This is not the usual “hard times for newspapers” lament. Alden is cutting news staff at more than twice the national rate.
By DFMworkers staff
The argument for responsible, local ownership of Digital First Media newspapers grows stronger every day, and if any year makes the definitive case, this is it.
Hedge fund Alden Global Capital’s dismal record this past year proves the firm has no interest in the survival, much less the growth of the scores of papers under its watch.
In the 12 NewsGuild bargaining units, 89 jobs were lost this year — a 13.2 percent reduction. Newsroom reductions were even more dramatic, with 51 jobs gone. That’s almost a 15 percent reduction in less than a year, from 343 newsroom employees down to 293.
Since Alden took over the news chain in 2012, union employment has dropped from 1,552 to 585 in December 2017. (Note: these numbers don’t include the Denver Mailers.)
That’s a 62.3 percent workforce reduction in just five years.
We can’t compare the same five-year period yet with national statistics, but we do have data for the four years from 2012 to 2016. And it doesn’t make Alden look good.
According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, which currently reports newspaper jobs data through 2016, the four-year job loss rate since 2012 was 23.3 percent nationally.
Compare that to Digital First Media’s union-reported job losses for the same period: a shameful 56.6 percent.
In other words, this is not the usual “hard times for newspapers” lament. Alden is cutting news staff at more than twice the national rate.
Cutting when there’s nowhere to cut
We also see that, despite there being “nowhere left to cut,” job losses have not slowed in the past two years — in 2016, they accelerated dramatically.
Since Alden took over, DFM papers lost an average of 144 jobs per year until 2016.
Then, in 2016, we lost 301 jobs, and in only in 2017 have the job losses “slowed” to 89 — still an egregious number. Between these past two years of extremes, though, the average is 195, which is even more than the previous four years’ rate.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Around the country, we’re seeing signs that newspaper companies big and small are innovating by diversifying their revenue streams.
Some are even adding to their newsrooms.
This past year, papers in Denver and the San Francisco Bay Area were among the hardest-hit in terms of staff cuts, despite their award-winning work. Since February, The Denver Post lost 10 newsroom jobs, dropping from 85 to 75 people. Non-newsroom jobs fell from 154 to 135.
“Over the past five years under Alden Global Capital, The Denver Post has displaced over 60 percent of its journalists,” said Kieran Nicholson, chair of the Denver Newspaper Guild newsroom unit. “All I want for Christmas is a new, local owner who’ll support our community through investing in journalism.”
The Pulitzer-winning East Bay Times newsroom in Oakland, California, took a huge hit, going from 93 to 65 employees since February. The Mercury News in nearby San Jose (whose staff shared that Pulitzer Prize) lost ten employees, including six in the newsroom.
“This ownership is a wrecking crew. They’ve gutted these newsrooms,” said Carl Hall, executive officer of Pacific Media Guild, which represents workers at both papers. “Despite the destructive layoffs, our members somehow manage to carry on at a high level, and the Bay Area News Group was rightly honored with the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the Ghost Ship fire.
“Alden Global Capital responded to the Pulitzer by announcing still more layoffs.”
The case for new owners
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Around the country, we’re seeing signs that newspaper companies big and small are innovating by diversifying their revenue streams. Some are even adding to their newsrooms.
How is it they can survive in this tough market? Unlike Alden’s grab for the quick buck, forward-thinking owners are re-investing and taking the long view.
Digital First Media newspapers cover America’s small, medium-sized and even a few large cities. Perhaps more than those of any other news chain, DFM papers are essential to our democracy.
“This period of Wall Street ownership of news organizations will be remembered as one of the most destructive and shameful in the history of modern American journalism,” Hall said. “I hope they exit soon, and somebody who actually cares about quality journalism takes over these franchises before nothing is left.”
As Hall indicates, more than ever, now’s the time to ramp up the search for responsible, civic-minded owners.
NewsGuild member jobs at DFM
Alden takes over in 2012 1,552
January 2016 975
February 2017 674
December 2017 585
Total 5-year job loss 967