McClatchy’s holiday gift to top executives…

Back when I was a cub reporter at a Knight-Ridder newspaper on Florida’s west coast, all of us reporters would anxiously await the annual holiday handout of a free turkey or ham courtesy of our benevolent employer. Of course, most of us being in our early 20s, single, and far from home, it was a pretty useless gift. Even those of us who were heading back to our families for the holidays weren’t likely to drag a turkey or ham along for the trip.

So it was nice to see that McClatchy (MNI), which acquired Knight Ridder nearly four years ago, has gotten a bit more generous with the holiday handouts this holiday season, judging by this 8-K filed on Friday. Well, at least more generous for some of its employees, that is.

According to the filing, top executives will get lots of restricted stock — a whopping 450,000 RSUs for Chairman and CEO Gary Pruitt, who masterminded the Knight Ridder deal. McClatchy stock has dropped over 90% since the deal was announced. The RSUs vest in March 2012.

Other top McClatchy executives also got more than a ham or a turkey, though none fared as well as Pruitt. CFO Patrick Talamantes got 70,000 RSUs plus another 100,000 stock appreciation rights that allow him to purchase McClatchy stock at $3.42 a share. Two other top executives each received 80,000 RSUs and another 100,000 SARs. A quick skim of the filings shows that while the program has been around since 2004, this is the first year in quite some time that RSUs — and certainly so many of them — have been handed out.

Given the current state of the newspaper industry — something I read about each morning on Romenesko, including this story which estimates that more than 40,000 journalists lost their jobs in 2009 — the generous handouts to some of the very folks who failed to have the vision to see the approaching iceberg seems like a sad post-script to a very sad year for journalism.