#NewsMatters: A decimated newsroom revolts
April 11, 2018 9:52 AM   Subscribe

At the Denver Post, successive waves of layoffs have reduced a once-great news team from 250 to fewer than 100, with another 30 in the works. The paper is owned by Digital First Media, which is controlled by a secretive hedge fund called Alden Global Capital. On Sunday, the paper's editorial team launched an insurrection by publishing an editorial titled "As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved." Not only that, but the editorial, in full-page format, led off a 6-page section including 9 more anti-Alden opinion pieces.

(Those columns are linked in the sidebar on the above-linked editorial.)

So far, Digital First and Alden have not reacted. All of their papers are for sale at the right price, and possibly they appreciate the editorial's call for someone to step forward to save the Post.

More on this situation by Ken Doctor at NiemanLab. And more at Poynter by Rick Edmonds.

As a side show, Alden is being sued by a minority shareholder of DFM for mismanagement, insider transactions, and breach of fiduciary duty. More on that also from Ken Doctor.
posted by beagle (40 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
 
Since, I assume, these sort of buyouts are intended to strangle the company rather than profit, I'd assume the Denver Post just straight-up isn't for sale.

So with that in mind, I wonder what the turn-around time would be if someone with a lot of money offered to hire literally everyone currently at the Denver Post and anyone laid off in the past 2 years. Just a mass, sudden migration.

What is the turn-around time in starting a brand new newspaper when you've got a fully paid, veteran staff on board?

And honestly, given the relatively small potatoes value of a newspaper compared to the riches of some people, how is it that none of them have bothered to decide to spend 0.1% of their net worth to fund a truly independent, mainstream newspaper as a lark? Just to thumb your nose at your competitors. It's working for Jeff Bezos, after all.
posted by explosion at 10:10 AM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]


I'm worried that by the time anyone tries to save the Denver Post, it's going to be too late. The looting that's taken place over the last few years is infuriating, and is doing damage to my community that may never be repaired. What stories are we missing with nobody to cover them? We may never find out.

I wore my #NewsMatters t-shirt on the way to work this morning. I'm ridiculously proud of what the Denver Post staff are doing to fight off the vultures. And I'm angrier than I thought possible that they've been brought to this. If I ever encounter Heath Freeman, the shithead from Short Hills primarily responsible for this, he'd better hope he's carrying an umbrella.
posted by asperity at 10:13 AM on April 11, 2018 [11 favorites]




I'm worried that by the time anyone tries to save the Denver Post, it's going to be too late.

I'm afraid it's been too late for a decade or more. The corporate consolidation of newspapers was bound to end in their dissolution when they could no longer be made to be profitable. Meanwhile, the public was successfully convinced it could live without journalism or that it would appear magically for free because internet. I'm completely behind the Post and this was a badass move - but this shift is historical and the beast's haunches started moving a long time ago. These are the last cries of the victims.

Sorry, not having a real optimistic day.
posted by Miko at 10:23 AM on April 11, 2018 [12 favorites]


Just as with Toys R Us, "the Internet killed [brick and mortar retail/newspapers/insert industry here] so this bankruptcy was inevitable no matter who owned it" is a lie that equity firms use to absolve themselves of any responsibility for operating the businesses they buy. The Denver Post hadn't lost money since 2009.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:33 AM on April 11, 2018 [50 favorites]


Bay Area mefites may be interested to know that this is the same company that owns the San Jose Mercury News and shut down the Oakland Tribune to fold it into the "East Bay Times."

They're doing their best to destroy the papers they own here as well.
posted by mrmurbles at 10:33 AM on April 11, 2018 [10 favorites]


The usual suggestion for a billionaire to save the Post is Phil Anschutz, who apparently wants to wait for the paper to die before relaunching the Rocky Mountain News as a non-union shop.

Anschutz may be the likeliest bet for that, but it's not necessarily going to do the state much good.

The corporate consolidation of newspapers was bound to end in their dissolution when they could no longer made to be profitable.

A lot of people who have seen their financials say, and I have no reason not to believe them, that the Post is still profitable, amazingly enough. And it's not like their drop in subscriptions has nothing to do with what's been done to them.

