Judge critical of Par Ridder's conduct in rulingby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio
Publisher Par Ridder has been forced out of the Minneapolis Star Tribune for a year. Ramsey County District Judge David Higgs ruled Ridder violated Minnesota law by taking confidential information from his former employer, the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
The decision stems from a bitter dispute between the two long-time rival papers. The Pioneer Press accused its former publisher of taking trade secrets across the river to the Star Tribune when he took over as publisher there earlier this year.
Minneapolis — It's a case that's conjured up images more associated with smoky espionage novels rather than the blunt, fact-driven world of the newspaper industry.
Judge David Higgs ruled the grandson of the founder of the Ridder newspaper empire stole confidential information he obtained while publisher of the Pioneer Press, and shared it with the paper's rival the Star Tribune.
Higgs said there is no question that Ridder knew, or at least should have known that the Pioneer Press information he took, used, and distributed was confidential.
Dean Singleton, CEO of the Pioneer Press' parent company, MediaNews, says the paper is evaluating its next move in the ongoing lawasuit.
"We're happy the ruling agreed with our allegations, and we're happy the court has intervened to right some wrongs. But we'll take it one day at a time as we move forward," Singleton says.
The publisher of the Pioneer Press, Guy Gilmore, released a statement that said, "the court's decision says that the two newspapers here in St. Paul and Minneapolis should compete on an even playing field. We look forward to competing with the Star Tribune on that basis," said Gilmore.
Star Tribune chairman, Chris Harte will take over as Star Tribune publisher. He released a written statement that said the company disagrees with the judge's rulings. He said the newspaper will have the opportunity to further make its case as the lawsuit proceeds.
The union representing Star Tribune's newsroom workers had previously called for Ridder's outster because Ridder's conduct has tarnished the paper's credibility.
"I think the main impact of the ruling today is it removes someone from the newsroom who really hasn't been engaged in the newsgathering process, hasn't been a friendly figure to journalists there," says union representative and reporter Pat Doyle. "Whether in the long run that will make any difference in how the paper conducts itself and gathers news, I don't know. But at least in the short term there seems to be some relief at the prospect that he's going to be departing."
Judge Higgs also barred Ridder from working at the Star Tribune for one year.
Higgs wrote that given Ridder's past conduct and his cavalier attitude toward his use and disclosure of confidential Pioneer Press information, it seems to the court that his past actual misappropriation is a good indicator of possible future use of that information.
The court said there is also a substantial threat that Ridder will further misappropriate confidential Pioneer Press information, or use the confidential information in the future.
The judge ruled that restraining Ridder from further misappropriating confidential Pioneer Press information is necessary to prevent further injury to the St. Paul paper's competitive position in the industry.
Martha Steffens teaches media economics and finances at the University of Missouri. She's a former reporter and editor at the former Minneapolis Star and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. She says the extent of the Pioneer Press' injury in the industry depends largely on whether the Star Tribune got cutting-edge information, not just the typical ad rates.
"You have a lot of long-term advertisers on both sides of the river, and those have longstanding relationships with each of those papers. They know the markets and that might not change," says Steffens. "But the innovative strategies would be online properties, niche publications -- whether print or online. Those kinds of strategies would be the ones in play."
The Pioneer Press lost on one point. It had argued that Par Ridder violated a non-compete agreement by leaving the Pioneer Press to work for the Star Tribune. The judge said that even though Ridder did sign an agreement, it was not valid at the time he left.
Nevertheless, Judge Higgs said even if Ridder's non-compete agreement was invalid, he was on notice that he was expected to maintain information from the Pioneer Press confidential.
The judge said Ridder came from a newspaper family and should know the importance of confidentiality.
- All Things Considered, 09/18/2007, 5:20 p.m.