News & Views from 465 California Street

Rivalry and Nobility

Clint Reilly
May
4
2010

John Ruskin, the great English philosopher, art critic and poet, once said that “Nothing is ever done beautifully which is done in rivalship: or nobly, which is done in pride.”

After nearly three years of writing this column, I have decided that I disagree with Mr. Ruskin.

I began my relationship with the owners of this paper under antagonistic circumstances. In 2006, I filed an anti-trust lawsuit to block a partnership between Hearst Corporation (owners of the San Francisco Chronicle) and MediaNews Group (owners of every other Bay Area daily), which I believed would have diminished the richness of news-gathering and opinion in the Bay Area.

Apologies to Mr. Ruskin, but I believe that rivalry between competing news organizations is not only beautiful, it is essential in a democratic society. My lawsuit succeeded in stopping the partnership, and I ended up with a quarter page space in the Tuesday paper to try my hand as an independent columnist for three years.

The calendar has nearly run out, and my June 8th column will be my last.

Although my relationship with MediaNews began as a courtroom rivalry, I must say that I am humbled by the support, responsiveness and goodwill shown to me during these past three years by the MediaNews staff and readers alike.

Another piece of our settlement agreement called for MediaNews to place independent citizens on the editorial boards of their Bay Area papers, a project we worked on together. I had initially been concerned that the seasoned pros at the papers might feel burdened to participate.

But again, the editorial staff at each paper – like Dan Hatfield at the Contra Costa Times, Barb Marshman at the San Jose Mercury News, and Brad Breithaupt at the Marin IJ, among many others – were true professionals throughout the process. We worked together to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and I hope that they will continue to solicit citizen input going forward.

What impressed me most about all of these people is the pride they take in their work, especially under difficult circumstances and adversity. No one – not even Ruskin – could argue that their pride is less than noble.

Dean Singleton, the founder and CEO of MediaNews Group, knows adversity well.

After building a heavy debt burden in his acquisition of the Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News, Singleton was tasked with steering the company through a virtual meltdown of the U.S. economy and the most dramatic downturn in the newspaper industry’s history.

Chalk one up for Dean.

MediaNews recently emerged from bankruptcy having shed nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars in debt. Remarkably, Singleton still controls the company. It is a tribute to him that the banks never thought twice about displacing him as chief executive.

MediaNews is now the second largest newspaper chain in the country and the largest in the Bay Area by far.

Our local papers are growing stronger under sound leadership from MediaNews executives like Steve Rossi and Dave Butler, and publishers David Rounds, Matt Wilson and Mac Tully.

Singleton, of course, is still pushing the envelope in Denver.

I have come to know Dean since our paths first crossed four years ago. He is a true newspaper man, a swashbuckling Texan with a no-nonsense management style and genuine passion for the business. He is the antithesis of a stereotypical “media mogul,” although he controls 54 daily newspapers and more than 100 non-dailies across the country.

I had dinner with Dean last year near his office in Denver. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1986, even small movements can sometimes be a struggle for him.

I remember watching him put forth a herculean effort just to get into his SUV before driving us to the restaurant. There was no flotilla of aides, no coterie of subordinates there to help him. It was just Dean, alone.

Like any larger than life Texan, he seemed to welcome the challenge of surviving the greatest crisis to ever confront the newspaper industry.

As the dust settles, Dean and his newspapers are still standing.

Comments (25)

  • I just read about your column in the IJ disappearing next month. I’ve enjoyed reading it throughout your tenure there. Please let me know if there’s a way to keep getting your perspective on a weekly (or so) basis. Your observations on the crimes within the Catholic hierarchy have been especially interesting. And your take on political campaign decision-making also gives me access to a world I’ve never experienced personally but follow avidly.

    thank you!

    Matt

    Posted by: Matt | May 4th, 2010 at 12:47 pm

  • Clint,

    Sorry I have not written before. Considered it. Big fan. Big lazy fan, I guess… I look forward to Tuesdays and reading your column. Didn’t realize it only had a 3 year shelf life.

    Hope there is some other way to read your on-going thoughts. Blog?

    Thanks for the last 3 years – has it really been that long?!

    cb

    Posted by: CB | May 4th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  • Clint,
    Sorry to hear you are leaving the Times-Herald. I have enjoyed your thoughtful and well-written column. Your absence means one less insightful voice in the media.
    V.R.S.

    Posted by: V.R.S. | May 4th, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  • Hope you can stay at the IJ – we need opinions – very important addition to “news”

    Posted by: John E. | May 4th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

  • I was truly sorry to learn in today’s IJ that you will be terminating your weekly column in June. I have enjoyed your thoughts on so many various subjects and find your column a welcome addition to the IJ. Perhaps some smart editors and publishers will resume running your columns after the agreement period is terminated. Good luck and thank you for your intelligent and thoughtful commentary.

