Journalism Isn’t Dying. Billionaires Are Killing It.

Newsmatters, a blog set up by and for employees of Digital First Media, the company that includes the Denver Post among a stable of newspapers owned by the private capital firm Alden Global Capital, relays disturbing news about the recent massive layoffs at the paper earlier this month after a long period of steady contraction.

It didn’t have to be this way:

Hedge fund Alden Global Capital admitted in court filings last week that its newspaper holding company has diverted hundreds of millions of dollars from struggling Digital First Media newspapers into Alden-managed investments.

The cash siphoning, engineered through obscure subsidiary companies created after Alden became the news chain’s majority shareholder in 2012, came as thousands of workers were laid off and newspapers stripped of real estate and other assets to help finance Alden’s often risky investments.

Executives at the profitable newspapers have cited industry-wide economic pressures as the sole reason behind the gutting.

Now the admission by the company’s owner that it deliberately siphoned many millions away from the newspaper chain casts doubt on that claim.

The announcement that 30% of the remaining newsroom staff at the Denver Post would be laid off is just the latest in a years-long trend toward both less and lower-quality local news reporting. The old days in which Denver newsrooms competed for scoops is long gone, and now it’s a question of persuading an ever-shrinking pool of reporters that your story is worth the limited time they have to spend. We still have great moments of journalism, like the Post’s excellent recent work exposing Cambridge Analytica’s role in helping Colorado Republicans win in the 2014 elections. But compared to the number of such stories that could be told if the capacity was there to do it, the public has lost out greatly.

Although this latest revelation that the owners of the Denver Post have been pulling money out of the paper instead of investing in its future is dismaying, we have to caution once again that some alternatives under regular discussion, in particular the possibility that Republican kingpin billionaire Phil Anschutz might add the Post to his growing collection of ideologically polarized media properties, could well be even worse than the status quo. While we can’t speak to every editorial decision made by the paper, it is evident in the continuing good work done by the Post newsroom that Alden Global Capital is not censoring the news–or if they are, not in a way that affects local political coverage.

Anschutz might offer steady paychecks, but based on the proven record of media outlets Anschutz owns today from the Weekly Standard to the Colorado Springs Gazette we do not want him anywhere near the state’s newspaper of record.

Surely there must be another option.

19 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Davie says:

    Vampire Capitalists — they've been practicing this since at least the '80's through Leveraged Buyouts (LBO).  Mitt Romney's Bain Capital being a prime example in addition to Alden Global Capital.

  2. doremi says:

    Surely there must be ANOTHER OPTION!

    Just didn't renew my annual subscription to the Denver Post.  The price has gone up to $564 from $468 last year.  A 20.5% increase, while they laid off 30% of their workers.  The previous year was a 17.3% increase in subscription price, plus they back off your subscription time for $3.00 each for 4 special editions that are just a bunch of ads (Thanksgiving), plus they don't credit your account if you do a vacation leave.

    On top of that, it seems like a lot of its editorial page is an Independence Institute newsletter.

    I'm sick about this.  But I don't know how to make the Hedge Fund Robbers stop.

     

    • mamajama55 says:

      There's a petition.

      You can research its holdings, and find out if you're investing without knowing it. Then write a letter to the board of your investor. Or continue shining the light of public opinion on the board of directors of the company.

      I think that PERA, my pension fund, invests through Alden. For sure, the Post's pension invests in Alden – so hopeful retirees are financially bound to the very entity that is undermining their livelihood. That's just cruel.

      PERA has a big "opportunity" section, which translates to vulture fund investors like Alden that buy up desperate business ventures, and even (through Alden Global Hellenic Opportunities) indesperate countries like Greece.

      It isn't a fight I'm going to take on; have enough on my plate now. But there have been successful movements that have taken on  and won some limited gains from gigantic and powerful entities like this. I would guess, at a minimum, it will take Democratic control of Congress to allow more regulation of monopolies, boycotts, public demonstrations, divestment by pension funds, and more.

      • Davie says:

        I agree with the last paragraph of The Nation article:

        Ultimately, it may be a mix of altruistic investors, nonprofits, involved local owners, and citizen demand that keeps local news alive. Whether that news is printed on paper or pushed to a smartphone isn’t nearly as important as society’s willingness to invest in the act of reporting itself—an act central to our founders’ vision of democracy.

