Merced Sun-Star publisher Debbie Kuykendall retiring at end of March

The McClatchy Co. said today that Debra Kuykendall, president and publisher of the Merced Sun-Star since 2009 and a 37-year McClatchy employee, has announced her retirement at the end of the month.

Eric E. Johnston, president and publisher of The Modesto Bee, will assume additional responsibilities as president and publisher of the Merced Sun-Star.

"Debbie has had an extraordinary newspaper career, and we can't thank her enough for all of her dedicated service. We wish her nothing but the best in retirement," said Frank Whittaker, McClatchy's vice president, operations, who oversees the company's California newspapers. "We're pleased that someone of Eric's talent is available to take on additional responsibility and expect it will be a seamless transition as he already oversees the Merced Sun-Star."

The Modesto Bee and the Merced Sun-Star are located about 40 miles apart in California's San Joaquin Valley. In recent years, the two daily newspapers have merged a number of functions, including circulation, information technology and human resources.

Merced Sun-Star Executive Editor Mike Tharp will report to Johnston, but the editorial operations at the two newspapers will remain separate.

"The Merced Sun-Star has long served as an important source for local news and advertising information, and we are committed to seeing that continue," Johnston said. "Especially in these challenging times, the integrity and autonomy of our local newsrooms is critical. That will not change."

Johnston, 39, was named president and publisher of The Modesto Bee in January 2009. He previously served as the newspaper's vice president of interactive media and classified advertising. He joined the newspaper in 2000 as the director of online services responsible for The Modesto Bee's website,

Johnston has deep roots in the San Joaquin Valley. He was born in Modesto and raised in Stockton. He earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from California State University, Fresno and began his newspaper career as a news photographer at the Lodi News-Sentinel.

Kuykendall, 57, joined McClatchy in 1973 and spent 34 years at The Modesto Bee, where she held a variety of management positions in advertising, operations and production. She moved to the Merced Sun-Star in 2007 as the vice president of sales and marketing and was named president and publisher in December 2009. "I have loved working with the people at the Merced Sun-Star," Kuykendall said. "They are some of the most dedicated and talented people in the business and they will continue to make this a great community newspaper."

In retirement, Kuykendall will join her husband in running the family’s 40-acre cattle ranch in Merced County.

"We are blessed that we have been able to live our dream and grow the family cattle business, and we want to be able to continue to do that while we are still young enough and have enough energy to enjoy the work," she said. "I’m looking forward to being there working side by side with my husband, our kids, and now with our grandchildren, who all love the cowboy way of life."