April 12, 2018 – Workers at papers owned by Digital First Media have gotten another boost in their fight against the hedge fund that is decimating their ranks and devastating local journalism.
The Chronicle, the independent student-run newspaper of Duke University, has published a scathing editorial condemning prominent alum Heath Freeman, president of Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that controls DFM.
Freeman is a major financial contributor to the school, and because of his role in dismantling newspapers across the country, The NewsGuild-CWA and DFMworkers have been asking Duke to sever ties with him. Freeman’s financial contributions are at odds with the mission of Duke’s journalism program at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy, they charge.
So far, Duke hasn’t budged. But the scrutiny of students could change that, said NewsGuild President Bernie Lunzer. “Duke students can force school administrators to pay attention. They can hold Duke accountable for its complicity in destroying local journalism,” he said.
The Chronicle editorial was firm: “As opinion journalists dedicated to commenting on the state of the University, we condemn the actions of those like Freeman who seek to destroy — whether intentionally or unintentionally — local journalism through self-serving capitalistic purposes,” they wrote on April 12.
“The state of politics in 2018 demands responsible journalism to keep the populace informed on matters on both the local and national levels. Without local journalism, certain regionally-defined issues — whether it be a future Ferguson or Flint — will inevitably remain ignored within a landscape governed by a monopoly of big-news outlets limited to few metropolitan areas. Students who do care about accountability and journalistic transparency should take note of the University’s connections to Freeman and judge whether or not his practices are in line with Duke’s mission statement,” they wrote.
The editorial came just days after editors of the Denver Post, an Alden paper, shook up the journalism world with an unprecedented act of defiance against their hedge fund owners.
“We call for action,” the Denver Post editorial board wrote in a multi-page spread. “Consider this [online] editorial and this Sunday’s Perspective offerings a plea to Alden — owner of Digital First Media, one of the largest newspaper chains in the country — to rethink its business strategy across all its newspaper holdings. Consider this also a signal to our community and civic leaders that they ought to demand better. Denver deserves a newspaper owner who supports its newsroom. If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell The Post to owners who will.”
In a series of articles by Julie Reynolds and others, DFMworkers have been publicizing Alden’s role in undermining local journalism for more than two years. “Finally, this issue seems to be getting the attention it needs and deserves,” Lunzer said. “I once again applaud the dedicated journalists who have been fighting for the future of local news.”