Hedge fund attempts to censor its newspapers’ own criticism as outrage, rebellion grow
By Julie Reynolds
New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital is bearing down on editors as it attempts to censor criticism of its management of the Digital First Media newspaper chain.
On Tuesday, at DFM’s Kingston (New York) paper, the Daily Freeman, an editor sent an email to staff, telling them to scan any story on “the struggles of journalism,” to make sure it doesn’t mention Alden or DFM.
“This directive comes from above,” the editor noted.
Then on Wednesday, Alden/DFM fired a Colorado opinion page editor after he published a blog post critical of Alden.
Despite years of largely ignoring its newspapers’ content while focusing squarely on the profits it could extract from them, Alden has suddenly taken an interest in the editorial side of the news — now that the news is about Alden.
Alden’s censorship and crackdown began after the so-called “Denver Rebellion” caught fire, garnering weeks of nonstop coverage — and outrage — in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Forbes, Esquire, Colombia Journalism Review, Time magazine and many other outlets.
For those who need a refresher, the Denver Rebellion took place early this month when opinion page editor Chuck Plunkett devoted six pages of the Denver Post’s Sunday paper to scathing editorials that called out Alden for decimating DFM newsrooms in its pursuit of profit and only profit.
“When newsroom owners view profits as the only goal, quality, reliability and accountability suffer,” the Post stated. As DFMworkers.org has also reported, the Post described the personal wealth and real estate amassed by Alden’s top executives as their papers withered, losing two-thirds of their employees since Alden took over in late 2011.
Chuck Plunkett’s shot heard round the media world was followed by editorials from San Jose Mercury News editor Neil Chase and DFM’s Southern California News Group — both urging a change in business practices or ownership. Plunkett worried he might lose his job, but with the national spotlight shining on him, it didn’t happen.
One DFM paper, the Daily Freeman in Kingston, New York, at first appeared to join the chorus. On April 10, the paper ran an Associated Press story about the Denver Rebellion, joining other DFM papers from Santa Cruz, California to Troy, New York. On April 22, the Freeman ran another AP story that noted near the end that “critics say (Alden) has gutted newsrooms while draining off profits.”
Then came the blowback — quietly, at first.
Two days after the second AP story ran, the Daily Freeman’s managing editor Tony Adamis sent a stern warning to management at the paper:
“Just making sure everyone is on (sic) the loop on this:
“Do NOT post to the web or publish in print any story touching on Digital First Media / Alden Global Capital without my prior approval.
“In the event you are presented with any story that appears to focus or touch upon the struggles of journalism, you must carefully scan the story to make sure it does not involve DFM / Alden Global Capital.
“This directive comes from above.”
Bringing down the hammer
Then on Wednesday, April 26, Dave Krieger, the opinion page editor of the Boulder (Colorado) Daily Camera announced he was fired.
In a blog post published the next day titled Say Goodnight, Gracie, Krieger described the blow-by-blow. The short version is that for its Sunday, April 15, edition, Krieger was not allowed to run his own editorial criticizing Alden’s stewardship of the Daily Camera.
The next day, he published it on the personal blog he launched for the occasion, www.boulderfreepress.blog. As he would note a few days later, “nothing would be a more shameful epitaph than, ‘He betrayed his readers so he could keep his job.’”
Since his firing, Krieger says the Denver Post revolt led directly to Alden’s backlash at his own paper.
“The Post has had no publisher since Mac Tully resigned in January,” he wrote. “That’s how its editorial section slipped through. That wasn’t going to happen again. DFM lost its CEO last fall, and the publisher of the Pioneer Press, Guy Gilmore, a circulation guy, is now running the show as the chain’s chief operating officer.”
Krieger surmises that Gilmore, “trying to show Alden he could be as ruthless as necessary to put down an insurrection, was bringing the hammer down.”
But in his Thursday post to readers and colleagues, Krieger said it best:
“This is an important story, not just in Boulder, but in Denver, in San Jose, in Orange County, in St. Paul, and many other places where Alden is destroying papers to make its principals richer than they already are.
“Alden is now actively using these properties to suppress this story. If journalism is in your heart and in your blood, it’s your duty to tell that story. At least, that’s how I felt leaving that office park for the last time.”