    Sylvia S

    Posted by: Sylvia S. | May 4th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

  • Good Morning !
    I have enjoyed your comments since reviewing them regularly these past few years. I do not know much about all of your input to the political scene, but like what I’ve read and will miss your viewpoint in the future. ‘nough said ! Nice to have had the pleasure ! DHH

    Posted by: DHH | May 4th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

  • Dear Clint,

    Your column is a must read for me and I hate the thought that it may end in June. You seem to be as unbiased as possible and your thoughts are stimulating and eye opening. If there is a way to keep your column going I hope you will find it.
    It is also heartening to read your evaluation of Dean Singleton. The rotten apples in business get all the press and it is easy to forget that there are “good guys” out there, too.
    Thank you for all your columns and for all you have done for our newspaper.

    Sincerely,

    Don P

    Posted by: Don P. | May 4th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

  • Dear Clint,

    I truly had mixed feelings after reading your column in this
    morning’s San Jose Mercury News.

    Firstly, I am sorry they will end on June 8th. Most of the
    columns have been relevant; a few have even been thought-
    provoking. A very few were so personally connected with your
    life and not with mine that I skipped over them rapidly. But
    they were a tiny minority. In any case, overall I have
    enjoyed my Tuesday morning visits with you.

    So why “mixed”? Well, until today I thought you had been
    buying your Tuesday space (shades of Meg), and marveled at
    your financial as well as editorial commitment to sharing
    your thoughts with us. Quarter pages aren’t cheap. Now I
    see that it was all part of a settlement of your anti-trust
    suit, and it came with a sunset clause. That popped a
    mental bubble or two.

    Ah well, I suppose it is a compliment of the highest order
    that I will miss your Tuesday musings.

    Until our paths cross again…

    -Larry B

    Posted by: Larry B. | May 4th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

  • Clint Reilly:

    You have been a voice of reason or at least a reasonable voice.

    Sorry for your forced retirement on Page Two, Section B, Tuesday’s Merc.

    Posted by: Harvey G. | May 4th, 2010 at 12:50 pm

  • Hello Mr. Reilly,

    I have read your column regularly for the past few years and have become a loyal fan who dutifully reads it each and every week. My initial thought was “Why should this person have this powerful platform to offer his opinions?”. I did some short research and found it interesting that it was the outgrowth of a principled lawsuit. Quite frankly there in nothing I like better than principled lawsuits! I had heard of your name over the years and knew little of you other than that you were somehow involved in local political campaigns primarily in San Francisco.

    Well Mr. Reilly, through your column I now know you and thoroughly enjoy your input and thoughts on the variety of subjects you discuss. I have become a fan of your backround and character. I relish your descriptive scenes of meetings and people you know. Your column will be sadly missed in my household if it is discontinued in its regular space on Tuesdays. I will sorely miss your weekly input and the thoughts that have enriched my understanding on many topics.

    In the past year I have actually contemplated discontinuing my subscription to the Mercury News. After calculated consideration I realized I would not have your thoughts to contemplate nor other columns which I enjoy and give me a wider viewpoint. I will continue to subscibe as long as multiple viewpoints are a part of my local newspaper and columns such as yours are a part of the local fabric of news and viewpoints. Your column will be a sad loss for many a person and the community at large if it is discontinued.

    I hope your column continues…….

    Sincerely,

    Mike B. & family

    Posted by: Mike B. & family | May 4th, 2010 at 3:22 pm

  • I am so sad this column is going to end. I often wondered how you managed to get the column in the first place, and I have really enjoyed it – even when I do not agree with you. Nevertheless, I appreciate your opinions and information. See what you can do to continue writing in a newspaper. I do not like reading on line. I hurts my eyes. Cheers, Connie H

    Posted by: Connie H. | May 4th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

  • Mr. Reilly! I am so sorry to learn today that June 8th will be your last column. Today’s column answered some questions we had about how and why you appeared every Tuesday, but we love what you write! We seem to share much of the same angst over government and church!

    Your name is so familiar to me…I am wondering if you knew Mary Ellen Leary? She was my mother and lots of important names in journalism and politics flew around our home… yours included!

    Just wondering. We will miss you… your column adds a lot of substance to the paper. Sincerely, Judy

    Posted by: Judy | May 4th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

  • Sorry your column in the Marin IJ is ending. I’ve really enjoyed most of them and have many saved in a file folder.

