Knight Ridder was formed in 1974, when Knight Newspapers joined with Ridder Publications. The Knight company had been founded in 1903, when Charles Landon Knight, an attorney, bought the Akron Beacon Journal and made himself editor of the paper. When he died in 1933, he left the paper to his sons, Jack and Jim. In 1937 the Knight brothers bought their second paper, the Miami Herald, and moved their headquarters here. Ridder Publications was started in 1892, when Herman Ridder acquired Staats-Zeitung, the nation's largest German-language newspaper.
The Knight family always made sure their top executives were grounded in the traditions of journalism as well as business, one reason the Knight newspapers historically have been considered journalistically superior to the Ridder papers. When the companies came together, an informal custom commenced whereby the top two corporate positions were held by one person with a journalism background and another with a business orientation. More often than not, executives from the Knight side guarded the company's journalistic integrity. That tradition began with Jack Knight and continued with Lee Hills and most recently James Batten. "Those were three great figures of American newspapering," remarks David Lawrence, Jr., former publisher of the Herald.
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That balancing act came to an end under Tony Ridder, who succeeded Batten as chairman and CEO in 1995, following Batten's death from cancer. "The head of the newspaper division now is a person who doesn't come from the journalism side of the organization, and you have the CEO of the company who doesn't come from the journalism side," Lawrence explains. "The head of the newspaper division, and in effect Tony Ridder's designated number-two, is Steve Rossi, who I think is a very smart human being, but he comes from a fully business background. It doesn't mean he doesn't have any values, but he comes from a fully business background. Tony Ridder comes from a fully business background. I'm not saying that that is terrible. I'm just saying that that is the reality, and that was not the reality before.
"I do think Tony Ridder is a person who is smart, who is tough, who is a superb business person, and I do think he cares deeply that newspapers win Pulitzer Prizes. But I do not think he gets any particular excitement about the kinds of things that turn journalists on."