By Julie Reynolds
A county commissioner in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, on Wednesday 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.
Alden owns the MNG Enterprises chain (formerly Digital First Media) and is angling for an increasing stake in Tribune Publishing, where it owns nearly a third of the company’s stock and controls three of its seven board seats.
Commissioner Dan Hartzell issued the statement in support of journalists at the Tribune-owned Allentown Morning Call, where Hartzell was a reporter for nearly 40 years. He was known for his “Road Warrior” column on automotive issues.
Morning Call employees were stunned to learn in early August that Tribune 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 due to 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.
Commissioners in Lehigh County have a practice of not voting on resolutions that don’t directly affect county government, Hartzell said, but he introduced the statement as a personal request to Alden. The resolution follows a similar one introduced earlier this month in Hartford, Connecticut, by that City Council in support of the Tribune-owned Hartford Courant.
In December, the Denver City Council issued a proclamation authored by City Councilman Kevin Flynn calling on Alden to cease the pillaging of its newspapers and to sell to responsible local owners if it refused to reinvest in its newsrooms. Chicago Alderman Matt O’Shea introduced a similar resolution in February that also called on Alden to appear before a City Council committee.
Hartzell’s statement reads as follows:
WHEREAS, the board of commissioners is committed to supporting local journalism, and
WHEREAS, in November 2019, the hedge fund Alden Global Capital increased its stake in Tribune Publishing Company, owner of the Morning Call, to 32%, making it the largest shareholder of the company, and
WHEREAS, recognizing Alden’s history of extracting short-term profits by dramatically slashing newsroom jobs and paying low wages, and
WHEREAS, twenty-one U.S. Senators, including Sen. (Bob) Casey, in a letter to Alden’s leadership, condemned the hedge fund’s “newspaper-killing business model” as “bad for the public and bad for democracy,” and
WHEREAS, Local news is vital to communities, promoting increased political participation and helping to hold elected officials accountable,
Now be it RESOLVED that the Board of Commissioners urges Alden Global Capital to:
- Refrain from further layoffs or buyouts, and instead aggressively work to hire more journalists, and
- Refrain from seeking to increase its ownership interest in Tribune Publishing, and
- Consider in good faith any offers from outside entities that would return Tribune Publishing newspapers to civic-minded ownership.
Several commissioners said “hear, hear” after Hartzell read the statement Wednesday. The meeting was held remotely via Zoom.
“It’s what I hereby say is my request of Alden Global Capital,” Hartzell told his fellow commissioners.
Hartzell said he ultimately would like to see a nonprofit business model developed for the Morning Call, based on a combination of foundation funding and subscription revenue.
“Clearly Hartzell and other commissioners recognize the importance of our paper in the Valley. And we greatly appreciate their support as we continue to seek new ownership,” the Morning Call Guild stated via Twitter.
The union also noted that Hartzell “shared his support for our efforts to pursue ownership that would shift us into a nonprofit model,” and included a link to its online campaign, Save Our Morning Call.
Featured image: Hartzell introducing his statement on Aug. 26, 2020 at the Lehigh County Commissioners meeting.