Bad News

Battered by severe budget cuts, staff reductions, and sudden management changes, the Miami Heraldconfronts its uncertain future

Ridder himself included? "Well, he might. He's also got his name on the company," Fiedler responds. "But there are also a lot of people who are retirees, the typical little old lady in Dubuque, for instance, and she's got it in her portfolio. And if Tony Ridder is not doing what he needs to do to see to it that this stock has a value that Wall Street says it should, then Tony Ridder is not fulfilling his responsibility.

"And I can't second-guess Tony Ridder and say that he should stand up and say to the market: “Screw you guys. We think that twenty percent is fine.' Because then the market will turn around and say, “Okay, we're going to dump Knight Ridder stock.' And Knight Ridder stock drops, and along comes Fox or somebody and they decide to buy up the company. Then what happens to journalism and what we believe our legacy should be?"

Recognizing the company's predicament, Fiedler says he must be realistic about the newsroom's budgets. "All I can do is say, “Okay these are the resources I have,'" he recites fatalistically. "I can argue all I want to get more, and maybe I'll get some, but ultimately I'll get what I get. And then what I've got to do is turn around and say, “Now I want to do the best journalism I can with what I have.'"

Alberto IbargĂĽen says readers will barely notice that the HeraldÂ’s staff has been reduced
Steve Satterwhite
Alberto IbargĂĽen says readers will barely notice that the HeraldÂ’s staff has been reduced

Is he surprised by concerns over his willingness to fight on the newsroom's behalf, even if it means challenging Ibargüen and the corporate officers in San Jose? "I have no problem taking those issues forward," he says. "There comes a time when we can carry the argument so far, and then you either win or you lose. And if you lose, what are you going to do, quit?"

San Jose publisher Jay Harris, of course, did exactly that. "I don't know if that ultimately will be looked on as being brave or self-indulgent," Fiedler muses. "I'm not sure. It didn't make any difference. It didn't keep Knight Ridder from doing the cuts it felt it had to do. I don't want to second-guess Jay. I think Jay was a first-class journalist. And I'm frustrated by the same things that Jay Harris is frustrated by."

One of those frustrations, according to Fiedler, is the notion that "there are no goalposts" when it comes to Wall Street's desire for higher and higher newspaper profits. This year analysts might demand a 25 percent profit margin, but next year they might raise it to 28 percent, 30 the year after that. Nobody knows where it will end, or if it will end. "You feel like your gut is constantly turning," he says.

So has Tony Ridder been unfairly maligned by journalists? "There's no way I can answer that without sounding like either a suckup or a fool," Fiedler replies. "But I'll tell you this at whatever risk that comes: I think that Tony is unfairly vilified. I don't think that Tony wants to go down in newspaper history as Darth Ridder. His name is on this corporation, and I don't think he wants it to be associated with profits over journalism."

As an advocate for the editorial department, though, shouldn't Fiedler stop worrying about Ridder's perspective and view matters solely in terms of how they affect his newsroom and this community? Is he simply too nice a guy to be a warrior for the newsroom? "I can't tell people that if I pounded the table and yelled more it would make a difference," he answers.

"I may be a nice guy, but I don't think people who know me really well think I'm a soft person" he continues, slightly annoyed. "People who know me realize I am very competitive and always have been competitive. Competitive in the newsroom and competitive in my life. My outside interests are all competitive things. I don't like to be second."

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