Updated May 17 to include additional newsclips of protest.
May 9, 2018 – The journalists of the Denver Post and other newspapers owned by Alden Global Capital have had enough. They’re in open rebellion against the “vulture capitalist” hedge fund – and the uprising shows no sign of abating.
On May 8, reporters, photographers and other newsroom personnel from Denver, St. Paul, the Bay Area, suburban Philadelphia, and Kingston, NY, converged on the sidewalks outside its New York City headquarters, where they picketed, chanted and gave speeches on bullhorns. They demanded that Alden invest in the papers it owns or sell them to someone who will.
The hedge fund owns controlling shares in Digital First Media, the country’s second-largest newspaper chain, and despite earning far-higher-than average profits, the papers have been laying off staff at twice the industry rate.
“It’s damaged our ability to serve as watchdogs for Denver and the front range at Colorado, and we haven’t heard anything from Alden Global Management,” Denver Post reporter Noelle Phillips said.
“They don’t understand what they own. Newspapers are a public trust, and they don’t understand that,” Pulitzer-Prize winner Thomas Peele told the crowd.
“Before they took over there were six reporters covering the county I work in – now I’m the only one left,” said Nick Ferraro, a reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
After several other journalists told of the excruciating cuts their papers had endured, a delegation entered the building’s lobby, hoping to deliver petitions bearing more than 11,000 signatures demanding that Alden “invest or sell.” They were rebuffed by security officers, who wouldn’t allow them to drop off the petitions at Alden’s offices or accept them on Alden’s behalf.
The protest was an unusual role for the journalists, who are used to covering such events – not participating in them.
“I don’t like being the story,” Elizabeth Hernandez told the New York Times. “But if we don’t tell our own story now, I don’t know how long we’ll able to tell our community’s.”
Pulitzer-Prize winner George Kelly, a reporter at the East Bay Times, told protestors, “Be proud of the work you do. Be proud of the communities you serve. Be ashamed of the people hundreds of feet above our heads.”
A companion protest was held at the offices of the Denver Post, the site of much of the recent upheaval, a few hours after the New York City event.
“I’ve never done this before, but I feel like if there’s one thing a journalist can fight for, it’s for journalism. That’s our blood,” business and technology reporter Tamara Chuang told the Denver 7, the ABC News affiliate in the mile-high city.
Union members at other Alden-owned papers also expressed solidarity, displaying signs and banners.
NewsGuild-CWA President Bernie Lunzer praised the activism. “The journalists of papers owned by Alden Global Capital are on the frontlines of the fight for the heart and soul of the news business.” Alden’s unmitigated greed has forced them into that role, he said.
Journalists are about “holding the powerful to account, telling the stories of the people in our communities, reporting on schools and neighborhoods and safety and crime and our sports teams,” Lunzer added.
“We have a simple demand for Alden. If you won’t invest in the papers you own, let us find someone who will.”
Alden Global Capital and its president, Heath Freeman, refused to comment, as they have throughout.
Only the Latest
The protests were only the latest developments in the Alden saga.
Chuck Plunkett, editorial page editor of the Denver Post, resigned on May 3, after the paper rejected an editorial criticizing Alden. (Three other high-ranking Denver Post employees soon followed suit: Two senior editors resigned the following day, and former owner Dean Singleton quit as chairman.)
In early April, Plunkett had overseen the publication of a six-page editorial section decrying Alden’s decimation of the Denver Post, which spurred extensive national news coverage. He was prepared to be fired then, he said, but he wasn’t.
But by rejecting his next editorial on Alden’s business practices, the owners were boxing him in.
“What they were asking was to be quiet,” Mr. Plunkett said in an interview with the New York Times. “For me to just sit quietly by would be hypocritical.”
“Mr. Plunkett’s resignation reverberated through the newsroom and beyond,” the Times reported.
Fifty-five workers at the Denver Post issued an open letter to their readers objecting to the paper’s refusal to publish the rejected editorial.
“Newspapers tell the truth. They must. Always,” they wrote. “That is why we the newsroom of The Denver Post, are outraged at the unconscionable censorship imposed on our now-former editorial page editor, Chuck Plunkett. Chuck told the truth, eloquently and pointedly. And in that our newspaper’s corporate ownership – Digital First Media and the hedge fund Alden Global Capital – saw something to fear, not champion. …
“It has become vividly clear that they must either invest in the newspaper or sell it to someone who cares about Colorado, and they must do it immediately.”
The vetoed editorial followed the leak of financial records that show that Alden’s newspapers earned the highest margins in the industry last year – by far.
Newspaper industry analyst Ken Doctor revealed on May 1 that profits at Alden Global Capital newspapers averaged 17 percent — stunning numbers in an industry where margins of less than 10 percent are the norm. Meanwhile, staff cuts at Alden papers run at twice the industry average.
In an article titled, “Alden Global Capital is making so much money wrecking local journalism it might not want to stop anytime soon,” Doctor said financials for Digital First Media, an Alden subsidiary, for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017, were leaked to him by a company insider.
Where It All Began
Plunkett’s decision to post the original April 6 editorial blasting Alden unleashed a torrent of scrutiny. It took courage, because as editorial page editor he had no job security and no union protection.
But as Plunkett readily admits, the attention to Alden’s business practices follow more than two years of relentless reporting by Julie Reynolds and others on #NewsMatters, the website of DFMworkers.org, which is a project of The NewsGuild-CWA.
The workers at Alden-owned newspapers have no intention of giving up.
Speaking Truth to Alden – Photos
Read Journalists Take the Fight to Alden by Julie Reynolds on DFMworkers.org
See below for coverage of the May 8 protests in the mainstream media.
CNN Money – Reliable Sources
Media Rebellion! Why Journalists Are Risking It All to Write Exposés of Their Owners
The Gutting of The Denver Post is a Death Knell for Local News
Denver Post Staffers Protest Owners, ‘Unconscionable Censorship’
Newspaper workers demand hedge-fund owners invest or sell
Denver Post loopt leeg na censuur door eigenaar – VillaMedia (Netherlands)