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Co-Founder Of Knight-Ridder Publishing Empire Dies

February 6, 1991

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) _ James L. Knight, who with his brother built a family newspaper into Knight- Ridder Inc., one of the nation’s foremost publishing empires, has died at age 81.

Knight died of a respiratory ailment Tuesday at St. John’s Hospital, where he had been hospitalized for several months, nursing supervisor Beverly Fairbairn said.

At the time of his death, he was chairman emeritus of Knight-Ridder, one of the nation’s largest communications firms with 29 daily newspapers, cable television interests and other communications services. It includes such major newspapers as The Miami Herald, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Detroit Free Press.

Knight’s father, C.L. Knight, purchased control of the Beacon Journal in Akron, Ohio, in 1909. James dropped out of college in 1931, which annoyed his father, and he was assigned to work under the business manager. That training proved invaluable when C.L. Knight died in 1933, leaving the debt-ridden Beacon Journal to his two ambitious sons, James and John.

The sons began building the Knight newspaper chain with the acquisition of The Miami Herald in 1937.

James Knight, who was quiet and whose favorite expression was ″shucks,″ provided the technical and financial wizardry that drove the business. His brother, John, 15 years older, was a Pulitzer-prize winning editorialist and the more flamboyant of the two.

″As a combination, I think we were most unusual,″ James once said, ″and this has been partly responsible for our success. My interest was nuts and bolts, and his was the product.″

James’ independence and business acumen became apparent during World War II, when the U.S. government rationed newsprint. The Herald was forced to shrink the paper by a dozen pages on weekdays and three dozen on Sundays.

While their main competition, the Miami Daily News, reduced its news coverage but continued full advertising, Knight and City Editor Lee Hills decided instead to reduce advertising.

At first the paper floundered, but the public’s approval of the Herald’s step boosted circulation.

The two brothers often disagreed on business decisions, but James got his way much of the time.

The company purchased The Charlotte (North Carolina) Observer, The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia News without John’s support.

The brothers were never close, but they always respected each other.

″There are very many able men,″ John once said of his brother, ″but very few wise men. I think Jim falls in the latter category.″

Knight-Ridder was created with a 1974 merger between Knight Newspapers Inc. and Ridder Publications. The company that emerged was 189th on the Fortune 500 list in 1989 with reported revenues of $2.34 billion.

James Knight served the corporation as president, chairman, chief executive officer and chairman of its executive committee.

His stock holdings in Knight-Ridder were worth more than $225 million. In his later years he turned to philanthropy, donating tens of millions of dollars to hospitals, universities and charitable foundations in South Florida.

Knight’s personal and foundation gifts to the University of Miami exceeded $25 million.

He is survived by his second wife, the former Barbara Richardson; daughters Barbara Toomey, Marilyn North of Morganton, N.C., Marjorie Crane of Racine, Wis., and Beverly Olson of Macon, Ga.; 11 grandchildren; and three great grandchildren.

John S. Knight died in 1981 at age 86.

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