This past Sunday, The Denver Post made the front page of The New York Times for revolting against its New York-based hedge fund owner, Alden Global Capital. As reported by the Colorado College Political Science Listserv, “The Post is pleading with that owner, which it describes as a vulture capitalist, to sell the paper to someone who will respect it after the latest round of 30 layoffs cut about a third of its newsroom.”
The article by The NYT explained the monumental step by The Post, a 125-year-old newspaper, to openly revolt in an editorial titled, “News matters. Colo. should demand the newspaper it deserves.” As printed papers are on the decline, layoffs in newsrooms across the country are not uncommon, nor is the dissatisfaction that follows. The Post’s own motives followed a more drawn-out feud by journalists fed up with the same trend at The Los Angeles Times.
“For many publications that do not attract a patron-like owner, however, the difficult times are likely to continue, and midsize newspapers have been hit especially hard,” read The NYT in explaining why The Post took the bold approach they did. “Hoping to avoid the slow trudge to irrelevance or bankruptcy, the Denver paper took the stuff of newsroom conversation and made it public in dramatic fashion.”
Why should we care? In an age of constant news, and also questionably sourced news, it is important not to get lost in information overload. “Knowing who owns the media outlets you read and why it matters is more important than ever,” explained the Listerv. “As it happens, Colorado is a microcosm of America. Here we have elusive billionaire newspaper owners, secretive hedge-fund owners, reader-supported nonprofits, and family owners.”
The Post is relevant, having won nine Pulitzer Prizes and serving 700,000 city residents with a weekly circulation of 170,000 and 8.6 million monthly online visitors. They were bought by the hedge fund and managed through a subsidiary, Digital First Media, after their previous company, MediaNews Group, went bankrupt.
Many Post reporters took to social media to call out the indifference the owners seem to have to the paper and how they had been concerned to speak out in fear of losing their jobs.
The author of the editorial, Chuck Plunkett, is also the editorial page editor. Plunkett did not alert executives at Digital First Media of what he was about to do, nor did he tell the chief editor of the paper. Afterwards, Plunkett was not fired nor were the articles removed from circulation.
“Denver is so proud of our flagship newspaper for speaking out,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a statement. “The Denver Post said it best—they are necessary to this ‘grand democratic experiment,’ especially at a time when the press and facts are under constant attack by the White House. For a New York hedge fund to treat our paper like any old business and not a critical member of our community is offensive. We urge the owners to rethink their business strategy or get out of the news business. Denver stands with our paper and stands ready to be part of the solution that supports local journalism and saves the 125-year-old Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire.”
Plunkett knew he was risking his job, but he also wanted to stand up for the right things for the future of journalism and media. The staff cuts have been demoralizing, and the paper was not ready for the slow death much of the industry is currently feeling.
A visiting journalism lecturer Corey Hutchins moderated a panel yesterday at The Antlers Hilton in downtown Colorado Springs discussing “the advantages and disadvantages of such ownership and what readers should know and expect about who owns the publications they read” and “the difference between news and opinion in their product, and what readers should understand about how the endorsement process works.”
Other panelists included Dave Krieger, editorial page editor of the hedge-fund-owned Boulder Daily Camera; Laura Frank, president of Rocky Mountain PBS, John Weiss, chairman of Colorado Publishing House, The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly and The Colorado Springs Business Journal; Susan Greene, editor of the nonprofit Colorado Independent, as part of the Colorado Press Association’s annual convention.