Chicago Tribune staffers seek new owners amid fears of hedge fund takeover

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(CNN) — Reporters at the Chicago Tribune are trying to find a new owner for their newspaper.

They’re doing it because they’re afraid of Alden Global Capital’s plans for all of the papers owned by Tribune Publishing.

Alden, a New York-based hedge fund, recently became the largest shareholder in the struggling publishing company. Alden has a terrible reputation in the newspaper industry due to its history of slashing jobs and sucking up short-term profits from other papers it controls.

“We’re doing everything in our power to try to stop them,” Gary Marx, a 31-year veteran of the Chicago Tribune, told CNN Business.

Over the weekend Marx and another one of the Tribune’s top reporters, David Jackson, came out with an op-ed warning about the pernicious influence of Alden. “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. So do our Tribune Publishing colleagues,” they wrote.

There is a history of local newspaper rebellion against Alden. In 2018 the Denver Post published editorials and columns deriding the hedge fund and calling for a shift to local ownership.

But despite those protests, Alden still controls the Post. Some of the paper’s writers and editors left and launched a digital news outlet called the Colorado Sun.

The Chicago Tribune is trying a similar tack by seeking out local ownership. Jackson and Marx told CNN Business on Monday that they’ve already been reaching out to potential buyers for the past few weeks. Some of their newsroom colleagues are also involved in this informal effort.

“There have been some expressions of interest,” Jackson said.

But “we’re not in the deal-making business,” Marx added.

So they’re not involved in any specific talks — they are just trying to get the word out “about the urgency of the matter,” Jackson said.

“We believe that Alden is an existential threat, not just to this newspaper but to every newspaper in the chain,” Marx said.

Alden increased its ownership stake in Tribune to 32% last November. Hundreds of Tribune staffers responded with a letter decrying the hedge fund.

‘We’re not martyrs. We just really like journalism.’

The anti-Alden editorial was published in The New York Times, not in the paper where the reporters work. Jackson said his editors at the Tribune “strongly warned against publishing” it.

The reporters went ahead, and the op-ed ran on NYTimes.com Sunday. If the Tribune becomes a shell of its former self, they wrote, “Illinois’s most vulnerable people would lose a powerful guardian, its corrupt politicians would be freer to exploit and plunder, and this prairie metropolis would lose the common forum that binds together and lifts its citizens.”

A similar move is afoot at Tribune’s paper in Baltimore: “An effort is underway by some journalists at The Baltimore Sun to find new, local ownership for the 183-year-old newspaper,” the Baltimore Business Journal reported earlier this month.

Tribune’s chain of newspapers is currently undergoing yet another round of voluntary buyouts in an attempt to stave off further layoffs.

The Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell authored a recent column, with contributions from several colleagues, about the pain of buyouts — being offered money to leave your newspaper home over and over — but choosing to stay because you love the community you cover.

“Those who stay do so because we believe in what we do,” Maxwell wrote. “We’re not martyrs. We just really like journalism. And we fear for what our community would be without a vibrant daily newspaper. So I’ve made peace with my decision. I know that most any day here could be my last. I also know it’s a gift to do what you love for a living.”

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