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AP Goes To Its Board To Replace Curley; Hires McClatchy's Pruitt As CEO

The Associated Press board didn’t go far afield to hire the president and CEO who will succeed Tom Curley this summer. Gary Pruitt is as in house as it gets without being a staffer, serving on that same board for the past nine years as president, CEO and chairman of The McClatchy (NYSE: MNI) Company.

AP announced in January that Curley was retiring after nine years on the job. Incoming chairman Mary Junck, CEO of Lee Enterprises (NYSE: LEE), headed a search committee. She’s following William Dean Singleton as chairman of the board.

It really shouldn’t be surprising. The AP board trusts few people more than its own members. David Westin, now heading spinoff NewsRight, was a broadcasting member as head of ABC News (NYSE: DIS). Pruitt will have a learning curve but he also will have been in on every major decision made by the news co-op since Curley came on board.

When Curley joined in 2003 after helping to launch USA Today and serving as president and publisher, he was following Louis Boccardi, who moved into management after a lengthy stint as AP executive editor. Curley, a former wire editor, had long been out of the editorial side when he moved to AP; his experience on the revenue side, as he put it during a 2003 interview with me for the Online Journalism Review.

Pruitt, 54, had a different trajectory, starting at McClatchy as general counsel. He is schedule to leave May 16 after 28 years. CFO Patrick J. Talamantes is being promoted to president and CEO, while longtime board member and founding family member Kevin S. McClatchy moves to chairman. [More details in the release.]

In his memo to staff (posted below), Curley highlighted McClatchy’s digital progress, noting that one fifth of the publisher’s advertising revenue comes from digital. That’s nearly $200 million out of $1.3 billion in overall revenue in 2011. Curley doesn’t mention the hits McClatchy has taken in the public markets since its ill-fated $6.5 billion acquisition of Knight Ridder in 2006. McClatchy’s stock closed at $41.34 March 20, 2006; Wednesday it closed up slightly for the day at $2.94.

Curley came on as the twelfth exec to lead AP in its 166-year-history with a mission to move AP into the digital age in terms of revenue and strategy. Pruitt comes at what Curley calls “an inflection point”, bringing — and going inside for the hire suggests the board of the not-for-profit co-op plans to keep going in many of the same directions. That includes expanding mobile, pursuing other new revenue streams, and aggressive copyright enforcement.

But, like Curley, Pruitt’s main mission will be managing costs and services in a way that make AP affordable for its 1,400 member newspapers — and useful enough to keep them.

Memo to AP Staff from outgoing CEO Tom Curley

Dear AP Staff:

We will be announcing soon that a new president and CEO has been chosen for AP, and I want to make
sure you get the word first.

Gary Pruitt, chairman, president and CEO of McClatchy newspapers will succeed me upon my retirement.

Gary will come onboard in July, and I will leave in August. Gary has asked to accompany me to the Summer Games, in London, to be able to see the full sweep of AP in action at a major event.

I’m delighted about Gary’s appointment. His respect and admiration for AP is deep – he has called it “the most important news organization in the world.” He will do right by this extraordinary place.

Gary knows news, he understands the media industry and is on the frontlines in the fight for finding new business models and strategies for those of us who produce original news content. He’s a First Amendment lawyer by training, and an ardent advocate for open and accountable government – a mission often synonymous with Associated Press.

On a working basis, you will find him a strong manager who places a priority on clear communication. McClatchy papers have long been recognized for their emphasis on quality, and their news values mirror ours: accuracy, fairness and independence. McClatchy has also made impressive strides toward a digital future; more than one-fifth of its revenues now come from digital products and services.

Gary takes over at an inflection point for AP. The hard work you have all done the past several years has brought us so close to transformation into a modern digital media company. I cannot think of anyone more capable of helping AP successfully execute on its new plans and strategies than Gary. You are in good hands.

As for me, I will look back on an astonishing 9 years of working with a passionate staff driven by the values of truth and fairness and a deep belief in the power and importance of original, accurate news reporting.

You’ll find the press release about Gary’s appointment attached. Gary has also done a video for you that you can see on InsideAP, where you will find other information as well.

Please join me in welcoming him aboard.

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