C.K. McClatchy, 62; Head of Chain of Newspapers

Times Staff Writer

C.K. McClatchy, chairman of the McClatchy chain of newspapers in California, Washington state and Alaska, died Sunday after collapsing while jogging in Sacramento.

A soft-spoken man known for his abiding independence, McClatchy, 62, was jogging in William Land Park, near a school bearing his family’s name, when he apparently suffered a heart attack, said McClatchy Newspapers President Erwin Potts.

“He was just a great friend and a great boss,” said Potts, who knew McClatchy for 13 years. “He was a hell of a newspaperman and he was a hell of a guy. We’re just going to miss him an awful lot.”


McClatchy, who Potts said had no history of heart problems, was pronounced dead shortly after 1 p.m. at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center in Sacramento.

McClatchy Newspapers publishes the Sacramento Bee and 11 other West Coast newspapers. The Anchorage Daily News, one of the company’s papers, won the Pulitzer Prize for public service last month.

Place in Journalism

“If you had to draw up a list of people most important to journalism in this country, you’d come to C.K. pretty early in the game,” said Riverside Press-Enterprise Publisher Tim Hayes, a longtime McClatchy friend.

“I was most struck by his independence,” Hayes said. “There’s so little independence left in this profession. He was a wonderful guy without any pretense.”

Los Angeles Times Publisher and Chief Executive Officer Tom Johnson described McClatchy as a “splendid newspaper leader who represented the very highest standards of editorial and managerial excellence.”

“He was uncommonly dedicated to quality in his newspapers. His passing is a major loss to our profession.”

McClatchy’s family has been a powerful force in Sacramento since 1857, when C.K. McClatchy’s great-grandfather, James McClatchy, served as the first editor of the Sacramento Bee. He later bought the newspaper.

C.K. (for Charles Kenny) McClatchy was born in Fresno on March 25, 1927, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in 1950. He began his career as a reporter for the Washington Post in 1953, and moved to the Sacramento Bee five years later.

He held several editorial and managerial posts at the Bee and with the parent company, and was elected chairman of the board when McClatchy Newspapers stock was offered for sale to the public last year.

Criticism of Others

At about the same time the company began offering its shares on the American Stock Exchange, McClatchy accused some newspaper chains of paying more attention to profits than to quality journalism.

Delivering the annual Press-Enterprise Lecture at UC Riverside, McClatchy pointedly criticized several newspaper groups, saying Rupert Murdoch’s News America Co., then owner of the New York Post, “deserves mention in any listing of the appalling.”

“He was saying we should talk candidly about the problems associated with group or chain ownership,” said the Press-Enterprise’s Hayes. “Groups should criticize each other and look at the problems--the sameness of papers in a chain, excessive rotation of editors. Nobody is in your town for more than three or four years.”

McClatchy’s great-grandfather came to California during the 1849 Gold Rush and sent dispatches to several newspapers, including Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune. As the Bee’s editor, he proved to be a forceful environmentalist, arguing against hydraulic mining.

The process ruined the environment, poured debris into the rivers and harmed farmers, James McClatchy argued. When he died in 1883, he was succeeded by C.K. McClatchy, a champion of the state’s progressive movement, ally of reform Gov. Hiram Johnson and a foe of the Southern Pacific Railroad’s grip on state government.

The elder C.K., who died in 1936, was succeeded by his daughter, Eleanor, who left Columbia University to run the company for the next 42 years. She, in turn, was followed by McClatchy, her nephew, and C.K.’s grandson.

Liberal Editorial Policy

The papers were characterized by their liberal editorial point of view, and McClatchy’s endorsement was vigorously sought by Democratic Party candidates.

McClatchy had autographed photos of John F. Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Earl Warren in his office. He worked as Stevenson’s press secretary during the former Illinois governor’s 1956 presidential campaign.

McClatchy’s independence and courage made the newspaper company willing “to take on big, tough and potentially dangerous subjects, and to risk and fight through the litigation that this inevitably brings,” former Sacramento Bee executive editor Frank McCulloch told The Times in a 1987 interview.

The newspapers once had seven libel suits pending simultaneously in Fresno County alone, McCulloch said.

Nevada Sen. Paul Laxalt once sued the chain’s Bee newspapers for $250 million, charging that he had been libeled in a story saying profits had been skimmed from a gambling casino he once owned. Laxalt and the papers settled the suit before trial, and both sides claimed victory.

“He can put whatever label on it he wants to, but the fact is he has dismissed (the suit) without (receiving) any apology, without any retraction and without any payment of money (for damages),” McClatchy said of Laxalt.

Insurance Payment

The newspapers’ insurance carrier later paid Laxalt’s lawyers $647,454 for their work in the unsuccessful suit.

Along with the Sacramento Bee and the Anchorage Daily News, McClatchy Newspapers publishes the Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee, the Tacoma News Tribune and Tri-City Herald in Washington state and several weekly newspapers.

At the time of McClatchy’s death, he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize board, the Newspaper Advertising Board of Directors, a trustee of the Washington Journalism Center in Washington, D.C., and a member of the executive committee of the American Press Institute.

McClatchy is survived by two sons, Charles, 30, of Phoenix, Ariz., and Kevin, 26, of Miami; a daughter, Adair, 28, of San Francisco; two brothers, James, 58, of Tiburon, and Ellery, 64, of Palm Beach, Fla., and his mother, Phebe, of Fresno.

Funeral arrangements were pending.