SAN JOSE, Calif. – Silicon Valley, get out your checkbooks. The valley’s nonprofits and arts groups are facing the death of a generous corporate donor when Knight Ridder is acquired this summer, taking with it around $2 million in annual giving.

The San Jose media company, which owns the San Jose Mercury News, has been one of Silicon Valley’s leaders in corporate giving, and has been an especially important donor to hard-pressed arts groups, which are spreading the word that they need to find new donors fast.

“It’s a bitter pill, and I am sad,” said Irene Dalis, founder and executive director of Opera San Jose. “It’s a bad, bad blow for the arts development. We’re all struggling.”

Dalis said that since Knight Ridder moved here from Miami in 1998, it has given Opera San Jose $25,000 a year – $50,000 one year. Its 2007 donation was already in the organization’s budget, and now must somehow be replaced.

“It will be a significant loss to the nonprofit community,” said Debra Jones, development director of Downtown College Prep, which Knight Ridder has given $175,000 since 2000. “We’re hoping MediaNews will be as good corporate citizens as Knight Ridder was.”

MediaNews, which has agreed to buy the Mercury News, leaves philanthropic decisions up to its individual newspapers, according to MediaNews Vice Chairman and CEO Dean Singleton.

But the loss of Knight Ridder’s corporate headquarters will be a blow to San Jose, he acknowledged.

“Our newspapers are pretty generous,” Singleton said. “We’ll be generous because we believe in that, but it won’t match a corporate headquarters.”

Knight Ridder requires its executives and newspapers to work to improve their communities and support them financially.

“It’s part of the value system Knight Ridder has,” said chairman and chief executive Tony Ridder.

Under Knight Ridder, the Mercury News has typically given “well into the millions,” much of it in in-kind assistance such as advertising space to nonprofits, along with the United Way employee drive, according to Kathleen Slattery, Mercury News vice president of human resources. The newspaper has a Gift of Reading program, an annual Wish Book and other activities.

All this will continue, said Mercury News Publisher George Riggs.

“The loss of Knight Ridder, is certainly a blow to the community,” Riggs said. “They have been wonderfully generous to the arts and nonprofits in the years since they have been here. The Mercury News has also been wonderfully generous. There will be no change in that policy as a result of the change in ownership. It’s my belief a newspaper is part of the mortar that holds a community together.”

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