By Julie Reynolds
Alden Global Capital, owner of the Digital First Media newspaper chain, has become the largest holder of Tribune Publishing Co. stock, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Tribune publishes the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant, the New York Daily News, The Virginian-Pilot, the Daily Press, the Allentown Morning Call and others.
Alden purchased the 9.07 million shares from former Tribune board chair Michael W. Ferro for around $118 million. The purchase was made by the Cayman Islands-based Alden Global Opportunities Master Fund, L.P. and Alden Global Value Recovery Master Fund, L.P., according to a Tuesday SEC filing.
“The Tribune Publishing Board of Directors looks forward to working with Alden to enhance our company’s value as the company continues to provide valuable journalism for our customers and communities,” Tribune Chairman David Dreier said in a statement.
Tribune is “in discussions with Alden to put two members on the Board in connection with increasing the size of the Board from six to eight,” the statement also said.
The purchase gives Alden a 25.2 percent stake in the company, and comes on the heels of two other shakeups in the local newspaper industry.
Last week, shareholders approved the mega-merger of the Gannett and GateHouse (a.k.a. New Media Investment Group) chains. Alden began 2019 with an ultimately failed attempt to take over Gannett. And on Tuesday, reports surfaced that the McClatchy chain was on the verge of bankruptcy, fueling rumors Alden might take on a chuck of that chain as well.
Alden’s shopping spree comes while it undertakes contract negotiations with NewsGuild members at a dozen Digital First newspapers. In those talks, management has been adamant that the company is too cash-strapped to pay for even modest cost-of-living increases to workers who have had only one raise in a decade, despite the fact that the hedge fund has siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from the chain for its own, unrelated investments.
On Tuesday, union workers at three Alden-owned papers in Northern California held a noon rally in Oakland to demand livable pay and fair benefits.
Gathering in front of Lake Merritt, employees of the East Bay Times, San Jose Mercury News and the Monterey Herald were joined by union supporters and representatives from lawmakers’ offices.
“Alden earned $41 million in profits at its Bay Area newspapers in 2017 — a 21 percent profit margin — but has paid its employees only one raise in this decade,” noted union officer Michael Applegate.
At the same time in Washington, the NewsGuild submitted written testimony about Alden’s practices to a House Financial Services Committee hearing titled “America for Sale? An Examination of the Practices of Private Funds.”