By Julie Reynolds

The Tribune Publishing newspaper chain has defaulted on rent payments and is abruptly closing newsrooms across the country, new financial filings reveal.

Tribune admitted in its 10-Q financial report to the Securities and Exchange Commission that “in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” it hasn’t paid rent on its buildings since March, and is being sued for defaulting.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood, tweeted this last week after reading Tribune’s latest financial report: “A lot of it is beyond my grasp, but this I get: The company didn’t pay rent on most of its properties in April, May & June and some landlords are taking the company to court.”

By the end of June, Tribune had negotiated changes to 13 leases agreements, but said in its 10-Q that the impact of the changes is “not material.”

But the filing also said Tribune has terminated four of its lease agreements. It didn’t say where those buildings were, but on Wednesday four newsrooms announced they were permanently closing: The Allentown Morning Call, The Annapolis Capital Gazette, The Orlando Sentinel and The New York Daily News.

Tribune has fallen increasingly under the influence of New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, ever since the firm bought nearly a third of the company’s stock and this year took control of three out of seven board seats. Alden has earned a damning reputation for stripping its MNG Enterprises newspaper chain of cash, staff and assets, and is widely feared as a poacher of ever more news chains to be used for potential “cash extraction.”

On Wednesday, Tribune reporters were stunned at the reports of newsroom closures, which had not been not previously announced.

Morning Call federal courts reporter Peter Hall tweeted, “Allentown, Annapolis, Orlando, New York, all losing their offices today.”

The NewsGuild unit representing Tribune-owned Allentown (Pennsylvania) Morning Call workers reported Wednesday that, “It seems our company has decided that now is a good time to close our office permanently and is attributing it to the pandemic.

“Let’s be clear: We know exactly what this is and who is guiding it. Take a look who owns 32% of our company’s stock,” the Morning Call Guild said, referring to Alden.

The Guild responded by calling for new ownership, asking readers to join its “Save Our Morning Call” campaign to find civic-minded, local owners.

Kristen Hare, who has been tracking newsroom cutbacks and closures for the Poynter Institute, just this week sounded alarms in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. Hare warned that COVID-related pay cuts are turning into furloughs and furloughs are turning into permanent layoffs.

“We’re losing newsrooms. And they’re calling losses ‘mergers,” Hare said. “But if you lose a newsroom, and everybody in that newsroom has lost their jobs, and that community no longer has a newsroom, it’s closed. It’s not a ‘merger.’ It’s a loss for the community.”

Losing the physical space a newsroom offers should not go unnoticed, Hare argues.

“Let’s at least stick a flag in that, so that once this is over, we can see if those newsrooms are going back in and reestablishing themselves physically in those communities,” she said. “Because it is important that there is a place where people can walk into and talk to a human being—as important as it is for us to be attentive and available digitally. Not everybody can reach us that way. If we are part of a community, we should have some sort of physical space in that community, even if it’s just a corner in the coffee shop or the library.”

In view of Tribune/Alden’s already terminated leases, such “reestablishment” seems unlikely.

Featured photo: 4 New York Plaza, where the New York Daily News had offices | Google maps