Knight Ridder has been sold to McClatchy Co., parent of the Sacramento Bee, for about $4.5 billion, or $67 a share. The sale ends the Ridder family’s 114-year history as the owner of some of the nation’s most influential newspapers and the 11-year reign of Tony Ridder (pictured) as chairman. The transaction includes the 249,000-circulation San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times (187,000 circulation), Palo Alto Daily News group (67,000) and Monterey Herald (37,000).

The story broke this evening (March 12) on the New York Times web site at 7:50 p.m. Pacific Time, and within minutes the KR-owned Mercury News web page was reporting the sale as well. By 9:04 Pacific, the Sacramento Bee had posted the report.

The Bee’s story added, “[I]ndustry analysts and consultants said McClatchy appears poised to quickly sell off some of the Knight Ridder papers it doesn’t want to keep. A spinoff plan would enable McClatchy, publisher of The Bee and 28 other papers, to swallow the much larger Knight Ridder while still staying true to its strategy of buying papers only in high-growth markets.” The story didn’t say which papers McClatchy chairman Gary Pruitt (pictured) plans to sell, but it has been widely reported that KR’s most financially-troubled papers are the Philadelphia Inquirer, San Jose Mercury News and St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Meanwhile, the New York Times, in a sidebar, says that KR only attracted one bidder, “underscoring the fog hanging over the industry and the unique challenges facing the company.”

McCLATCHY’S CALIFORNIA PAPERS: Sacramento Bee (305,394 daily circulation), Fresno Bee (166,000), Modesto Bee (83,000), Merced Sun-Star (17,000).

McCLATCHY VS. KR: Daily papers: McClatchy 12, KR 32; Combined daily circulation: McClatchy 1.4 million, KR 3.4 million; Employees: McClatchy 9,800, KR, 18,000; Revenue in 2005: McClatchy $1.2 billion, KR $3 billion; Net income in 2005: McClatchy $160 million, up 2% from 04; KR $471 million, up 44% from 04.

[AP version] [Bloomberg version] [Chronicle’s version] [McClatchy liked by journalists and Wall Street] [Ridder family exits newspaper industry] [KR auction called “the ultimate poker game”] [Will McClatchy have any money left to invest in journalism?] [Observers heartened by ‘white knight’ bid]

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