By Julie Reynolds
The rebellion two weeks ago by The Denver Post’s editorial board against the newspaper’s hedge-fund owners spurred a national outcry, including a front-page article in The New York Times and coverage in The Washington Post, Time magazine, NPR and many other outlets.
Finally, mainstream voices seem to get it that newspapers are a public trust, not an ATM for vulture capitalists. And they seem willing to consider the notion that newspapers are not endangered solely because the big, bad Internet made print obsolete. No, the public-trust function of newspapers is also endangered because greedy investors who care nothing for journalism are intentionally bleeding dry the newspapers they own.
It’s time for Digital First Media editors and publishers across the country to report this news — and to keep covering it.
It’s time for communities to demand a change in ownership, because they deserve better.
Since Alden Global Capital took control in 2011 of Digital First, the country’s second-largest newspaper chain, DFM executives have eliminated a staggering two out of every three staff positions at its media properties.
Chuck Plunkett, The Denver Post’s editorial page editor, decided he’d seen enough. He declared a rebellion against Alden across six pages of his paper’s Sunday edition on April 8.
“I believe my head and my heart are in the right place,” Plunkett told DFMworkers. “It’s a proud tradition in newspapers to criticize even ourselves. Why shouldn’t we be able to criticize our management if they’re failing to support the paper, if they’re failing to understand the importance of the mission?
“I’m trying to start a conversation about that. If you want a good community, you need good journalism.”
He notes, correctly, that the damage to The Post “is being replicated around the country.”
Plunkett’s cry has not gone unheeded. After his call to arms appeared in the paper, a group of public-spirited investors declared on April 12 that they hoped to buy and save The Denver Post and had raised pledges of $10 million.
It’s time now for others to join Plunkett on the front lines of history.
Digital First editors and publishers owe it to their readers and citizenry to explain why their papers have shrunk to almost nothing, and why so many cities, events and organizations are now without coverage in their local paper of record.
It’s time for Digital First editors and publishers to be transparent about who owns their newspapers and what those owners have been doing to destroy their trust. It’s time to be honest with the public and stop hiding the truth.
Dave Krieger, the editorial page editor of the Daily Camera in Boulder, tried to publish an equally bold statement about Alden, but it was nixed by the publisher. Krieger went ahead and published his bold editorial, the one his boss tried to kill, on his blog.
There have been a few more who responded to the Denver rebellion with a column or two about Alden’s destruction of the news. In San Jose, Mercury News editor Neil Chase praised the Post’s courage.
“In an extraordinary editorial,” Chase wrote, “they bravely implored their owners — the same investors who own our news organization — to support local journalism or sell the properties to someone who will. The union that represents our employees has been saying the same thing for months. They’re right.”
Then, across DFM’s Southern California News Group, a series of editorials decried staff cuts and asked whether a nonprofit model might be best for their papers — though, as the Los Angeles Times noted, none of these editorials mentioned Alden or Digital First Media by name.
Several DFM papers ran the Post’s main editorial verbatim, noting in headlines that they were owned by the same hedge fund.
These few statements of support, while laudable, are not enough.
If the devastation wrought by Alden Global Capital centered on any other arena of civic life — say, politics, government or schools — our newspapers would rigorously cover those developments.
But the fact is, driving local newspapers into the ground affects all those aspects of civic life and more. Yet those same news organizations are loathe to write about it.
It’s time for readers to demand better treatment.
It’s time for Digital First Media editors and publishers to stand up for democracy and explain to readers what Alden is doing to their right to information and, in turn, to their communities.
This is a story that must be told in Digital First’s own newspapers, not once, but continuously, until the nation understands the seriousness of what’s at stake.
A portion of this article first appeared in The Nation. This post was updated to include mention of Dave Krieger’s editorial.