Honestly, what I'd really like to see for them and other papers in their situation is employee and community ownership. I would chip in a lot more than the cost of a subscription for the promise of a real daily newspaper. It probably is too late, and I'm not all that optimistic about the paper's future, but I live here and I can't just watch this happen without railing against it.
posted by asperity at 10:34 AM on April 11, 2018 [8 favorites]


It’s hard to beleive that rampaging investment funds are at fault when newspaper advertising revenue has dropped from 55 billion to 20 billion in a decade.

Capitalism (specifically the idea that something is worth doing only if it pays for itself) is certainly the root cause of the problem but how, exactly, do you expect to keep employing people when there’s not enough money coming in?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:35 AM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


how, exactly, do you expect to keep employing people when there’s not enough money coming in?

While the industry-wide downturn is indeed scary (I'm a print reporter!) I'll repeat: The Denver Post is not losing money. This is a business that's beating the trend, and rather than learning from it the hedge-fund ownership is gutting the place anyway so they can pocket the profits and sell it for scrap, because dismantling companies and selling them for scrap is their only business model.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:38 AM on April 11, 2018 [31 favorites]


The Colorado Press Association annual convention starts tomorrow in a hotel three blocks from my workplace. A friend of mine is hosting a panel: "Newspaper Ownership in Colorado", including panelists who work for Digital First-owned properties.

I am basically taking off work starting now to try and get enough popcorn ready.
posted by 7segment at 10:40 AM on April 11, 2018 [5 favorites]


Honestly, what I'd really like to see for them and other papers in their situation is employee and community ownership

A news org in Berkeley CA is doing a direct public offering, which seems do be going reasonably well so far.

What I wonder is whether there’s a legal or practical reason why news organizations could not be regulated in some way similar to public utilities that would protect them from corporate looting like this? I’m not looking for political reasons like “those millionaires in congress will never put any check on the freesest of free market capitalism” but rather for logistical impediments to that kind of protection.
posted by mrmurbles at 10:51 AM on April 11, 2018 [4 favorites]


Oh, please don't let Anshutz buy the paper. He's playing Colorado Springs like a game of Monopoly and he must be stopped. He has The Broadmoor, the Gazette, our Seven Falls park, the Pikes Peak Cog Railway (which had been running in some form since 1890 and which he bought and eventually and suddenly shut down), and he and his people are constantly horsetrading our city leadership for sneaky deals on public land.

No bad news about Anshutz or his businesses ever sees print in the city's largest paper because he owns the paper.
posted by mochapickle at 10:54 AM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've turned to Denverite for city-based news and the Colorado Independent for statewide stories. Both are doing fine work (and both are staffed with ex-Post people), but smaller teams are just not going to be able to offer the amount of coverage that a fully staffed newsroom would be able to provide.
posted by rewil at 11:36 AM on April 11, 2018 [5 favorites]


Yeah, the reduction in head count at most newspapers has meant that little attention is paid to local matters except in the largest cities these days. Even state politics is now mostly ignored. And even in the big cities where the paper has someone to cover city government, there's still so little manpower applied that most of the juicy stuff comes from bloggers hearing rumors at the bar.
posted by wierdo at 12:30 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


this bankruptcy was inevitable no matter who owned it" is a lie that equity firms use

The problem is that equity firms own newspapers, not that they're lying.
posted by Miko at 12:33 PM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


*pondering* what if a community bought a newspaper? Like, a city, or a group of people uniting as a corporation?
posted by Miko at 12:35 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Someone should do what The Athletic did for sports reporting, hire up good local talent, treat them well and build a local/national reporting service that way.
posted by Sphinx at 12:55 PM on April 11, 2018


The same Sunday edition of the Denver Post in which this big editorial piece appeared had only two locally written stories in the A section and a front page story in the features section about dining out with your kids. Got me to thinking that since the NYT, Wash Post, etc, do a great job with world and national news -- including entertainment and sports coverage on a national level -- what about a zoned edition of the New York Times in Denver, beefed up with a few local sports stories and a 4- or 6-page section with local news and weather. Would anyone miss the rest? Just FTP the NYT pages to Denver, add the rest and send it off to the printer.
posted by Clustercuss at 2:41 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh, private equity, is there anything you can't ruin?
posted by clawsoon at 2:54 PM on April 11, 2018 [4 favorites]


what about a zoned edition of the New York Times in Denver

Well...it seems like a great idea, but the NYT used that model for decades by having dedicated sections for regional areas - NJ, CT, Long Island. They killed them off to cut the budget. So I think they've already kind of determined they can't do that sustainably.
posted by Miko at 3:17 PM on April 11, 2018


what about a zoned edition of the New York Times in Denver, beefed up with a few local sports stories and a 4- or 6-page section with local news and weather. Would anyone miss the rest?

