NEW YORK (AP) - Gary Pruitt, a former First Amendment lawyer who heads the third-largest newspaper company in the U.S., will become the next president and CEO of The Associated Press, the cooperative announced Wednesday.
Pruitt, the chairman, president and CEO of The McClatchy Co., will join AP in July, taking over for Tom Curley, who is retiring after leading the news organization for nine years.
"In Gary, we have chosen a seasoned and worthy successor to Tom Curley to continue AP's transition to a digital news company," said William Dean Singleton, outgoing chairman of the AP Board of Directors and chairman of MediaNews Group Inc. "Gary has deep experience in the changing world of the news industry, an acute business sense and an overriding understanding of and commitment to AP's news mission."
Pruitt, 54, will take over an organization pressed by rapid changes in the news industry. AP has spent most of the past decade working to transform itself, launching new platforms for multimedia content, seeking fresh sources of revenue and protecting the results of its newsgathering in the online marketplace.
"I think AP is successfully transitioning, but the transition isn't over and it never will be," Pruitt said in an interview.
Intense pressure on many media companies has made them increasingly reliant on AP newsgathering. But to continue delivering its journalism, Pruitt said the organization must look for more revenue by expanding in Asia and other fast-growing regions worldwide and by increasing its product offerings.
"We've got to get it right," he said. "Too many people are counting on us every day for their complete news report. We've got to be able to not just sustain it, but to grow it and improve it."
More than half the world's population sees news reported by the AP on any given day. The not-for-profit cooperative, based in New York and owned by its member newspapers, has about 3,700 employees - about two-thirds of them journalists - in more than 300 locations worldwide, including all 50 U.S. states.
Pruitt, the 13th person to head the cooperative since its founding in 1846, joins AP after leading McClatchy through a tumultuous period, as consumers turned increasingly to digital news sources and devices and advertisers followed suit.
"Gary's experience spans a wide range of media, from print to digital, but he also has been closely involved in successful media advertising efforts and technology partnerships that play such a crucial role in the news industry today," said Mary Junck, AP's incoming chairman, who headed the search committee and is chairman and CEO of Lee Enterprises. "His commitment to high-quality news content mirrors AP's values of accuracy, fairness and independence."
Pruitt led McClatchy in its 2006 acquisition of much larger competitor Knight Ridder Inc. The $6.5 billion deal and subsequent sale of some of Knight Ridder's holdings made McClatchy the nation's third-largest newspaper publisher. The company publishes 30 daily newspapers, including The Miami Herald, The Sacramento Bee and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Under Pruitt, Sacramento-based McClatchy also expanded its digital business, adding stakes in online ventures including job site CareerBuilder.com and auto-focused Cars.com. Digital advertising now accounts for about 20 percent of McClatchy's total ad revenue.
Pruitt joined McClatchy as its general counsel in 1984, after working as a First Amendment lawyer. He was named assistant to the president at The Sacramento Bee in 1990 and became publisher of The Fresno Bee the following year. In 1994, he was promoted to McClatchy's vice president of operations and technology.
He was chosen as McClatchy's president and chief operating officer in 1995, becoming chief executive officer in 1996 and chairman in 2001.
Pruitt has been a member of AP's board for nine years, at one point serving as vice chairman.
In a note sent to AP employees Thursday, Curley explained that he plans to stay on until August so he can accompany Pruitt to the Summer Olympics in London.
"Gary takes over at an inflection point for AP," Curley said in the note. "The hard work you have all done the past several years has brought us so close to transformation into a modern digital media company. I cannot think of anyone more capable of helping AP successfully execute on its new plans and strategies than Gary. You are in good hands."