Monday, June 25, 2007

Course for the Par

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has enough problems without having Par Ridder as publisher. So, he ought to do the right thing and resign.

Apart from whatever legal consequences result from Par’s reported admission that he purloined trade secrets from his former employer, the Pioneer Press, the case is a major distraction for his current newspaper, whose finances faltered almost immediately upon its acquisition by a group of New York financiers.

Barely three months after the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was sold in February, its operating profits were 20% lower than projected by Avista Capital Partners, which acquired the paper from McClatchy. The shortfall is the reason why the highly leveraged paper recently dismissed 7% of its total staff, including a much deeper cut in the newsroom (see Comments below). If the newspaper can’t improve its sales, it would have to cut still more expenses to avoid defaulting on its loans.

At the same time 145 of his colleagues hit the bricks, Par callously plunked down $2.7 million for a 100-year-old mansion in one of the swankest parts of town. Beyond poor taste, the purchase of the costly-to-heat edifice – which includes a heated outdoor pool – reflects remarkably poor judgment in an era when enhanced energy austerity would seem to be highly advisable.

But poor judgment seems to be Par for the course for this publishing scion.

The lawsuit filed by MediaNews Group charges that Par spent five months gathering PiPress trade secrets before jumping to the Strib in spite of a non-compete agreement with the St. Paul newspaper. The secrets included “employees’ salaries, profit and loss data and customer lists of advertisers, along with ad revenue, ad rates and company expenses for nearly every department,” according to an account by Minnesota Public Radio.

Par said he accepted the offer of his former secretary to shred his non-compete agreement at her home but chased her down in the parking lot to retrieve the document after being advised by his lawyer not to let her do so.

At a time the struggling paper needs a clear-thinking, ethical leader who can focus 110% of his attention on solving its problems, Par must defend himself in court, rally a staff demoralized by major cutbacks, suffer excruciating public humiliation and try to regain the confidence of the investors who entrusted him with a $530 million asset.

Having flunked most of the major tests of modern corporate stewardship, there is only one honorable alternative left. Will Par have enough sense to take it?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one who left via buyout -- first a round of 24, followed by another 50 -- the newsroom actually has been cut by about 20 percent since Avista and Ridder took over. Guess they needed those salaries for their legal war chest.

6:32 AM  
Blogger (himself) said...

When you threw in the heating bill I began wondering if you were running out of gas yourself. Still, it might make good reading in the Strib to learn what the staff pays for heat, consumes at meals, drives or contributes to charities. Goodness knows they have tons of opinions about the habits of others. Incidently, how much did you pay for your house?

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

generally, a good column. But, despite the assertion of your first commenter noted, Par could be living in a shack and there would still be staff cuts--unfortunately, but still a fact of life in this increasingly grim world of daily newspapers. So lets not mix apples and donuts. As questionable and reprehensible as his behavior on his contract might be, it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with staff cuts.

1:01 PM  

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