Senator calls out hedge fund newspaper owners

By Julie Reynolds

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey has issued a statement decrying the recent shuttering of the Allentown Morning Call’s offices and newsroom, saying hedge fund owners “have no place” in local newsrooms.

“Reliable local news is essential to the Lehigh Valley and communities across the Nation, especially during times of crisis,” Casey in a statement issued Wednesday. “I support the Morning Call Guild in their efforts to preserve high-quality, local journalism at the Morning Call.”

While not specifically naming Alden Global Capital, the New York hedge fund that has a growing stake in the newspaper’s parent company, he did criticize the kind of extreme budget cuts in the name of profits that Alden is known for.

“Wall Street hedge funds have no place in Lehigh Valley newsrooms, and management’s recent decision to vacate the paper’s physical office building after 100 years is especially concerning. I stand with the Guild as they fight to keep the Morning Call in the hands of the Lehigh Valley community.”

Morning Call employees were stunned to learn last month that the paper’s parent company, Tribune Publishing, was permanently shuttering the historic offices the paper had occupied for 100 years.

For most of this year, reporters and other news workers have been working remotely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a move many observers attribute to Alden’s cost-slashing influence, Tribune abruptly shut down offices at five of its papers, including the Morning Call.

Hedge fund Alden owns the MNG Enterprises chain (formerly Digital First Media) and has had a growing influence on business decisions at Tribune Publishing, where it owns nearly a third of the company’s stock and controls three of its seven board seats.

The statement follows a similar draft proclamation by Lehigh County Commissioner Dan Hartzel, who joined a growing list of elected officials around the country by publicly calling on New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital to halt layoffs and extreme cost-cutting at its newspaper chains.

Casey last year joined 20 other senators who blasted Alden’s “newspaper-killing business model” in a letter addressed to Alden co-founders Randall Smith and Heath Freeman. The group vowed to “continue watching Alden closely.”

The Morning Call Guild responded to Casey’s statement on Twitter, saying, “We agree with Sen. Casey that the decision to vacate our building is especially concerning. (Tribune Publishing), guided by its Alden Global Capital board members, is closing our newsroom and others in the company to slash spending and boost its own profits under the guise of the pandemic.”

“We talked with (Sen. Casey’s) staff, provided them with ample background on Alden Global Capital and what they have done to other papers in Pennsylvania and what’s been done to our papers in (the Tribune chain) so far,” the Guild continued. “They listened.”

The union is leading a concerted effort to try to protect the Morning Call from further cuts.

“This is not about the pandemic,” the Guild wrote. “The pandemic was an opportunity for the Alden Global Capital-guided (Tribune) board to decide to slash spending yet again. Profits — at a time like this — over people once again. The Valley deserves better.”

More information about the campaign can be found at the Save Our Morning Call website.