PRESS RELEASE: Alden Global Capital, known for plundering newspapers, plans to expand ownership of Tribune Publishing

Alden Global Capital, known for plundering newspapers, plans to expand ownership of Tribune Publishing

Move is latest Alden ploy in a larger effort to gut newsrooms across the country, detailed in new, comprehensive report

NewsGuild-CWA Outlines Path for Industry’s Survival

Sept. 11, 2020 - Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund known for pillaging newspapers, plans to expand its ownership stake in Tribune Publishing as soon as Jan. 1 and is shifting its business strategy to focus on digital subscriptions, according to internal company documents obtained by DFMworkers.org. Alden currently owns a 32 percent stake in the company and its hand-picked directors hold three of Tribune’s seven board seats. One is held by Alden’s patriarch and founder, Randall Smith.

“Alden has made a fortune by preying on American newspapers,” said NewsGuild-CWA President Jon Schleuss. “The news that it is planning to expand its influence should serve as a dire warning about the threat it poses to access to quality local news in cities and towns across America.”

The news of Alden’s planned expansion comes on the heels of a new Hedge Clippers report, detailing Alden’s long history of gutting newsrooms in communities across the country.

Tribune employees and others who are concerned about the hedge fund’s influence thought they had until July 2021 before Alden could get a bigger chunk of the company, because of a “standstill agreement” that Alden renewed in July, Julie Reynolds reported on the DFM Workers website.

But the agreement has loopholes that would allow Alden to merge with Tribune or take control before then, and a presentation slide titled “Important company updates” from the MNG meeting shows Alden’s timeline has accelerated.

“Tribune relationship deepening with Randy Smith on their board,” the slide reads. “Greater ownership could happen as soon as Jan 1. Pushing our strategies closer together.”

The description of the “deepening relationship” with Tribune contradicts recent statements Alden president Heath Freeman made to Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth indicating that Alden did not control Tribune’s business decisions.

Tribune Publishing owns newspapers in eight markets, including the Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News, Baltimore Sun, Orlando Sentinel, Hartford Courant, Virginia’s Daily Press, The Virginian-Pilot, The Morning Call of Lehigh Valley, Penn., and South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel.

As the new report posted by The Hedge Clippers makes clear, throughout the last decade, Alden and its president, Heath Freeman, have engaged in a sustained campaign of gutting newsrooms, cutting employment by more than 75%—twice the industry rate—while lining investors’ pockets. The fund currently controls more than 70% of MediaNews Group (MNG) and has a 32% stake in Tribune Publishing, two of the largest newspaper conglomerates in the United States. It also has a 7 percent stake in Lee Enterprises and holdings in Gannett and Sinclair.

“One of the most ruthless of the corporate strip-miners
seemingly intent on destroying local journalism”

-    Margaret Sullivan, The Washington Post

“The grim reaper of American newspapers”

-    Joe Pompeo, Vanity Fair

The “Gordon Gekko” who “bought news empires”

-    Joe Nocera, The New York Times

“Private equity’s tenure in journalism has been disastrous,” Schleuss said. “The obsessive focus on short-term profits has put countless journalists out of work and left millions of Americans without access to quality local news. We need a bold new vision for funding news organizations. We can’t afford to wait any longer to revitalize local news.”

Alden is just one of many private equity firms acquiring, monetizing, and selling newspapers, but there is hope, the union president said. The NewsGuild-CWA, as a part of its broader #SaveTheNews campaign for federal support of newsrooms, has proposed a slate of policy solutions that would allow newspapers to remain independent, help them survive the current economic downturn and enable them to provide quality news coverage in the future:

  • Giving more local news outlets access to the Paycheck Protection Program, especially to those smaller local outlets previously excluded due to ownership by large corporations

  • Making it easier for news organizations to register as nonprofit organizations with the IRS

  • Offering tax incentives to encourage local ownership

  • Providing a tax credit to local businesses to advertise in local outlets, which will create revenue to provide for job retention and expansion

  • Protect and grow journalism and news jobs by giving tax credits for subscriptions to newspapers and news websites

  • Exploring public support models for local news outlets, similar to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

These solutions are not a panacea for saving local news—there is still much that must be done to help news organizations struggling under the weight of the COVID-19 recession. But these and other forward-thinking approaches could do much to get papers back into the right hands: people who will treat the news as a public good.

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Who We Are
The NewsGuild-CWA represents more than 24,000 journalists and other communications professionals in the United States and Canada, including approximately 3,000 who have joined in the last two years. NewsGuild members work at hundreds of news outlets—including big publications like the New York Times, small papers like the Pottstown Mercury and digital-only sites like Buzzfeed News. The Guild is a sector of the 600,000-member Communications Workers of America.

Hedge Clippers is a national campaign focused on unmasking the dark money schemes and strategies the billionaire elite uses to expand their wealth, consolidate power and obscure accountability for their misdeeds. Through hard-hitting research, war-room communications, aggressive direct action and robust digital engagement, Hedge Clippers unites working people, communities, racial justice organizations, grassroots activists, students and progressive policy leaders in a bold effort to expose and combat the greed-driven agenda that threatens basic fairness at all levels of American society.