The newspaper business has struggled for much of the 21st century as the rise of digital media has profoundly cut the revenue once generated from print advertising and newspaper stand sales. At the same time, Facebook and Google have snatched a large chunk of digital advertising revenue, effectively blocking the industry from one of its traditional sources of cash.
Approximately a quarter of newspapers in the United States, most of them weekly, closed between 2004 and 2019, while about 50 percent of newspaper jobs were eliminated. Hedge funds, however, see newspapers as a potential bargain. With a strict management style that often implies job cuts and shrinking coverage of local news, they have been able to squeeze them for profit.
During the process, they often angered their employees. Journalists at The Denver Post, a daily controlled by a media company Alden, revolted in 2018 by publishing a separate section of opinion essays that exploded the hedge fund, comparing its executives to vulture capitalists. Earlier, Alden ordered The Post to cut 30 jobs from an editorial staff that was 100 editorial staff, having already lost a significant number of journalists to layoffs and acquisitions since the firm took control in 2010.
Penny Abernathy, a former executive of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal who studies local media economics at the University of North Carolina School of Journalism, said Aldens’ story did not signal to the Tribune Publications that fall under its control.
Based on the model Alden has used so far, this is shrinking the industry without a significant investment for the future of newspapers, she said. One of the problems with these large chains is the disconnection, on the journalistic and economic side, from the communities that newspapers serve.
Several journalists working for Tribune Publishing newspapers which also include The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant have tried to persuade wealthy charities to intervene before the hedge fund was able to win more shares. Last year, two Chicago Tribune reporters sent letters to Chicago Illuminators urging them to buy the paper.
In an interview Tuesday, Gregory Pratt, president of the Chicago Tribune union and a City reporter, did not seem sincere about the deal. That’s too bad, he said. Not good news. Alden is the worst in the news business and that’s saying something, given the variety of bad actors out there.
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