedge fund that’s currently McClatchy’s largest shareholder and debtholder, Chatham Asset Management. That would end 163 years of family control.

It’s also looking to unload its pension obligations to a federal corporation that guarantees pensions, so that employees would get the benefits they were entitled to.

McClatchy did not announce any layoffs and tried to reassure employees, saying that while “we are always looking at opportunities to improve operational efficiencies,” the Chapter 11 process is “not geared around cost take-outs.”

The newspaper industry has been deeply hurt by changing technology that has sent the vast majority of people online in search of news. Media companies have tried to shift online, with varying degrees of success, as their print ad revenue and circulation declined. Complicating matters, internet companies Facebook and Google receive most online ad dollars.

While some national newspapers, like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, are adding digital subscribers, helping them navigate advertising declines, many local outlets have had a difficult time. That has led to a string of consolidation, much of it involving investment firms, deepening concerns about declining quality as newsrooms shrink and papers close.

Gannett, the USA Today publisher, was bought last year by GateHouse, a chain managed by private equity firm Fortress, in a deal helped by a high-interest, $1.8 billion loan from another financial firm, Apollo. It is the largest newspaper chain in the U.S. Another large chain, MediaNews, is owned by a hedge fund with a reputation for cutting costs and jobs, Alden Global.

McClatchy said it remained committed to journalism.

“When local media suffers in the face of industry challenges, communities suffer: polarization grows, civic connections fray and borrowing costs rise for local governments,” CEO Craig Forman said. “We are moving with speed and focus to benefit all our stakeholders and our communities.”

In a statement, Chatham said it was “committed to preserving independent journalism and newsroom jobs.” Chatham said it has been “a supportive investor” in McClatchy since 2009.

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