Journalists demand Digital First Media disclosure

Digital First Media is a giant of the dying world of American newspapers, controlling most of the newspapers read by Californians, an boasting sizeable circulation in other states as well.

But the company is now owned by a hedge fund, an outfit that views its newspapers as “properties,” with assets to be stripped and sold off whenever quick bucks are needed.

The company has gutted what was once one of California’s most politically powerful newspapers, the Oakland Tribune, reduced an editorial staff that was 125 when we first first moved to California a number that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, then merged it into an amorphous entity now called the East Bay Times, a paper that represents a merger of the Trib, the Contra Costa Times, the Hayward Daily Review and the Fremont Argus.

The merger followed waves of layoffs at each of the other papers, office closings, and the selloff of properties.

And now for the announcement from the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America:

Digital First Media workers and advocates for responsible and quality journalism are launching a campaign to demand investor transparency by Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that purchased Digital First Media newspapers and properties beginning in 2009.

The campaign was announced today by The NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America, which represents DFM workers.

Alden has been seizing the assets of Digital First Media newspapers: selling real estate, slashing newsroom staff, and outsourcing work to drive up profits for privileged investors. Alden’s actions are affecting local and community coverage and diversity in newsrooms and on the newspapers’ editorial pages.

Alden Global Capital is known as a vulture fund, and is secretive even by hedge fund standards, with money stashed in notorious tax havens around the world. Its actions are not only hurting newspaper employees but are limiting coverage of community issues and harming long-established editorial voices. Alden’s founder, Randall Smith, is a major donor to right-wing candidates and to the Republican Party.

Hundreds of prominent journalists, newspaper workers, and advocates for quality journalism are petitioning Alden, demanding full transparency about the hedge fund’s investments and investors, as well as its political donations.

“Alden is one of the largest newspaper owners in the United States, yet it operates as a dark web of complex business structures to hide itself from public view,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild-CWA.  “Alden is laying off the very journalists who’d be reporting this kind of vital information to the public. We believe the public has a right to demand complete transparency about Alden.”

The campaign is using the hashtag #NewsMatters to spotlight the vital role that journalism plays in our democracy and to build more public support. The campaign also is using the hashtag #AldenExposed as part of its demand for investor transparency.

“Alden can’t and shouldn’t operate in the shadows while it’s strip mining its newspapers,” said Sara Steffens, secretary-treasurer of the Communications Workers of America, and a former DFM employee who was laid off from her reporting position at the Contra Costa Times. “Alden should invest in these highly profitable papers so that they can properly serve their communities.”

The NewsGuild-CWA represents 870 workers at 12 DFM newspaper bargaining units nationwide, 11 of which have expired contracts.  Many workers haven’t had a raise for seven to 10 years.

The newspapers include the Denver Post, Mercury News, East Bay Times, Monterey Herald, St. Paul Pioneer Press, The Macomb Daily and the Daily Tribune, Kingston Freeman, Pottstown Mercury, The Delaware County Times, The Trentonian, and the Norristown Times-Herald.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s