Op Ed

Media Buyouts Mean Less Local News

Hedge funds and big companies slashing staff, reducing coverage, hurting our democracy.

By - Feb 21st, 2021 01:42 pm
Newspapers. Photo by flickr user Jon S. (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ https://www.flickr.com/photos/62693815@N03/6277209256

Newspapers. Photo by flickr user Jon S. (CC BY 2.0)

It was not shocking news, as the reports on the negotiations have been known for weeks, that Tribune Publishing, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers, had agreed to be acquired by Alden Global Capital in a deal valued at $630 million. But it was still very unsettling and troubling to learn of the outcome as the consequences are enormous.

This will create one of the largest newspaper operations in the United States. But that does not make it a boon for news consumers, or a win for the newspaper profession, or hard-working journalists who ferret out the news for each edition. Far from it! The reason is due to Alden being a hedge fund with a history of deep cost-cutting at its other newspaper properties.

When papers are owned in such a fashion opposing views are marginalized and Op-Ed pages are watered down. And at some local papers, due to budget cuts, there is not even an editorial staff to ponder the issues of the day. For the sake of our democracy, there must be regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, in any medium, into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

When it comes to the iconic Chicago Tribune I shudder to think of the future. The newsroom has already shrunk roughly 30 percent since November 2018, from about 165 journalists in the union to 118 presently. Those are not just jobs. No, far more important is that those are news reporters who head around the city to meetings and neighborhoods to gather the stories which inform readers. And with the knowledge of what happens in the city comes the sense of community and connections which is also a vital component to democracy.

I have been posting for years about the woes of the newspaper industry in the digital media age, about the revenue from the industry being cut in half between 2008 and 2018 because of a ruinous decline in print advertising. And during that same time frame newsroom employment declined 25%, according to Pew Research.

When it comes to hedge funds I rank them alongside those who sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door at one time in our nation. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists.” Alden has done great harm to other papers they have bought and chopped up in their all-consuming zeal to make money. The reason so many people are exercised over the recent deal is that local news suffers when newsrooms are pared down and the voices and events of those nearest to the reader are not reported.

When a hedge fund looks to break apart a newspaper and treat it as only a cash cow there is a deep price paid for by the local community. When newsroom owners view profits as the only goal, quality, reliability, and accountability suffer in the editions of the paper that hit the streets and land in the mailboxes.

Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, whose local chapters represent newsroom employees in Chicago, Baltimore, Hartford, Orlando, and other cities, expressed his views on the Alden deal concisely and to the point: “Alden has a history of running newspapers into the ground, This isn’t good for workers, the company, shareholders, or the communities.”

I have no problem with money being made by a business, but I do have deep concerns when the goal is money over anything else. In this case, anything else is the local news that will be short-changed from being reported. Journalists work continuously to get the facts sorted, copy written, and edits made under deadlines and tremendous pressures so that we can learn the news we need to know as citizens.

Short-term profits for hedge funds at the expense of iconic news operations or the needs of news consumers are appalling. We need regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news (be it radio, newspapers, or broadcast television), into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

From subscribing to a local newspaper to supporting businesses that advertise on a local radio station, backing local media is more important than ever. I urge readers to subscribe to their local newspaper. Paying for quality journalism should be viewed as just as important as paying for other needed services in our lives.

Gregory Humphrey writes for the Caffeinated Politics blog.

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