The Denver Post revolts against its hedge fund owner while Alden Global Capital exec expands his East Hampton mansion
By Julie Reynolds
As the media world rocks and reels this week over the Denver Post’s defiance against its hedge fund owner, new signs of that owner’s ever-expanding wealth are being uncovered.
But first, a recap. The past few days were unprecedented in the annals of modern journalism. On the verge of still more massive staff cuts, the Denver Post’s editorial board took a brazen step with a six-page Sunday collection of 10 op-ed pieces calling out the paper’s hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital.
It was a courageous and audacious move by the Post’s staff to stand up against those who control their livelihood.
The cries of rebellion from the Post’s editorial board were heard across the country — making the front page of the New York Times. The revolt also covered by the Washington Post, The Associated Press, NPR, Salon, Forbes, The Columbia Journalism Review and many more news outlets.
“The Denver Post is in open revolt against its owner,” the Times story stated on Saturday. “Angry and frustrated journalists at the 125-year-old newspaper took the extraordinary step this weekend of publicly blasting its New York-based hedge-fund owner and making the case for its own survival in several articles that went online Friday and are scheduled to run in The Post’s Sunday opinion section.”
The Washington Post called Denver’s demands that Alden sell the paper to civic-minded owners “a remarkable rebellion against the owners responsible for continual staff cuts at the paper during the past few years.”
“I think it’s got to be sold,” Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper told Rolling Stone Magazine. “They’re getting down to a real skeleton staff. I wish they would sell it, to be honest.”
But let’s not forget that on Monday, some two dozen journalists lost their jobs at the Denver Post, and it’s because of Alden’s insistence on maintaining high profit margins for its investors above any other priority. In fact, Alden’s founders Randall Smith and Heath Freeman have made it clear those profits are their only priority.
Post reporters said there were sad goodbyes and a few tears Monday, but also smiles, hearty handshakes and hugs. A table of food in the middle of the newsroom was barely picked at, staff said, with the room quieting as the daily deadlines approached.
Journalists working on their last stories made calls and focused on finishing their copy.
“We’ve been fighting this for a while now,” Kieran Nicholson, chairman of the newsroom unit of the Denver Newspaper Guild, said of the layoffs. “It’s a sad day for the community, a sad day for our readers and a sad day for journalists, especially our colleagues who are losing jobs they truly care about, jobs they love.”
“Bare-knuckled capitalism without conscience”
Some reporters noted with irony over the weekend that Alden’s president Heath Freeman was recently granted a construction permit to expand his 5-bedroom, 5-bath, 3,500-square-foot mansion that sits on two acres in the Hamptons.
Pulitzer-prize winner Thomas Peele, an investigative reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, tweeted a photo of the house on Saturday, April 8.
While he guts newspapers across the country & decimates the #Denverpost with layoffs, Digital First Media chairman Heath Freeman of vulture hedge fund Alden Global Capital is expanding his waterfront mansion in Montauk NY. #Aldenexposed pic.twitter.com/p5h6QjbWqG
— Thomas Peele (@thomas_peele) April 7, 2018
The house sold in 2016 for $4.8 million, according to Realtor.com. (The latest Suffolk County tax rolls show the combined properties assessed at just under $3.6 million. It should be noted that assessors’ values are often lower than actual sales prices.)
Let’s put that amount in perspective: it would cost less than $4.8 million to keep all those people lost in the latest Denver Post layoffs on the job for more than two years.
It’s also crucial to remember that Alden’s decimation of newsrooms has been relentless across the country — in the Philadelphia region, Michigan, upstate New York, Minnesota, and New England. Northern and Southern California were especially hard hit. One has to wonder how many of Alden cofounder Randall Smith’s 17 mansions were financed by these cuts.
At least 20 journalists departed the Post on Monday. Most were forced layoffs, though some resigned or took voluntary layoffs. More names have not yet been confirmed, while several other workers are being kept on temporarily until the end of June, for a combined total of at least 25.
Still, the rallying cries continued all day Monday. Ken Doctor, writing for Harvard’s Nieman Lab, published what amounted to a manifesto for journalists in the hedge-fund era, titled “The Denver Post’s protest should launch a new era of ‘calling B.S.’”
“This is a golden age of American protest. It’s time to stand up and fight the vulture owners hollowing out local news.
“In The Denver Post’s awakening, we see the press finally calling B.S. on the B.S. that’s been right under its nose for so long. Is the local press woke?” Doctor wrote. “Maybe it took the bare-knuckled capitalism-without-conscience behavior of Alden Global Capital’s Heath Freeman to push journalists to this point.”