Yes. The Denver Post is a shadow of what a daily newspaper in a metro area this size should be, but its readers (and the people who'd be readers if the product were better) deserve more than that. Wire services already exist (and often provide excellent reporting), but when the ratio of local to outsourced news is too low, people rightly wonder why they bother subscribing.

News consolidation isn't a good way to provide robust coverage. Every organization will miss some things, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally. (Should we look to the Washington Post for unbiased Amazon coverage?) The more news organizations we've got, the likelier it is that holes in coverage will be filled.

It'd be better than nothing, but that's a really low bar.

So I think they've already kind of determined they can't do that sustainably.

It might be doable for large markets where there's no daily competition in a region. Though so far where we're seeing that happen, it's the nearby cities' papers that have been picking up the slack, as with New Orleans, which is now served, sort of, by the Baton Rouge Advocate.
posted by asperity at 3:26 PM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


My friends at the Denver Post have been laid off. When they raised their subscription prices to $700 a year, I chose an alternative model: $200+ a year for Wedn-Sunday. M/T online. M/T are shit, anyway. The whole paper is just a thin version of what I read for decades. Ten years ago, there were two papers in Denver, and they reviewed art and music, etc. There are a couple of investigative reporters left at the Post (I think) that still have their jobs. When this was a two-paper town, it was paradise for anyone who wanted to read about...well, the things that newspapers used to cover.
posted by kozad at 7:02 PM on April 11, 2018 [6 favorites]


Just as with Toys R Us, "the Internet killed [brick and mortar retail/newspapers/insert industry here] so this bankruptcy was inevitable no matter who owned it" is a lie that equity firms use to absolve themselves of any responsibility for operating the businesses they buy. The Denver Post hadn't lost money since 2009.

When income is dropping (as your link makes clear it was at the Post) you can maintain profit for a while by downsizing, which seems to be what's happening. It doesn't mean it's a sustainable business or a good place to put capital or there's no need to lay people off.

All that financial results like this really prove is that owners don't have any confidence in the future of the business so they aren't willing to fund operating losses in the name of growth. It's not much different than AOL being gutted while still making a profit off of dial up right until the end.

The business types certainly could be wrong--there's a lot of herd mentality--but no one is stopping anyone from getting in the game if they think this is a slam dunk.

I'm on the pessimist's side here. Local newspapers used to have a monopoly on classifieds, which went a long way to funding news reporting across the country. That funding model is completely dead and I don't see how it's coming back, any more than AOL was going to return to their old revenues off of its 56k offerings.
posted by mark k at 10:09 PM on April 11, 2018 [3 favorites]


When income is dropping (as your link makes clear it was at the Post) you can maintain profit for a while by downsizing, which seems to be what's happening

That certainly happens in a lot of businesses, but what is happening here is that Alden’s business partners in Digital First Media are sueing Alden for looting money from newspapers, not to cover declining newapaper revenue, but to cover Alden’s losses in other, non-news companies that are also in their portfolio.
posted by mrmurbles at 11:20 PM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


what is happening here is that Alden’s business partners in Digital First Media are sueing Alden for looting money from newspapers, not to cover declining newapaper revenue, but to cover Alden’s losses in other, non-news companies that are also in their portfolio.

That is the same thing? If an industry is declining you don't re-invest the profits in the same industry--you take the profit and put it in something with long term potential. And of course you run a short term loss in those other areas during this period, that's basically what investing in them means.

To go back to the AOL example, it's not like AOL was re-investing the dial up profits in dial up. That would be stupid; they were losing 95% of their subscribers and downsizing that division. They were "looting" it to fund online advertising which is why they were still worth a few billion at the end.

