Facing the loss of 30 more newsroom jobs, beleaguered newspaper prints an editorial blasting Alden Global Capital: “We call for action.”
The Denver Post is in open revolt against its owner.
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 owners and making the case for its own survival in several articles that went online Friday and were scheduled to run in The Post’s Sunday opinion section.
“News matters,” the main headline reads. “Colo. should demand the newspaper it deserves.”
The tactic was born out of a dissatisfaction not uncommon in newsrooms across the country as newspapers deal with the loss of revenue that has followed the decline of print.
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The move at The Post followed a prolonged, slow-burning rebellion at the Los Angeles Times, where journalists agitated against the paper’s owner, the media company Tronc. Newsroom complaints about Tronc’s leadership helped lead to the sale of the newspaper to a billionaire medical entrepreneur, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who had been a major shareholder in Tronc.
For many publications that do not attract a patronlike owner, however, the hard times are likely to continue, and midsize newspapers have been hit especially hard. 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.
The lead editorial pulled no punches, describing executives at Alden Global Capital, the paper’s hedge-fund owner, as “vulture capitalists.”
“We call for action,” the editorial continued. It went on to make the case that “Denver deserves a newspaper owner who supports its newsroom. If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell The Post to owners who will.”
The Post, which serves a city of some 700,000 residents, has a weekday circulation of an estimated 170,000 and 8.6 million unique monthly visitors to its website. It has won nine Pulitzer Prizes, including in 2013 for its coverage of the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Alden Global took control of the paper in 2010, after acquiring its bankrupt parent company, MediaNews Group, and runs it through a subsidiary, Digital First Media.
Chuck Plunkett, The Post’s editorial page editor, masterminded the package of articles that, in part, rebuked the owners of the publication where he has worked since 2003. He did not warn executives at Digital First Media before posting it, Plunkett said. The Post’s news and opinion sections are separate fiefs, and he did not inform the paper’s chief editor, Lee Ann Colacioppo, of his plans.
Shortly after the articles were posted online, Guy Gilmore, the chief operating officer of Digital First Media, called Colacioppo. He said he wanted to discuss the editorial and the “appropriate response” from the company, Colacioppo said. The two decided that the stories would remain online and that the Sunday print section would proceed as planned. In addition, Plunkett would stay on as editorial page editor.
Digital First Media did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Readers inside and outside the newsroom met the articles with an outpouring of support.
“The @denverpost is being murdered by its owners,” one Post reporter, John Wenzel, wrote on Twitter. He continued, “We need a new owner, or we are going to get shut down (and soon).”
“I am so proud to work for this brave newspaper staff,” Elizabeth Hernandez, another Post reporter, said on Twitter. “I’ve been asked if I’m afraid of losing my job for speaking out against our owners. I am afraid of losing my job due to our owners completely killing Colorado’s largest newspaper.”
The package also had a fan in City Hall.
“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 said he was aware that he was putting his livelihood at risk by taking on the paper’s owner.
“I had to do it because it was the right thing to do,” he said. “If that means that I lose my job trying to stand up for my readers, then that means I’m not working for the right people anyway.”
Sunday’s print opinion section comes one day before more than two dozen employees at The Post say farewell to the newsroom.
Already devastated by staff reductions made since Alden Global Capital took over, The Post was ordered last month to slash 30 more jobs from a newsroom whose count was already less than 100.
“These job losses are painful, and we know meaningful work will not get done because talented journalists have left the organization,” Colacioppo told the staff after a meeting during which she delivered news of the layoffs. “I’m sure some commenters will cheer what they believe is the eventual demise of the mainstream media, but there is nothing to celebrate when a city has fewer journalists working in it.”
Before she was ordered to carry out the latest reduction in staff — a process that is scheduled to be completed by July — the editor said she believed that things were looking up for The Post.
“Aside from the last three weeks or so, I would have described the last year as a turning point for us,” Colacioppo said in an interview Saturday. “Then this came.”
Earlier this year, in another cost-cutting effort, the newspaper left its longtime headquarters in the heart of downtown Denver, steps from the state Capitol and City Hall, and moved to an office in Adams County, in the same building as its printing press.
The developments have left the remaining Post staffers demoralized.
“Every single staffing reduction has been really difficult,” Jesse Paul, a politics reporter who joined the paper in 2014, said Saturday. “This last one in particular I described it as cutting off a leg. This was literally like taking off a limb of the newspaper.”
The announcement of the latest layoffs pitted Post employees against an ownership team that seems to have little regard for journalism. But as newspapers across the country continue to suffer — and as more of them come under the ownership of public companies like Gannett or investment firms looking to wring profits from a troubled business — The Post has also become a flash point in the newspaper industry’s battle for survival.
Digital First Media is among the biggest newspaper chains in the country, with more than 90 newspapers, including the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minnesota; The Mercury News of San Jose, California; The Orange County Register; and the Boston Herald. The company has aggressively cut resources in its quest for profit, with recent staff reductions at several of its papers, including The Mercury News and the Herald.
Alden’s strategy follows a pattern: It typically buys newspapers at a bargain — it purchased the Herald for roughly $12 million — before cutting costs.
“This is the problem with people who bought newspapers on the cheap, thinking they were buying at the bottom,” said Alan D. Mutter, who teaches media economics at the University of California, Berkeley. “The revenue cataclysm continues and probably can’t be reversed.”
Until 2009, Denver was a two-newspaper town, with the Rocky Mountain News in competition with The Post. By taking its case to its readers, The Post is hoping to avoid its rival’s fate.
“We were a pretty good newspaper for a real long time,” Gregory L. Moore, who resigned as the Post’s editor two years ago after a 14-year run, wrote in one of the pieces that went online Friday. “I will miss it if it is gone.”