One of America’s largest and oldest local news organizations has declared bankruptcy.
McClatchy’s Chapter 11 filing came Thursday in federal court in New York and marks the culmination of years of financial struggles, a heavy debt burden and the steady erosion of the print advertising market.
According to The New York Times, McClatchy wants to shed much of its pension obligations and its more than $700 million in debt. The plan outlined in the filing would slash about 60% of its debt. McClatchy says it wants to make a transition to digital.
The filing also says that from 2006 to 2018, the company’s advertising revenue and circulation revenue declined 80% and 59%, respectively.
In the meantime, it’ll be business as usually for McClatchy’s 30 U.S. newsrooms.
The Times notes that McClatchy’s longtime creditor, the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, will operate the company and take it private. That would make McClatchy just the latest news brand to be taken over by hedge funds, which are trying to squeeze additional profit from the struggling industry.
“While this is obviously a sad milestone after 163 years of family control, McClatchy remains a strong operating company and committed to essential local news and information,” said Kevin McClatchy, chairman of the company, according to McClatchy’s own report on its bankruptcy. “While we tried hard to avoid this step, there’s no question that the scale of our 75-year-old pension plan – with 10 pensioners for every single active employee – is a reflection of another economic era.”
McClatchy traces its beginnings back to 1857—following the end of the California Gold Rush—when it started publishing what eventually became The Sacramento Bee. McClatchy’s portfolio also includes major metropolitan newspapers like The Miami Herald, Charlotte Observer, Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Kansas City Star.
A report from USA Today says McClatchy, despite the bankruptcy, is still a force in local journalism. Its newsrooms span 14 states, and the company has a daily paid print circulation of 1.1 million and 55.7 million monthly unique visitors.
The path to Thursday’s bankruptcy filing began with the 2006 acquisition of newspaper chain Knight-Ridder. It was purchased with $5 billion in debt, but declining print fortunes and the simultaneous rise of digital left McClatchy saddled with debt.
McClatchy isn’t the only major newspaper publisher working to maintain its viability. Last year Gannett was acquired by the parent company of GateHouse Media, and much has been written — often not in a complimentary fashion — about hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s pursuit of local and regional newspapers and the ensuing job losses.
It’s all happening against the backdrop of what’s a decaying industry. Last year Pew Research Center put U.S. newspaper circulation at its lowest level since 1940.