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Chicago Tribune staff fear ‘avaricious destruction’ by hedge fund owners

Adam Gabbatt
Photograph: Charles Krupa/AP

Two senior reporters at the Chicago Tribune have appealed for investors to free the newspaper from the “avaricious destruction” of its hedge fund owners.

Alden Global Capital, based in New York, has been criticized for making deep cuts to news organizations across the US.

In November 2019 it purchased 32% of Tribune Publishing, which also owns the New York Daily News, the Baltimore Sun, the Hartford Courant, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida, the Virginian-Pilot (based in Norfolk) and the Capital Gazette, which is published in Annapolis, Maryland.

The purchase made Alden the Chicago newspaper’s largest shareholder and it didn’t take long to make its presence felt. Earlier this month, Tribune Publishing announced a staff buyout programme.

Writing in the New York Times, reporters David Jackson and Gary Marx pointed to Alden’s ownership of the Denver Post as a warning of what could be in store.

“Alden’s strategy of acquiring struggling local newsrooms and stripping them of assets has built the personal wealth of the hedge fund’s investors,” they wrote.

“But Alden has imposed draconian staff cuts that decimated the Denver Post and other once-proud newspapers that have been vital to their communities and to American democracy.”

Alden has made a series of cuts at the Post since buying it in 2010, leaving it with less than 70 journalists.

The media columnist Margaret Sullivan wrote in 2018 that under Alden’s ownership, a group of 16 newspapers in the Bay Area of California had seen their editorial staff cut from 1,000 to about 150.

Sullivan called Alden “one of the most ruthless of the corporate strip-miners seemingly intent on destroying local journalism”.

Jackson and Marx said the Tribune, which has won 27 Pulitzer prizes, has always “played an outsize role in the national conversation”. They fear that could change.

“Unless Alden reverses course – perhaps in repentance for the avaricious destruction it has wrought in Denver and elsewhere – we need a civic-minded local owner or group of owners,” Jackson and Marx wrote. “So do our Tribune Publishing colleagues.”

Alden, which could not be reached for comment, has scooped up news organizations as the journalism industry has descended into crisis. About 1,800 US newspapers closed between 2004 and 2018. According to a 2018 University of North Carolina study, 1,300 US communities have completely lost local news coverage.