By Julie Reynolds
Two Pennsylvania lawmakers have made new public statements in support of local journalism and the Allentown Morning Call, a newspaper whose ownership is now up for grabs as a vulture hedge fund’s offer for Tribune Publishing faces a possible challenge from another bidder.
“I am extremely hopeful that Tribune Publishing will stay in the hands of people who support local papers. The threats facing journalism today are vast and the least we can do is continue to support news outlets like The Morning Call, which is an invaluable resource for people in my district,” Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) said in a statement Monday.
The Morning Call’s NewsGuild unit has been working for months to try to find civic-minded or nonprofit owners to buy the newspaper.
On Tuesday, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) also came out on Twitter supporting the newspaper and the Guild.
“Reliable local news is essential to the Lehigh Valley and communities everywhere, and especially during times of crisis,” Casey wrote. “I support the Morning Call Guild in their efforts to preserve high-quality local journalism at the Morning Call.
Tribune is all but set to be acquired by Alden Global Capital, the New York hedge fund known for decimating the local newspapers it already owns, slashing newsrooms, outsourcing jobs, using newspapers’ profits for its own investments, and more recently, stiffing landlords for office rent.
Alden, which owns the MNG newspaper chain and 32 percent of Tribune, has made an offer to buy the remaining Tribune stock at $17.25 a share. Two-thirds of Tribune’s non-Alden shareholders must approve the deal. With its sizable stake and control of three of Tribune’s seven board seats, Alden has already wielded influence on Tribune’s business practices, such as defaulting on rent. Alden has indicated it will take Tribune private, raising concerns about transparency and secrecy, especially since Alden holds much of its investments in offshore Cayman Islands funds.
Part of the Alden deal was a side arrangement to sell the Tribune-owned Baltimore Sun and two smaller papers to hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr., who planned to run the papers through his nonprofit foundation.
But on Monday, the entire Alden offer was thrown into question after The New York Times reported that Bainum is now taking steps to buy all of Tribune’s papers, which also include the Chicago Tribune, Annapolis Capital Gazette, Hartford Courant, The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press, Orlando Sentinel and others.
The Times’ unnamed sources said Bainum is asking a special board committee at Tribune, formed to evaluate the Alden offer, for permission to break his nondisclosure agreement so he can pursue investment partners. Bainum has reportedly offered to put up the first $100 million. The Alden offer has valued the company at $630 million.
The sources told the Times they thought Bainum would likely seek local owners for Tribune’s other papers.
“America is made less rich by the decline in local news and those of us in a position to help should continue to speak out in defense of outlets big and small,” Wild said.
She is a co-sponsor of legislation supported by The NewsGuild introduced last week, titled the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. NewsGuild President Jon Schleuss testified at a congressional hearing last week on “saving the free and diverse press,” suggesting changes to the bill to better protect workers, but generally supporting it.
The hearing with the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law was held to announce and debate the new legislation, which would allow news publishers and broadcasters to bargain as a group with Google and Facebook for linking to their content. The act would also give a four-year exemption from antitrust rules so news organizations large and small can work together.
Wild also offered a statement for the record at the hearing in support of local news.
“This is personal to me. My mom spent part of her career as a local journalist and I saw the tremendous impact she was able to make through her work,” Wild wrote. “I encourage this committee to continue to address the plight facing the independent press as real threats to our democracy and champion local papers as a bedrock of our society.”
Also supporting the bill in a joint statement were the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Native American Journalists Association, and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
Featured image: The Morning Call building, where Alden-influenced Tribune has defaulted on $300,000 in rent | Google maps