Florida businessmen may well save the Orlando Sentinel from being sold to a hedge fund notorious for blowing up newsrooms.
Two separate offers have been made to Tribune Publishing company by local magnates, hoping to pre-empt a sale to Alden Global Capital. In the first, South Florida businessman Mason Slaine has offered up $100 million as part of a larger $650 million deal for the entire chain of Tribune Publishing newspapers. Slaine hopes to control both the Sentinel and Deerfield Beach's Sun-Sentinel.
Though Tribune Publishing has already agreed to sell its papers to Alden, it remains to be seen if the company's stockholders will approve the deal.
Beyond any moralistic considerations or worries about the future of journalism, Slaine notes that the $650 million is $20 million more than is being offered by Alden.
"You would think the shareholders would want more money than less,” Slaine told the Sentinel.
Additionally, local baggage-handling company founder Craig Mateer made an offer to purchase the Sentinel separate from the rest of Tribune Publishing's papers.
“I’ve offered to be the Orlando arm or the Orlando purchaser if there’s interest in spinning it off to someone local,” Mateer told the paper. “I think having a local paper that understands local interests and concerns is important, and I’m a supporter of that.”
The dread over being purchased by Alden Global isn't mere hand-wringing over the future of journalism or wanting some sense of local accountability. The reporters who work for the Sentinel are facing down an existential problem in the Alden deal.
The hedge fund Vanity Fair recently called a "vampire that bleeds newspapers dry" has a history of decimating newsrooms for the sake of their own balance sheets.
While there are many examples in Alden's sordid history, none stands out as clearly as the battle between Alden leadership and the Denver Post. That paper went into open revolt against the hedge fund back in 2018, sharing a heartbreaking image of their Pulitzer Prize-winning newsroom with all of the recently laid off staffers cut out. Nevertheless, the bloodletting continued.
The Denver Post isn't the only newspaper to be bought by a hedge fund that then orders layoffs. But it fought back on Sunday in an editorial and a package of opinion pieces. https://t.co/dyFk2RR3Ye— NPR (@NPR) April 9, 2018
Looking at what happened to other long-standing papers, Sentinel staff can see a terrifying glimpse of a possible future. As such, Sentinel representatives were elated by the news that they might avoid a sale to Alden.
“This is the first time I've felt hope and optimism since I learned Alden was seeking to take over Tribune Publishing,” said Gabrielle Russon, the co-chair of the paper's union, in a press release. “I'm delighted people in our community want to invest in our newspaper and know the importance of journalism.”
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