McClatchy Co. filed for bankruptcy Thursday, a move that will end family control of America’s second largest local news company and hand it to creditors who have expressed support for independent journalism.

The Chapter 11 filing will allow McClatchy to restructure its debts and, it hopes, shed much of its pension obligations and its legacy print operations. Under a plan outlined in its filing to a federal bankruptcy court, about 55 percent of its debt would be eliminated as the news organization tries to reposition for a digital future.

The likely new owners, if the court accepts the plan, would be led by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management LLC. They would operate McClatchy as a privately held company. More than 7 million shares of both publicly available and protected family-owned stock would be canceled.

“While this is obviously a sad milestone after 163 years of family control, McClatchy remains a strong operating company and committed to essential local news and information,” said Kevin McClatchy, chairman of the company that has carried his family name since the days of the California Gold Rush. “While we tried hard to avoid this step, there’s no question that the scale of our 75-year-old pension plan – with 10 pensioners for every single active employee – is a reflection of another economic era.”

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