In 2004, George Riggs a hardened old buzzard of a newspaper man who was a roustabout in the oil fields where he made enough money to buy two small papers in rural Riverside County, California. He skipped all the 50-hour weeks for $16,000 a year salary that he would pay his top editors. He was publisher! King! He then continued a slow climb of heading profitable suburban papers until he became publisher of the San Jose Mercury News. The most high-tech newspaper in the country. The flagship of Knight Ridder.
That paper is still reeling from a dot-com implosion that threw advertising revenue into an historic free-fall and forced sharp cuts at Knight Ridder’s Merc. Annual help-wanted ad revenue dove to $18 million from $120 million.
Now 60, Riggs did not have any time to bask in the lime light. The Knight Ridder shareholders could read financial statements and industry trends and saw the Web and neighboring new media giants GOOGLE, YAHOO, E-Bay and CraigsList taking all the chips. So now Riggs works for Dean (Lean) Singleton. And the work is all about getting into the dirt and cutting expenses to the bone. He made a pep talk to his people saying they would become the Wal-Mart of information purveyors.
It’s a job a lot like Riggs’ start, a roughneck, but the pay isn’t nearly as good as a roustabout’s. These employees would be better off working for Gannett.