Hedge fund Alden empties newsrooms right after Tribune takeover
By Julie Reynolds
The bells have tolled and the numbers are grim.
This week, scores of Tribune Publishing employees accepted buyouts that were offered immediately after vulture hedge fund Alden Global Capital took control of the storied newspaper chain.
Their positions will be eliminated, which particularly hurts newsrooms that already have been hard hit by previous buyouts and attrition.
If Alden’s history at MediaNews Group is a guide, expect additional reductions this year in management ranks, and further reductions by attrition as vacant positions go unfilled.
Not everyone who offered to take a buyout was accepted.
At press time, 73 NewsGuild-represented workers across 11 Tribune bargaining units had accepted the buyouts.
In addition, 16 non-union employees are leaving the Chicago Tribune, bringing that paper’s job loss to 40, and Tribune’s total to at least 89.
Several Twitter users also reported 6 or 7 positions were lost at the non-union Reading Eagle, owned by Alden’s other news chain, MNG Enterprises.
UNION STAFF BUYOUTS (excluding part-time staff) |
Source: The NewsGuild. Table revised 7/1/2021 with new information. (Click image to enlarge)
The total number of union jobs lost since these newer units were certified (or, in the case of three older units, since Alden took control of Tribune) stands at 287.
“These buyouts will have an obvious, adverse impact on what we can continue to cover and that’s the sad truth,” said Jennifer Sheehan of the union’s (Allentown, Penn.) Morning Call unit. “Alden unleashed an avalanche of debt onto a debt-free company to do the takeover and before the ink was dry sought buyouts from our valued staff.”
She said the buyouts mean “decades of experience out the doors.”
“We want everyone to know, however, that those who remain will stay fiercely dedicated to covering our communities regardless of what Alden throws at us,” Sheehan said. “We have demonstrated over the past 17 months as unions that we will not stand for the destruction of what we do and will continue to seek alternatives.”
“Even for Alden, it’s a particularly cruel move.”
— Kristin Hare, Poynter Institute
Most of the departures are coming from newsrooms. Some employees, such as Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, have already started new ventures or positions elsewhere.
Employees with four years or more on the job were offered 12 weeks’ severance, plus a week of pay for every year worked. Those working less than four years at the company were offered a flat 8 weeks’ severance pay.
Numerous Chicago media outlets reported on the rush of columnists departing from that city’s paper, including Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Schmich, Dahleen Glanton, Heidi Stevens, Phil Rosenthal and Eric Zorn. Susanna Homan, editor and publisher of Tribune’s Chicago magazine, and sports writer Shannon Ryan also announced they are leaving.
In the Chesapeake Bay region, notable losses include staff who survived the 2018 Annapolis Capital Gazette massacre. Among them was editor Rick Hutzell and assistant editor Chase Cook, who famously tweeted, “I can tell you this: we are putting out a damn paper tomorrow,” in the hours after the shootings.
I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.
— Chase Cook (The tiels are Poe and Stanley) (@chaseacook) June 28, 2018
“Even for Alden, it’s a particularly cruel move,” wrote Poynter Institute’s Kristen Hare. The buyouts came three years, almost to the day, after the murders.