This was not a good week for large, fact-based news organizations. Another major newspaper chain has been grabbed by the Alden Global Capital hedge fund, one of many “hyper-capitalistic firms intent only on shareholder profit. The “vulture” investment firm that already owns The Denver Post inked a half-billion-dollar deal to buy another large newspaper chain; The Chicago Tribune.
Alden purchased and gutted The Denver Post, and it is now poised to take over the Tribune Publishing company, which owns The Chicago Tribune and several other local newspapers.
Colorado journalists are among those journalists warning the nation that sources of fact-based news are besieged by revenue-hungry financial “vultures” intent on stripping assets and profit from the nation’s news organizations. They lay off staff, consolidate departments, sell off building assets, and leave the fact-based news organizations crippled shells of their former selves. They do it in the name of shareholder profit.
Such actions aren’t just an affront to the reputations of reputable, fact-based news brands. It isn’t just an attack on the cost structures of print; one of the oldest distribution channels of fact-based and investigative journalism. This activity is a threat to the role of the free press in a functioning democracy.
According to a story in The Denver Post, “The New York City-based company is a ‘vulture.’ A ‘ghoulish’ cost-cutting practice of draining newsrooms of their journalistic lifeblood. One reporter described it as, like ‘a vampire working an old folks’ home.’ Columbia Journalism Review once called Alden in a headline, “the most feared owner in American journalism.”
“Those who know anything about local journalism in America are in general agreement: Being bought by Alden is the worst possible fate for the newspapers and the communities involved,” said media writer for The Washington Post Margaret Sullivan
According to The Denver Post:
“Denver Post reporter Elizabeth Hernandez said on social media that she learned about the deal during a time when she wasn’t allowed to work because of company cost-saving measures. “Me, a currently furloughed Alden employee, logging on, seeing this news, and immediately deleting Twitter off my phone for the week so I can at least give my broken brain a break while I’m on unpaid time off,” she wrote.
“How does Alden have $431 million to buy up Tribune shares but not enough money to avoid furloughing/laying off its employees?” asked Denver Post reporter Elise Schmelzer.”
Not every paper targeted by Alden has succumbed to death by being ripped apart. Both the Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun and some other Maryland papers were able to twist their necks out from the beaks of the Alden vulture by spinning off and coming under the umbrella of a local-based nonprofit.
In 2018, nearly a dozen journalists at The Denver Post voluntarily resigned from the paper in protest of its owner after another brutal round of mass layoffs. Led by Sun Editor Larry Ryckman, they launched the (digital) The Colorado Sun, which has since become a public benefit corporation.
“It’s communities that suffer when newspapers shrink and die,” said Ryckman. “We’ll never know the stories that won’t be told, the corruption that won’t be exposed, the politicians who won’t be held accountable. A free press is part of the very foundation of our democracy. We all lose when it goes away.”
The decline of local news coverage by large news organizations makes grass-roots independent news reporting (covers more than bake sales and police arrest reports) more important than ever. This vital defense of our democracy, helps communities understand how state and national news affects their daily lives, their livelihoods, and their freedoms. This shifting distribution reality underlies the rise of digital news organizations such as the Sun and Ark Valley Voice.