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Breaking the Buck at The Bee

As Chuck D. of Public Enemy once asked rhetorically, "How low can you go?"

The stock of the McClatchy Company, parent of The Sacramento Bee (where McClatchy has its corporate offices, at 21st and Q), "broke the buck" for the first time Monday, and continued to slide Tuesday. The stock finished at 75 cents a share on the NYSE Tuesday, after dipping as low as 66 cents a share.

This, for a stock that was valued at $70.90 just four years ago this week. Stunning.

So, as Chuck asked: How low can it go? Presumably, it has to stop somewhere short of ZERO, but really: Who expected it ever to go this low? From $70.90 to 75 cents in four years? That’s a 99 percent drop, using my rough math. Imagine anything else losing that much value. Anything.

Granted, even mighty Starbucks has dropped 50 percent in just the last year. And we know all about other American giants, from banks to automobile manufacturers, teetering desperately. But still, even in these dire times, when newspaper companies are going bankrupt and everyone else is feeling the pinch, a 99 percent drop – again, in four short years – seems almost unimaginable. I mean, again, HOW LOW can you go? Can it go to zero?

I called Gary Pruitt, who as CEO of McClatchy is taking most of the heat on this – besides the people who are losing their jobs, of course – and he referred me to treasurer Elaine Lintecum, whose answering machine says she’s out until after Christmas.

And really, who needs a Christmas break more than the people who are watching this train wreck from the inside?

And besides, what are they going to say? Reassuring words have been plentiful all the way along a stock slide that looks like a black diamond at Squaw Valley. But the slide continues.

Dale Kasler, the Bee’s reporter on McClatchy matters, has had to fend off blog-posting cranks who think that The Bee is losing readers because of its “liberal bias.” But the story is much bigger than that, and much less easy to summarize.

In the meantime, just how this is all going to play out is anyone’s guess, but at least one knowledgeable media wag here in town expects McClatchy to follow the Tribune Company into bankruptcy in the new year. That’s just a guess, but based on a $70 to 75 cent drop in stock price, it doesn’t seem like a bad call.

On the other hand, The Bee is STILL a good newspaper, particularly in its news pages, and while we are looking to scoop The Bee when we can – see Sonny Mayugba’s piece on the all-star local recording of “Happy Xmas,” which just posted – we have no desire to see The Bee go away. We are daily readers.

And so this is Xmas, and I for one am hoping for a big rebound in 2009 for The Bee, the housing market, the retail sector and everyone’s spirits.
And I’m especially excited about the possibilities for SacramentoPress.com, which faces the new year as something new, exciting and, above all, growing, with a whole new media world before us. Come join us, become a community contributor, and help create the next generation of Sacramento media!

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