James K. Batten Steps Down as Knight-Ridder CEO
MIAMI (AP) _ James K. Batten has stepped down as chief executive officer of Knight-Ridder Inc. because of his battle with brain cancer but will stay on as chairman of the media company.
Acting on Batten’s recommendation, the Knight-Ridder board elected President P. Anthony Ridder to succeed him as chief executive officer. Ridder will retain the title of president.
Knight-Ridder owns 29 daily newspapers, including The Miami Herald and The Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as electronic retrieval services and cable television systems with 300,000 subscribers.
``I have reluctantly concluded that the degree of recovery needed to handle my current job at the level required by the company in this time of substantial change is not in prospect soon enough for me to conscientiously continue further in Knight-Ridder’s top leadership position,″ Batten said in a statement.
Batten, 59, became president in 1982, chief executive officer in 1988 and chairman in 1989.
He was seriously injured in an auto accident in 1993 and underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor last July. He is undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment, he said.
``I continue to hope that in due time that treatment will bring me back to full physical and professional strength,″ Batten said.
Batten began his career as a reporter for The Charlotte Observer, a Knight-Ridder paper in North Carolina.
He is a former member of The Associated Press board of directors and was vice chairman in 1992-93.
``He is one of the most visionary leaders in American journalism today,″ Ridder said. ``Jim and I have been close partners for the last seven years, and we will be close partners for many years to come.″
Ridder, 54, has been Knight-Ridder president since 1989. Previously he was president of the company’s newspaper division and publisher of its San Jose Mercury News. His father, Bernard Ridder, was the chairman of Ridder Publications when it merged with Knight in 1974.
Batten joined The Charlotte Observer in 1957 and went on to hold a series of other editorial and management positions, including Washington correspondent and executive editor of the Observer, before becoming a vice president of Knight-Ridder in 1975.
Media analysts were not surprised by Batten’s decision and did not expect it to have a significant impact on Knight-Ridder.
``Jim is probably as well respected a newspaper executive as there is in the country today,″ said media analyst Kenneth T. Berents of Wheat First Butcher Singer Inc. in Richmond, Va. ``On the other hand, I don’t think Knight-Ridder is going to miss a beat with having Tony Ridder run the company.″
``Anthony Ridder has been obvious as the next (CEO) of the company for at least five years,″ said Ken Noble, a media analyst from Bronxville, N.Y. ``I wouldn’t look for any changes in strategy.″