McClatchy Pact Opens Door to Yahoo ‘a la Carte’

The WSJ is reporting that McClatchy, the publisher of 30 newspapers, is set to be the 12th newspaper publisher to join the Yahoo consortium, leaving behind Gannett and Tribune, which had hoped to work with McClatchy to build an alternative national ad network.

Meanwhile, The L.A. Times reports that Yahoo has agreed to provide prominent links on section fronts for Yahoo Sports and Yahoo Finance to consortium members in exchange for their implementation of the Yahoo search box (and everything else).. It has previously been whispered that the consortium is working with Yahoo on a used cars portal.

McClatchy is still tied to Gannett and Tribune via its stake in CareerBuilder, so it won’t be using HotJobs. It is also a partner in Classified Ventures, which owns cars.com, so it isn’t clear to what extent it can work with Yahoo on autos. But it’s a la carte participation in the Yahoo! consortium has wide implications in itself. Yahoo had been holding out for all or nothing.

For one thing, the new deal opens Yahoo’s doors to the 55 newspapers that have deals with Monster, including The New York Times Co., Freedom and Philadelphia Newspapers (now headed by original Amigo Eric Grilly, former head of Media News Group Interactive). This a la carte participation is something anticipated a month ago, after Monster’s green light to an open platform for newspaper relationships.

McClatchy’s pulling away from Gannett and Tribune is not a total surprise. After buying Knight Ridder, it was definitely the junior partner in the partnership. Hopes that it could use Knight Ridder’s Real Cities network as an open platform for newspapers weren’t embraced, and it apparently didn’t get invited to participate in full partner status in CareerBuilder and the other joint properties.

But don’t play up the “they hate each other” angle too much. If they give up on their idea of a competing national network, it is clear that Tribune and/or Gannett could easily join in the consortium. Tribune Interactive President Tim Landon in fact indicated that they were in active talks with Yahoo (along with everyone else).

At the Inland Press Association meeting in March, McClatchy Interactive head Chris Hendricks perhaps telegraphed McClatchy’s intentions. Among other things, he noted that we live in Google and Yahoo’s world, and he discounted ideas that Yahoo was using HotJobs as a Trojan horse, since Yahoo or other pure plays could just buy the newspaper companies if it wanted to (economically, not really true).

What happens to McClatchy’s RealCities network isn’t clear. Its management has claimed that it is profitable on an ongoing basis, but my guess is it will be closed down. That would leave Centro as the only significant newspaper alternative to Yahoo for national advertisers. Centro, based in Chicago, works with local media companies on an ad hoc basis and includes TV stations, alternative weeklies and others among its affiliates. It isn’t too far-fetched to think that Gannett and Chicago-based Tribune, with its extensive TV holdings, could open their wallets and buy into it.