McClatchy chief executive Gary Pruitt, in a commentary in this morning’s (March 16) Wall Street Journal, disputes the conventional wisdom that newspapers are a thing of the past. After reeling off a number of statistics about the health of newspapers, Pruitt says, “Simply put, more people want our products today than wanted them yesterday; this is hardly the profile of a dying industry.” And he’s not just talking about the economics of newspaper publishing, but the need for newspapers if democracy is to thrive: “Self-government depends on continuous civic conversation, which in turn depends on people having a common vocabulary. Without a shared sense of what the problems are, there’s little hope of finding solutions. That shared middle — a place where people basically agree about the facts and the issues, even if they differ over what to do about them — is where we believe our responsibilities as newspaper owners lie. And it is under assault by spinmeisters, partisans and ideologues. They all have their place in a democracy — but it is not in the center. Our place is.” Pruitt’s company signed a deal this week to acquire Knight Ridder’s 32 newspapers, and now he’s planning to resell 12 of them including the Merc, Contra Costa Times, Palo Alto Daily News group and Monterey Herald.