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Dec. 11, 2019, 10:47 a.m.

Hundreds of Tribune employees are protesting Alden Global Capital’s sudden interest in their newspapers

“We are animated by a serious concern for the future of journalism as a public good and a valuable commodity.”

It was late in the day November 19 that employees of Tribune Publishing’s newspapers got word: Its troncked-up former chairman Michael Ferro was giving a final “f— you” to the business by selling his 25 percent stake to Alden Global Capital, the Thanos of the newspaper business.

(Or perhaps its Anton Chigurh? Norman Bates, Voldemort, Sauron? Alas, those guys all seem to have more complex personalities — even the occasional sympathetic quality.)

Alden is best known as the hedge fund that never found a budget it couldn’t cut, a journalist it couldn’t lay off, or a community it couldn’t make a little bit dumber. By all accounts, Tribune itself was surprised by the deal and has taken steps to limit Alden’s further investment in the company (which is currently up to around 32 percent). But that can only last for a few months — until June 30, 2020 — after which it’s possible control of Tribune could be available for Alden strip-mining.

Well, some employees at Tribune Publishing — which includes the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, the New York Daily News, and a handful of other metro dailies — are pushing back:

The employees of Tribune Publishing on Wednesday are delivering a petition urging the company’s board of directors to recommit to preserving newsrooms and prioritizing quality journalism. The petition follows news that Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund known as the “destroyer of newsrooms,” has purchased a 32% stake in the company.

Hundreds of Tribune employees across at least five states have signed the petition…which asks the board to increase staffing, consider any purchasing offers from local and/or civic-minded entities and expedite good-faith contract negotiations with existing unions.

The petition — which currently has signatures from 432 Tribune employees, both union and non-union — also asks the board to bring to shareholders and support a resolution backed by six of the company’s unions:

RESOLVED​: Shareholders request that the board of directors prepare an annual “journalism report” detailing the company’s commitment to its core product — news. Available to investors, this report should be prepared at a reasonable cost, omitting proprietary information, and consider the relative benefits and drawbacks of the company’s commitment to journalistic integrity as determined at the judgement and direction of the board of directors and management.

The Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich wrote a column last week addressing “the next owner of the Chicago Tribune,” calling for some civic-minded Midwesterner to “make your mark on Chicago history, to make yourself rich in honor, to be — no exaggeration — a hero” by saving the paper from what could be its Aldenized fate.

So who’s on the Tribune board that this petition is addressed to?

Alden recently demanded it be expanded from six to eight members — with the two newcomers, Dana Goldsmith Needleman and Christopher Minnetian, appointed by the hedge fund. Their backgrounds are in real estate and in being friendly to Alden Global Capital.

Two other directors, Carol Crenshaw and Richard Reck, were Ferro-era appointees to the board; both are accountants. Philip Franklin used to work for Sam Zell’s refrigerator company.

Eddy Hartenstein and current Tribune CEO Tim Knight both have extensive experience in newspapers and media — Hartenstein with the Los Angeles Times, DirecTV, and SiriusXM, Knight with Advance, Newsday, and various other positions within Tribune. Chairman David Dreier is a former longtime member of Congress who is also chair of the Fallen Journalists Memorial Foundation.

We’ll see if they feel any of the urgency their company’s employees do. You can find a copy of the petition here.

POSTED     Dec. 11, 2019, 10:47 a.m.
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