Proclamation urges the hedge fund to invest in newsrooms or sell
By Julie Reynolds
Decrying vulture hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s “devastating effect on local journalism around the nation,” the Denver City Council on Monday unanimously passed a unique proclamation aimed at protecting local news.
The news spread rapidly across social media, including a detailed Twitter thread describing the vote by The Denver Post’s politics reporter Conrad Swanson, who began with, “Denver City Council unanimously approves a proclamation calling for Alden Global Capital — owner of The Denver Post —- to either invest in local journalism or divest its interest in the more than 100 local/regional paper it owns.”
The proclamation — subtitled “Urging Alden Global Capital to Either Invest in Local Journalism or Divest its Interests” — has no legal authority over Alden’s practices, but it does send a strong message that the struggle to save local news organizations from plundering hedge funds has become an urgent civic concern.
“Since Alden Global Capital took control of MediaNews Group in 2011, its newspapers including The Denver Post have been gutted, their staffs slashed and many of their assets sold,” the proclamation states.
“Staff at The Denver Post has been reduced by 75 percent in those eight years, and staff at newspapers Alden Global Capital controls has been reduced by more than twice the industry’s national average since 2012.”
The council also ordered the city and county clerk to forward the statement to Alden.
How it happened
In 2017, the Denver City Council issued a general proclamation about the importance of local news, inspired by the growing #NewsMatters campaign of the Denver NewsGuild, said Councilman Kevin Flynn, a former journalist.
“Since then, things have gotten only more dreary,” Flynn told DFMworkers.
Flynn spent his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News until it folded in 2009. In 2015, he ran for City Council, becoming, as he’s been quoted saying, “one of the bastards I used to write about.”
But his concerns about local news found sympathetic ears in the Denver community, and a year after the council’s initial proclamation, Denver journalists made national news when The Post ran a six-page series of editorials about the destructive impact of Alden’s gutting of staff and resources at its papers, an act that became known as the Denver Rebellion.
The paper’s management doubled down to censor future commentary by editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, whose resulting departure was preceded by the firing of Dave Krieger of the Alden-owned Boulder Daily Camera, who had published an editorial about Alden on his blog after it was spiked by the newspaper’s publisher.
“As a former journalist, I know the importance of media scrutiny of civic affairs and now as an elected official I know of the many things that go unscrutinized in the media-starved civic arena,” Flynn said. “I don’t like it.”
The Denver NewsGuild eventually approached Flynn about presenting some kind of council statement specifically calling out Alden’s practices.
“I thought it over for a bit, because it might seem like the public sector sticking its nose into private business,” he said. “Then I realized we do that all the time, in many ways.”
He said that after he was interviewed and quoted in a PEN America report called “Losing the News: The Decimation of Local Journalism and the Search for Solutions,” he felt convinced to “take this step.” The 114-page report was published in November, and it includes an extensive section about the Denver news media landscape.
A call for action
The PEN report called for elected officials to get involved in the local news crisis, “strongly” urging federal lawmakers to create an independent Congressional Commission on Public Support for Local News.
PEN also launched an online petition urging Congress to act. As of Tuesday, nearly 30,000 people signed on.
While journalists have long understood the need for a clear division between government and the news media, Flynn said the Denver proclamation “has no power or authority over Alden or anyone else. I sure wouldn’t want the city or any government authority to be able to dictate to The Post’s owners.” Rather, the statement is “an urgent plea for Alden to consider the impacts that its profit-taking has on the communities its news outlets exist to serve.”
He stressed that he believes The Post and other local papers still “do great journalism … But there’s simply not enough of it. For every great exposé or article that’s done, there are a dozen more that, because of reduced resources, simply aren’t getting done.”
He added that the proclamation is simply calling for local reporters to “have more colleagues joining them and doing more of it.”
Flynn said it’s important that local news reflect a “diverse community with wide-ranging political leanings and policies, but which nevertheless needs to agree with a common set of facts — facts that need to be made part of the public conversation by a larger corps of trained journalists than exists today.”
Post reporter Swanson said Denver Councilwoman Robin Kniech urged the public to continue supporting The Post, and “doesn’t want the proclamation to suggest people should stop supporting local news due to frustration with owners.”
While Alden has a dismal track record of ignoring pleas to make an investment in its papers versus stripping them to bare bones, Flynn said the city still hopes to see “an open discussion with Alden (about) the merits of added investment in staff and resources, or finding an ownership group willing to do so.”