    Posted by: J. Peterson | May 4th, 2010 at 3:24 pm

  • I just want to say that my husband and I grew up Catholic in the Bay Area; we read you weekly, and always enjoy your articles. (He grew up in the Richmond District and I in San Mateo.He went to St. Thomas and St. Ignatius, I to St. Matthew’s and then Notre Dame.)You are a real addition to the Marin IJ. Can’t you make some ongoing arrangements? Do we write to the editor and tell him to keep you on? (He could even double your salary and it would cost him nothing). I also noticed your support for San Dominico. Thank you for that.
    Thanks for the good Tuesday mornings. Sally N

    Posted by: Sally N. | May 4th, 2010 at 3:26 pm

  • Thanks you for the touching comments about Dean Singleton! He is a courageous man! I’m so tired of reading about all the bad guys. VIVA DEAN! VIVA! Gora Gora! (Long live!)

    Posted by: Frank Lostaunau | May 4th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

  • Clint, it’s hard to believe that your column is about to expire. I had no idea your great column was a limited edition. I’ll miss reading your Tuesday morning insights and observations. Best regards, Geoff

    Posted by: Geoff | May 4th, 2010 at 6:59 pm

  • I’m sorry to learn only one column remains under your two year agreement with Media News. During that time I have anticipated reading your editorials on subjects relative to everyone. You have been honest, straight forward and I feel, relatively objective. Often good common sense in the midst of biased
    frenzies.

    Please use my words to prevail upon the powers that be to continue your fine editorials. I am a long time subscriber to the Contra Costa Times.

    Posted by: Shirley M. | May 5th, 2010 at 7:02 am

  • Wow. I was perplexed at first at the quarterpage ads. Then your third column you explained why you got that.
    I am so sad, so sorry you will leave.
    Your childhood, growing up? Is so similar to Dad, and Me.
    Your recent columns about catholic priests were mind blowing.

    Please dont leave!!! I will miss you so much!!
    You are not the typical columnist.
    It absolute amazes me what you have done in your life time!!!
    WOW.

    I really enjoyed your columns. You are very factual? And matter of fact.
    I am so sad. I read your columns every week, loved them. You did broaden my horizens. Wow. You have had a cool life, touching so much.
    I am just a nurse, but I touch so many lives also. I love it when I hear panic in a moms voice, scared about fever of 101 degrees and I can explain? Fever is your friend!!! Its the body, your baby immune system just saying? Turn up the heat, kill germs.
    Mr. Reilly? Your columns have educated me!!! I will miss you very much. Keep in touch!!!
    You are an amazing person!!!
    Check out PFC You Tube, Grandpa Elliott? Playing for change? Let me know if you see that You tube Video. No Matter who you are? No matter what? Every body needs some body!!! Was original John Lennon I think? Grandpa Elliott
    I dont know how to tell you how much I will miss your columns. Three years? Seems like yesterday!!!
    Keep in touch sir!!!
    Grandpa Elliott is so cool. Best of love and heart to you Clint. You have been great!!!
    I will miss you!!!

    Posted by: Karen G. | May 5th, 2010 at 7:08 am

  • Keep writing Mr Reilly! We need thinkers of your quality who are not terrified of their own shadow.

    Posted by: Yura Adams | May 6th, 2010 at 3:02 am

  • Thanks for contributing and sharing these past three years or so. I’ve not read all your columns, but enjoyed the ones I saw.

    Posted by: Darrell B. | May 6th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

  • Hi Mr. Riley:

    I really will miss your columns, which I have been reading only for the last year or so. Wish I’d started earlier! What now? I guess you’d better write a book. :-)

    Best,

    Sue K

    Posted by: Sue K. | May 6th, 2010 at 4:03 pm

  • I have so enjoyed Tuesday mornings, looking forward to your column
    (and the Safeway food supplement) in the Mercury News. It doesn.t seem
    possible that you have been writing it for three years and with the
    loss of many weekly columnists, it seemed as if we could count on yours
    forever. I thank you for your stories, wisdom and advice, contributing
    to my political knowledge. I shall miss you.
    Betty L

    Posted by: Betty L. | May 6th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

  • Hi Clint -
    I never write any columnist, but am today
    just to express how much I have enjoyed
    your viewpoint and that I will miss your
    column very much.
    Hope it will show up again someday…
    Best for your future -
    Jo Ann

    Posted by: Jo Ann | May 6th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

  • Dear Mr. Reilly,

    My husband and I always enjoy your weekly column in the Tri-Valley Herald (Livermore). I was sorry to read this week that you will no longer write the column after June 8. I usually find your take on the news interesting, informative, and refreshing and I will miss it.

    Thank you. Norma W

    Posted by: Norma W. | May 6th, 2010 at 4:05 pm

  • I just wanted you to know I have really enjoyed your Tuesday column over the past years. I don’t always agree with you, but appreciate your opinion. I am a property manager in the City and commute in from the East Bay. I look forward to reading you every Tuesday on my way in on Bart. Your views on politics, real estate, and life bring up important topics and have made for interesting dicussions during lunch in my office. Thank you!

    Posted by: Paige S. | May 11th, 2010 at 9:47 am

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