More than New Bosses Await Knight Ridder’s Online Staffs
Knight Ridder and McClatchy have pursued two distinct approaches to their online operations: a nationally-networked, centralized system at Knight Ridder vs. a hyper-local approach by McClatchy that means its sites can end up looking no more like one another than, say, the city of Minneapolis looks like Sacramento.
The acquisition of Knight Ridder by McClatchy announced Monday will result in each of these approaches bleeding over a bit into the other, with McClatchy becoming more national -- and networked -- in its approach and the former Knight Ridder sites more local.
"In a sense," said Christian Hendricks, the 43 year-old McClatchy vice president who heads the company's online sites, "the Knight Ridder and McClatchy strategies are very similar except in nuance -- theirs is more of a national/local approach and ours is more local/local."
The sign out front at all 32 operations will be McClatchy Interactive as opposed to Knight Ridder Digital, though, and that will mean a significant shift in culture and operations for the online staffs at the 20 Knight Ridder papers joining the McClatchy fold.
"We would like to have them operate the way we do," Hendricks said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon.
Describing what he characterized as McClatchy's approach to corporate oversight, he said: "Corporate doesn't send dictates down the pipeline telling people how to run things. We have a discussion and set broad parameters. We tell people where the fences are, what the long-term strategies are in terms of readership and financial goals."
He added: "If (the local online managers) operate outside those fences, we don't shoot them. We have a discussion about whether we should move the fences or whether they should get back inside ... We really believe that the people at the local sites are the ones who should be talking to their markets and making decisions."
That local focus explains how McClatchy hopes to achieve some of the $15 million it projects saving in the combined online operations of the two companies -- a corporate staff considerably leaner than the current make-up of Knight Ridder Digital.
In practical terms, Hendricks indicated that, instead of reporting to a corporate online headquarters as they do now, local online directors of the acquired Knight Ridder properties will likely report to the publishers of the newspapers whose content they publish on the Web.
And rather than pouring that content into standard templates shaping the look and feel of their sites, local sites will be expected to come up with their own paths to strong financial and journalistic results.
That's not to say McClatchy is without company-wide standards and procedures for its online operations. Hendricks said local sites follow corporate policies in such areas as registration and search strategies, for example. And he said both companies have taken a centralized approach in such areas as technical development.
"But we've given much more flexibility to local markets," he said. "From what I've understood has been possible in the Knight Ridder system, that (flexibility) has been harder to get to."
Hendricks cited help-wanted advertising as an area in which McClatchy will benefit from Knight Ridder's more networked approach. McClatchy hopes to acquire Knight Ridder's one-third ownership of CareerBuilder, the national recruitment advertising site, as part of the deal. That would provide McClatchy sites with a national partner in that part of the classified business.
He also pointed to the search category, saying that McClatchy sites currently pursue what he described as "an advanced local search strategy" but noting that Knight Ridder's affiliation with Shop Local will add a national dimension to McClatchy's local focus.
"Our (local search strategy) is a little beefier," he said, "but Shop Local has national advertisers that we wouldn't have."
All things considered, he said, combining the Knight Ridder and McClatchy digital strategies "looks a lot like one plus one equalling three."
Hendricks said he will visit the Knight Ridder Digital offices in San Jose on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he'll visit McClatchy Interactive in Raleigh and on Thursday he'll visit the offices of the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa.
Partly because of the strong youth market in State College, Hendricks said he has been assigned corporate oversight responsibilities for the print as well as the online operations there.