Before announcing that the sale had been approved by more than 80 percent of the company's shareholders, Knight Ridder Chairman P. Anthony Ridder spent most of the 45-minute session extolling the achievements of Knight Ridder's 32 daily newspapers.
As he wrapped up his eulogy, Ridder broke down in tears as an audience filled with members of his own family and former company executives rose to console him with applause.
"Knight Ridder is a great company," Ridder told the gathering of just over 100 people, several of whom also were crying. "It was shaped by giants of our industry."
Sacramento, Calif.-based McClatchy may take control of San Jose, Calif.-based Knight Ridder as early as Tuesday, marking the end of a company with roots dating back to 1892 when Herman Ridder bought a German-language paper in New York.
Ridder Publications eventually merged with Knight Newspapers Inc. in 1974, forming a company that produced some of the country's biggest papers. The list includes The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Kansas City Star, The Charlotte Observer, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and the San Jose Mercury News.
McClatchy already has arranged to sell 12 of the Knight Ridder papers to eight buyers for $2.1 billion to help reduce the debt that it is taking on in the deal. The deal for the last paper to be sold, the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was announced earlier Monday.
Knight Ridder's papers wound up winning 85 Pulitzer Prizes — journalism's highest honor — but those achievements didn't seem to matter much on Wall Street, where institutional investors have become increasingly dissatisfied with the industry's shrinking profit margins as more advertising shifts to the Internet.
Those financial pressures consumed Knight Ridder, whose shares sank from a high of $80 per share in 2004 to a low of $52.42 last year despite Ridder's persistent efforts to boost the company's earnings with cost cuts and other measures.
The sliding stock price prompted Knight Ridder's three largest shareholders to confront the board last year. That rebellion led to the McClatchy sale, a cash-and-stock deal initially valued at $67.25 per share when it was announced in March.
In Monday's meeting, Ridder defended the decision to submit to the demands of its biggest shareholders as the best move for the company.
"We believe a prolonged battle and a period of turmoil would have been damaging for the company and the employees," he said.