You can argue these are bad decisions in business terms, but the argument needs to be more than last year's balance sheet.
posted by mark k at 7:52 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


A few links: Suggestions for what we can do from the Denver News Project.

Colin St. John in Esquire with a solid short version of Denver's newspapering past and present, complete with photos of their new newsroom.

Delightful: Duke University's newspaper denounces Heath Freeman's actions. "Students who do care about accountability and journalistic transparency should take note of the University’s connections to Freeman and judge whether or not his practices are in line with Duke’s mission statement."

Julie Reynolds, who has done a lot of the digging on the people behind Digital First Media: Hedge funds and newspapers, a simple primer.

The Nation: Let’s Start Saving Journalism by Saving This One Newspaper.

Colorado Public Radio interview with DP editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett.
posted by asperity at 9:06 AM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


That is the same thing? If an industry is declining you don't re-invest the profits in the same industry--you take the profit and put it in something with long term potential.

But that isnt what they are doing, they’re not putting money in businesses with more profit potential. They are a hedge fund who gambled on things like Greek currency, lost money, and, scrambling to cover those losses are taking money from their newpapers. They’re robbing
Peter to pay Paul, which is why their business partners in Digital First Media are suing them.

Its as if you co-owned an Olive Garden with a guy who just lost a bunch of money in Florida Swamp Land futures, and he pulled a bunch of money out of your shared Olive Garden to cover it.
posted by mrmurbles at 9:23 AM on April 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm just not interested in debating the business merits of what Alden Global Capital is doing to my community. The only reason we know what Alden Global Capital is, or even a couple of the names of the people behind it, is that reporters like Julie Reynolds found out about it and told us.

Alden Global Capital will not respond to any requests for information or interviews. They're not bothering to defend their actions to anyone (though they might have to do so to the shareholder suing them.) Why should any of us bother to make defenses on their behalf? I assume there aren't any MeFites directly benefiting from all the money they're funneling out of these newspapers and through the Cayman Islands to who-knows-where.

Secretive ownership of our newspapers is profoundly anti-democratic. If we don't know who's behind our news and what their goals are, how can we trust anything we read? The only bright spot in any of this is that Alden and DFM have so little interest in participating in the publishing process that the Denver Post's editorial board had free rein to tell us what they really think. That's not the case with the Sinclair-owned TV stations directing their news anchors to abuse their communities' trust in them by reading the same editorial message.
posted by asperity at 9:24 AM on April 12, 2018 [4 favorites]


Back when I was in university, at the dawn of time before the internet, I was a jolly philosophy student who flirted with journalism. Mostly I flirted with the journalists, to be fair, because they were all such idealists. All of them. There's not a single journalism student I knew who looked at the paltry starvation wage job offers as insults, but as opportunities to bring Truth to Man. They were the lanterns of Diogenes.

It is the hopes and idealism of those students that has made me buy a subscription to the newspaper in every little town I've ever lived in. Because behind every farm report, every Easter parade, every community jumble sale, there's a journalist waiting at city meetings, and school board meetings, and policy meetings, just waiting for their chance to break this town wide open.

What has happened to American print news is tragic, and I wish I knew the solution for fixing it. (I mean, aside from the obvious "Eat the Venture Capitalists", which y'all...I will bring the salad.)
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:28 PM on April 12, 2018 [6 favorites]


Fuck the Denver Post and their conservatism. I will not be sorry to see it go. No newspaper in Denver? So fucking what. Denver papers have sucked since I first came to this town. But I'm supposed to feel bad because liberal cause celebre? Fuck em, give me a paper worth caring about and I'll cry for them, but the post and the news? No. Die in a fire Denver Post and good riddance.
posted by evilDoug at 4:53 PM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's been a while, but I seem to recall some good reporting coming out of the Denver Post at some point in my adult life, almost certainly within the past 10 years. There are a lot of papers being influenced by their owners, but most of them are still breaking stories nobody else knows about. Of course, in most cases they are of statewide interest at most.
posted by wierdo at 5:25 PM on April 13, 2018


I'm still convinced their incredibly poorly-argued editorial endorsing Cory pigfucking Gardner cost us a good senator (I let my subscription lapse over that one), but I can't blame the newsroom for their shitty ownership, which directs that kind of crap. In retrospect, it's possible the godawful reasoning in that one was some kind of coded message that Colorado voters failed to read. (I am probably being way too kind here, but... maybe.)

