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Tribune journalists react to announcement of hedge fund acquisition




A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can register for free here.

“Punch.” This is what Daniela Altimari wrote in reaction to Tuesday’s announcement that Alden Global Capital, a widely feared hedge fund, is buy the rest of Tribune Publishing and privately the owner of the newspaper.

Altimari is a reporter for one of Tribune’s news outlets, The Hartford Courant, which has the distinction of being the oldest continuously published newspaper in America. Altimari has spent the day doing what great local journalists do – monitoring a legislative hearing on vaccinations and reporting to the public. Then she spent the evening reading and absorbing Alden’s “punch”.

“It’s just devastating news,” she said.

Reporters shared similar reactions in Tribune’s markets, from New York to Orlando, Chicago to Virginia Beach.

Alden’s takeover of Tribune – which is still subject to some key approvals – was inevitable, given that the hedge fund became the company’s largest shareholder in 2019 with around 32% stake. But the ad still stung.

“While this news comes as no shock to us, it is still incredibly heartbreaking,” reporter Jennifer Sheehan of The Morning Call newspaper said. The Morning Call is the primary news source for Allentown, PA and the Lehigh Valley.

“Over and over,” Sheehan said, “Alden buys newspapers, cuts them to the bone, bleeds them and leaves the shell behind.”

Sheehan, who like many Tribune reporters is active in a local guild, said she wanted readers to know that “whatever announcement is made today, we will not stop fighting for save local information.

The podium management used predictable sterile language to present the deal on Tuesday evening. Philip G. Franklin, chairman of the Tribune’s board of directors, spoke of the difficulties of print publications, speaking of “driving digital growth and investing in high quality content”. He said Tribune’s “positioning”, which resulted in drastic cuts, allowed the committee reviewing Alden’s takeover offer “to negotiate a premium price, all in cash, which the committee said , was superior to the available alternatives.

Feedback from Tribune employees was anything but “superior.”

Gabrielle Russon, economics reporter at the Orlando Sentinel, said: “A lot of us are really sad right now. We love journalism. We care about what we do. And to see our company taken over by a hedge fund that is used to destroying good newspapers is heartbreaking.

“It also hurts not to be together when we get such bad news like this,” Russon added, “since our newsroom was closed during the pandemic and we are all working remotely. It is a strange and isolating moment.

Tribune CEO Terry Jimenez said in an internal memo that “we will remain focused on our journalistic mission throughout this process.”

The company’s newspapers in Maryland, including the Baltimore Sun, will be sold and converted to non-profit status as part of the transaction. Stewart Bainum Jr., president of the Choice Hotels International hotel chain, will lead the non-profit organization.

Bainum and other Baltimore-area civic leaders had campaigned for months to restore local ownership to the Sun, the Annapolis Capital Gazette, the Carroll County Times and other Maryland Tribune newspapers.

The guild that represents Sun journalists said Tuesday night“This is a really happy time for us,” but “at the same time, we are devastated for our colleagues who could be sold to Alden Global Capital, and we will fight like hell on their side.

Jon Schleuss, President of NewsGuild, said he applauds Bainum’s efforts in Baltimore, adding, “We need more people to step in and invest in truly local news that is accountable to our communities.”

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