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In Wednesday's edition of the New York Daily News, reporter Larry McShane practically begs someone local to "step up and save New York's Hometown Paper." McShane and many of his colleagues fear that Tribune's current path, a takeover by Alden Global Capital, will cause further harm to the paper. McShane's column calls Alden a "notorious hedge fund known for decimating newspapers like the Denver Post before picking the bones for profit."
The stakes for staff and readers of Tribune papers could not be higher. Alden has stripped dozens of its other newspapers of employees and assets to boost profits. Bainum has said he would sell many of the individual papers to local owners and keep the Sun and other Maryland papers. “Alden’s track record has been clear,” said Ann Marie Lipinski, curator of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, and a former editor of the Chicago Tribune. “Nothing about their interest — either at Tribune or at other properties — suggests that they are motivated by a desire to enhance quality journalism in any of these communities. If there are additional financial pressures, it can only exacerbate a grim situation.”
Please, anyone rich enough to buy my newspaper, this is a chance to save something important. This is a chance to be a hero.
Our goal is not to report on the state of local journalism, but to show what the American public misses when thousands of stories are not told.
Local news serves our critical information needs, particularly regarding vital issues such as vaccines, elections and public safety. The newspaper industry, still our primary source of original reporting, has lost well over 50 percent of its workforce since the early 2000s, leading to hundreds of closures and news deserts across the country. No longer commercially viable, local journalism’s devastation will only worsen in the coming months and years. Yet infrastructures must be maintained regardless of their profitability and such glaring market failure should necessitate government intervention. Public goods, after all, require public investments. Unfortunately, we often take such democratic infrastructure for granted, leading to neglect and disinvestment over time.
Alden’s approach to newspapers is to dramatically expand profit margins through cost-cutting, combining services, outsourcing and selling off real estate. Its newspaper company, closely held MediaNews Group, which publishes some 70 daily papers including the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News, had a profit margin of 17% in 2017, according to a person familiar with the matter. By contrast, the New York Times Co. ’s margin was under 1% that year, while Gannett Co. came in at 1.7%, according to public filings. Alden has declined to disclose more-recent numbers. Between 2012 and January of this year, MediaNews Group cut staff by 76% at its 11 unionized papers, including the Denver Post, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the San Jose Mercury News, according to the News Guild, a union that represents newspaper employees. At the Norristown Times-Herald in Pennsylvania, staff was reduced to just five from 45.
Last year, as a group of Baltimore Sun reporters embarked on a long-shot endeavor to find a new owner that could save their paper from a hedge-fund takeover, a former Maryland politician gave them a piece of advice. Treat this like a political campaign.
The Orlando Sentinel on Friday published an editorial beseeching white knight investors to rescue the newspaper from a hostile takeover that Alden Global Capital has been pursuing for the paper’s parent company Tribune Publishing. In the unusual public call for support, Sentinel editors express contempt for Alden, their potential corporate owner, and characterize the moment as existential for the newspaper’s future.