The Denver Post still covers a lot of stories that don't lend themselves to much of a slant in any direction and that I still want to know about. I'm just hoping everyone covering local transportation reads and absorbs this, and that new (non-Anschutz, please) ownership might pull them out of the terrified-of-being-called-liberal abyss that so many US journalists have fallen into.

I already subscribe to the local alternatives I think do good reporting, but none of them aim for general-purpose coverage the way a daily newspaper does, or should. As much as the Denver Post trends conservative (and it does, for the same reasons pretty much every other non-specialty news operation in the US does), it's sure as hell not conservatives fighting to save it. Their needs are more than filled by Fox News. If the Post somehow emerges from this with a functional newspaper and still can't manage to recognize that, then let's shut the whole thing down.
posted by asperity at 7:03 PM on April 13, 2018


As an update, an effort to raise enough local money to buy the Post has emerged. Here's an earlier story in the Post about this, with a few more details.
posted by beagle at 10:29 AM on April 14, 2018 [3 favorites]


The CI has a rundown of local and national reactions, including links to a video and podcast of that Colorado Press Association 7segment mentioned above and an editorial from the Boulder Daily Camera that had to run elsewhere because it was spiked by the publisher.
posted by rewil at 1:18 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Denverite: Chuck Plunkett, the Denver Post editorial page editor behind the paper’s unprecedented call-out of its hedge fund owners, has resigned. The longtime Post staffer told Denverite he made the decision after he was prohibited from publishing another editorial critical of the newspaper’s ownership.
Reached by phone Thursday evening, Plunkett told Denverite, "It’s a tragedy what Alden Global Capital is doing to its newsrooms and what it’s doing to the Denver Post. It’s just… it’s an act of apostasy to our profession and I could no longer abide it.”
... Plunkett also said he’s evaluating his own options right now and plans to stay in journalism.
“As far as what the Post is going to do, I sure hope the community effort to wrest control away from Alden is successful. And if there’s any way I can be a part of that, sign me up, because it is too important for Denver and for Colorado. It’s mission has to continue and it needs to continue at some level better than we’ve got now,” he said. “I’m worried that because of what Alden is doing, that people aren’t going to want to keep working there and that people aren’t going to want to go there. And that would be a real shame.”
And as for what supporters of local journalism can do: “I think that if enough people make their voices known — letters to Alden, calls, any of those things people can do to make their voices heard — sooner or later it will change minds.”
posted by rewil at 8:39 PM on May 3, 2018 [2 favorites]


Uh, things are snowballing at the Post:
Update, May 4, 6:20 p.m.: Larry Ryckman, the senior editor who wrote the story in the Denver Post about Plunkett’s resignation, has also resigned.
Updated, May 4, 6:50 p.m.: Dana Coffield, another senior editor, is also leaving the Denver Post, according to an email to staff from (editor Lee Ann) Colacioppo shared with Denverite.
Update, May 4, 7 p.m.: Denver Post employees will rally outside their office at the Denver Post Printing Facility, 5990 Washington St., at noon May 8. The call for action, according to a press release: “Invest or sell.”
Updated, May 4, 8:15 p.m.: Dean Singleton, the chairman of the Denver Post, has stepped down from that role, according to an email to staff from Colacioppo shared with Denverite. He owned the paper from 1987 to 2013.
posted by rewil at 7:31 PM on May 4, 2018 [3 favorites]


Chuck Plunkett in the Rolling Stone: Over the last several days, I was put in a position where resignation was my only honorable option. This is how it happened.

Dean Singleton in Westword (Denver's alt weekly): "They've killed a great newspaper."

Denver Post Newsroom Statement on Resignation of Editorial Page Editor Chuck Plunkett
posted by rewil at 10:25 AM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]




I wonder if anybody's making a browser plugin to block/warn about visiting Alden/Sinclair/etc. news sites.
posted by rhizome at 10:54 AM on May 7, 2018 [1 favorite]




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