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Idaho Statesman: Passed Along Like So Much Bird Flu

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"Never pick fights with someone who buys ink by the barrel" has been said, re-said and mistakenly attributed so many times, we have no idea who originally said it anymore (we've narrowed it down to either FDR, Mark Twain, Tommy Lasorda or the Canaanite storm god Ba'al). And over the 13-year-and-change existence of Boise Weekly, we haven't heeded that chestnut very well when it comes to our local daily. That said, a few of us in the editorial cave were glad to hear that the Idaho Statesman's parent machine, Knight-Ridder, was bought by upstart 150-year-old publishing magnate McClatchy. The general consensus amongst the local and national coverage of the buyout is that when McClatchy takes over, newspapers turn from "blatantly corporate tripe that is part of The Problem" to "something that at least acts independent-ish, and values actual writing... or something." Our words, not theirs. Or Ba'al's.

With one safely in the grave and the other (it appears) not ready to swoop back in and yoink the Statesman away from McClatchy anytime soon, we feel it's safe to say: Knight-Ridder--not good. Gannett: bad like poison. But is McClatchy different? To answer that, we turned to American Journalism Review, who published an immense feature two years ago entitled, "Is McClatchy Different?"

Author Susan Paterno spins a fascinating yarn about the history of this ancient firm, noting how for much of its history it was known for giving politicians the most aggressive investigative probings anywhere in mainstream journalism (to wit: in 1976, four staff members of the McClatchy-owned Fresno Bee, including the managing editor, went to jail to protect a source for a government corruption story before such actions were considered cool. The case eventually led the California Legislature to change the state's constitution to include reporters shield laws.)

Today, Paterno says, "McClatchy papers are thoroughly modern and professionally designed newsgathering machines, heavier on features, sports and projects than they were, and far less willing to take down the big players that control the economic development of the markets McClatchy dominates. If [1970s CEO] C.K. McClatchy was a cowboy, then [current CEO] Gary Pruitt is a dairy farmer, more inclined to see his high-quality products graze and grow, with editors embracing the industry's latest trends--teams, public journalism, civic mapping, easy-to-read digests--anything to boost circulation and the company's reputation in the world of modern newspapers."

A chilling vision of things to come, Boise. Did we say chilling? We meant, nice. So the Statesman will be a more interesting, more local, shinier read--good, since we, like everyone else, need something to read on the pooper--but still not a threat to make any real waves. And it'll still be viewed in Idaho's hinterlands as "Left of Lenin" (that one never gets old).

But all that aside, what this move will portend for any unnamed cutesy-crap faux-alternative weeklies in the area will be interesting indeed to watch unfold.