Kuykendall is Merced Sun-Star's new publisher

The McClatchy Company named Debra Kuykendall president and publisher of the Merced Sun-Star Monday, Dec. 14, 2009.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK The McClatchy Company named Debra Kuykendall president and publisher of the Merced Sun-Star Monday, Dec. 14, 2009. Merced Sun-Star

Debra Kuykendall, a 36-year McClatchy employee, was named as the Sun-Star's new publisher Monday.

Kuykendall, the first woman to hold the position since McClatchy bought the Sun-Star in 2004, has been vice president of sales and marketing at the paper since 2007.

Her appointment was announced at a building-wide employee meeting Monday morning.

McClatchy's Vice President of Operations Frank Whittaker came down from Sacramento for the announcement.

"This was one of the very fastest searches for McClatchy. The ideal candidate was here all along," Whittaker said. "She's been with McClatchy for quite awhile. She knows who we are, how we do business, our values and ethics."

Kuykendall replaces former publisher Hank Vander Veen, who resigned from the post Nov. 23.

"I've really been blessed to work for and with some of the brightest people in the world," she told employees. "There is so much talent at this paper. I see a bright future for our newspaper."

A corporate press release was issued shortly after Whittaker's announcement.

"Debbie is a dynamic, experienced executive who knows Merced and the Central Valley inside and out," said Gary Pruitt, McClatchy's chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement. "She's an ideal fit for the newspaper and the community."

Born in Wichita, Kan., Kuykendall was raised in the Modesto area. She now lives in Merced County with her husband, Lew, who manages their 40-acre cattle ranch and trains horses. The couple has two grown children and six grandchildren.

Kuykendall, 56, began work for The McClatchy Co. in August 1973 as a classified telephone sales representative with The Modesto Bee. She rapidly advanced through the Bee's ranks, holding a variety of titles, such as outside-classified automotive manager, real estate account manager and classified advertising manager.

Kuykendall became The Modesto Bee's vice president for operations in 2004, before heading to the Sun-Star in 2007.

At the Sun-Star, Kuykendall has led the sales staff to several strong performances in companywide advertising contests, including a first-place finish among all McClatchy newspapers in a sales contest in the fourth quarter of 2008.

As publisher, she will continue the duties of vice president of advertising.

"I am honored to be given this opportunity to serve as publisher of what I consider to be a great local newspaper," Kuykendall said. "We will continue to do our best to bring Merced and the surrounding communities the highest quality journalism possible."

Reporter Danielle E. Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or