Attacks Knight Ridder Paper's 'Profit Targets'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In a surprise move Jay Harris, the publisher of Knight Ridder Inc.'s San Jose Mercury News, resigned abruptly Monday in what may be the latest
conflict between profit and public service in the newspaper industry.

In a "final letter" to his staff, Mr. Harris said he hoped his action would cause the newspaper giant to "closely examine the wisdom of the profit targets we've been struggling to find a way to meet."

Layoffs planned
On March 5, Mr. Harris told staffers that the daily, which has seen its fortunes boom and bust with its Silicon Valley market, would be forced to lay off an unspecified number of employees.

Mr. Harris' departure continues a series of ill omens for the Mercury News, which had ridden the tech boom to newfound journalistic prominence. But in recent years, the paper was criticized for its handling of investigative reporter Gary Webb's controversial "Dark Alliance" series, which accused the CIA of dealing crack to in urban areas to funnel money to the Nicaraguan Contras. The publication also faces increased competition from nearby metro giant The San Francisco Chronicle even as it grapples with the impact of widespread dot-com collapses and a general economic downturn.

Knight Ridder earnings warning
Also on Monday, Knight Ridder again lowered its Wall Street estimates -- their second such warning within a month -- citing a "revenue environment that continues to deteriorate." Wall Street consensus estimates had Knight Ridder earning 71 cents per share for the first quarter, but the company now expects its performance to be off last year's 74 cents per share earnings by 15 to 20 cents.

Mr. Harris, 51, was a rising star in the company. A former reporter as well as executive editor for the company's Philadelphia Daily News, he'd been publisher at the Mercury News for seven years.

Weeping staff members
The Mercury News's Web site Monday night reported that staffers openly wept in the aftermath of Mr. Harris' announcement.

According to the report, he mordantly told Mercury News staffers in his letter that in the absence of any firm plans following his resignation, he may try return to an old flame: "Maybe I will do some writing. I used to do that for a living."

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