  3. Diogenesdemar says:

    Don’t kid yourself . . . 

    "Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it." –Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1786.

    . . . there’s more to the oligarchs’ agenda working here that just some hedge-fund profit harvesting.

  4. Davie says:

    There was an intriguing quote in the Post a couple of weeks ago from a local entrepreneur (and a dean at DU), J.B. Holsten on this topic. 

    Paraphrasing (as I don't have access to the original article behind the paywall), he said that he wanted a consortium of local investors to get together and buy the paper.  I would go one step further and suggest that perhaps it could be a public/private partnership with the CU’s Journalism school (unfortunately, I don't think DU has a journalism school).

    Unfortunately, I'm sure Alden would expect a king's ransom for the dessicated remains of the Post.

    • MichaelBowman says:

      Fantastic idea, Davie. Then for good measure we’ll print it on hemp paper (grown in Colorado) so Fluffy won’t go anywhere near it.

    • mamajama55 says:

      DU has a journalism school.

      So do Metro State, CU, and most other major schools around. A consortium is a great idea.

      • Davie says:

        Ah, thanks, MJ!  That is even better — maybe Dean Holsten of the Comp Sci/Engineering School can initiate a discussion on campus.

        I wonder if it would be cheaper to resurrect the old Rocky and hire the journalists away from the Post to hasten its inevitable demise at the hands of Alden, and avoid paying their ransom?

        • mamajama55 says:

          I don't know.  People liked the layout and  format of the Rocky better, for sure.

          My suggestion, FWIW: Do a meetup – maybe at the Denver Press club, if you or someone is a member – and talk about it.  Invite old hands like Littwin and Salzman, Vger, Goodland……Invite reps from the journalism schools so you get some young blood and alternative media in there. See what happens.

      • Gray in Mountains says:

        Long ago I lived in Columbia, MO home of MU and their journalism school. Of course they operated the student paper, but they also had a TV station. I lived there a year before finding out their news talent was all students. They were no different in skill than those on KC or Stlouis stations.

        • Davie says:

          CU seems to to have similar capabilities, if not quite the reach:

          Journalism is a craft learned best by doing, so your education will be grounded in hands-on experience. You will learn narrative writing and the latest digital tools in class and put them to use the next day at our media outlets: an award-winning 24/7 news site, a radio stationCU News Corps, and news and sports TV broadcasts.

          Our students frequently win Emmy awards and prizes in national student media contests. They intern at local newspapers, national broadcast networks, websites and social media companies.

        • mamajama55 says:

          I listen to the UNC station all the time out here on the eastern plains. It's hard to find anything except religious, country, and oldies rock programming. UNC does decent journalism. The towns out here put out pretty good papers – Greeley Tribune, Fort Morgan Times, Sterling Advocate. But I think that people mostly read these for the local news.

          It would take something like a nonprofit consortium (or a sugar daddy like Anschutz)  to save journalism in Colorado. I don't know if the printed paper model is sustainable, though. There's definitely an age divide – over 60s people like the paper experience. Under 30s are used to getting their news digitally. I use either format.

          Younger folks like paper books, love the printed school newspapers and yearbooks when they come out, but generally don't have much chance to peruse actual daily newspapers anymore.  It's not like there are big newspaper companies delivering bundles of papers to the schools for free like there were even five years ago.

          • Davie says:

            Neither my wife nor I miss newsprint or hardback or softcover books any more.  She downloads all the books she needs onto her iPad or laptop, and the digital replica edition of the Denver Post has greatly improved in the years since I switched to a digital only subscription.  

            Now, it truly does replicate the reading experience of a paper edition (minus the ability to share the sections with others concurrently).  You can flip pages easily, expand the image for easy reading, jump forward to follow the link to the continuation of the stories (and back to the original start page).  They even maintain a two week backlog of prior editions (I only wish they would keep even more back issues).  It is very easy to email entire articles without having to worry about the paywall stopping friends and family from reading it too.

            With new 9.7" iPads only costing about $300 (MicroCenter), that is less than half the cost of a year's daily subscription, including $6/month for the digital-only edition.  I don't see much future for paper (although Michael's hemp idea is interesting 🙂

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