- Photo courtesy Orlando Sentinel/Facebook
This is a rough week for anyone who cares about local news.
On Tuesday it was announced that the Tribune Company, parent of the Orlando Sentinel
daily newspaper, will be bought by Alden Global Capital. The sale still requires the approval of shareholders and must pass regulatory scrutiny, but will most likely be finalized by June.
For years, Alden’s unofficial nickname has been “the destroyer of newspapers.” Washington Post
media columnist Margaret Sullivan called the Manhattan-based hedge fund "one of the most ruthless of the corporate strip-miners seemingly intent on destroying local journalism," for its model of acquiring and hollowing out local newspapers across the country.
After being acquired by the Manhattan-based hedge fund in 2016, a network of regional papers in California went from an editorial staff of 1,000 to 150, and reporters say their newsroom now features rats, mildew, falling ceilings and filthy bathrooms.
Last year, when Alden acquired a 32 percent stake in Tribune Co., Orlando Sentinel
reporters felt the cold breath on their neck and accelerated their efforts to form a union. Their mission statement read, in part, “Alden has been called the ‘grim reaper’ and ‘Darth Vader’ of the newspaper industry because it harvests its properties for short-term profit and leaves the carcasses to rot.” The Sentinel Guild became official in May 2020.
Now Annie Martin, an education reporter and one of three Sentinel Guild co-chairs, tells me, “The news that Alden is set to acquire our company is not surprising, but it certainly is disappointing. We think Orlando deserves better and the journalists who remain will continue to cover our community to the best of our ability.”
Martin continued, “We maintain that local ownership is best and hold out hope that someone in Central Florida who recognizes the value of local news will consider buying the paper and saving this community mainstay from being destroyed by a hedge fund.”
Only someone squeezing pennies until they bleed could think that 150 people could do the job of 1,000 — or someone who couldn’t care less about that job being done well. And there's data to back up the contention that losing local news reporting has real results, not just nostalgic hand-wringing.
- A study published in the Journal of Environmental Economics and Management found that levels of toxic emissions from local plants were reduced by 29 percent when they were covered by local media.
- Another study showed that municipal borrowing costs went up after a newspaper closed down. For the local governments included in the study, that meant an average of $650,000 more per bond issue.
- A study published in Urban Affairs Review shows cities with fewer reporters had less competition in mayoral races, and people were less inclined to vote.
As its name implies, the Sentinel
keeps watch over Orlando. And if Alden thinks maximizing profits for out-of-town shareholders is more important than building equity for local stakeholders, we will all need to keep our eyes wide open.
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