Shareholders voted Friday to approve Alden Global Capital’s $633 million purchase of Tribune Publishing, the parent company of The Baltimore Sun.
Alden, the New York-based hedge fund that became Tribune’s largest shareholder in November 2019, has been labeled a “hedge fund vampire” for draining newsrooms of their staff and resources and reaping their profits.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire owner of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, and Tribune Publishing’s second-largest shareholder, had abstained from voting.
But Soon-Shiong’s votes were tallied as “yes” votes because his proxy ballots were submitted without the “abstain” box being checked.
Per voting instructions, proxy ballots with the “abstain” box checked were to be counted as “no” votes, while ballots with no box checked “for,” “against” or “abstain” were to be counted in support of the board’s recommendation. The board recommended the sale to Alden, so Soon-Shiong’s votes were counted in favor of the sale and sealed the approval vote.
It now appears that if @DrPatSoonShiong had actually voted to abstain he would have blocked Alden's purchase of Tribune Publishing, but he truly abstained by not voting at all, so his shares were voted as a yes per the shareholder instructions. So he makes $150 million.
— Chris Dinsmore (@CKDinsmore) May 21, 2021
Alden’s purchase of Tribune Publishing is expected to close by June 30, at which time it will become the second-largest newspaper owner in the United States behind Gannett, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Soon-Shiong invested in Tribune Publishing in 2016 as a “passive investment” and “he hoped it would be a pathway to local newspaper ownership in Southern California,” his spokeswoman said in a statement, according to NPR’s David Folkenflik.
“[Soon-Shiong and his family’s] focus is and will be on the continued rebuilding and revitalization of The Times and Union-Tribune,” the statement said. “They remain honored to be entrusted with these storied news organizations and continue working to secure their longevity.”
The NewsGuild unions, which represent the staff of the Tribune-owned newsrooms, said Tribune Publishing shareholders “put profit and greed over local news in our country” when they voted to merge Tribune Publishing Co. with Alden Global Capital.
“While we are saddened by the turn of events, we know that our work over the past year — to build allies in the community and to raise awareness about Alden — is not in vain,” the unions said in a joint statement. “Those allies will support us as we fight against Alden to protect local news and the cuts that they will inevitably try to make.”
“We stand ready, willing and able to fight,” they added.
Following the announcement that the deal had gone through, Tribune employees lamented the news on social media.
Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood, who covers Maryland state politics, tweeted that she is “gutted” but will remain “committed to holding your politicians accountable” as long as she works at the newspaper.
Not going to lie, I'm pretty gutted by the news that Tribune shareholders approved selling the company to hedge fund Alden Global Capital. No matter what happens, as long as I'm at @baltimoresun, I'm committed to holding your politicians accountable.https://t.co/RQriQyiqfC
— Pamela Wood ☀️ (@pwoodreporter) May 21, 2021
Capital Gazette reporter Danielle Ohl tweeted that working as a journalist will become more difficult under Alden’s ownership of her newsroom.
“It’s so hard to work. It’s so, so hard to keep going. It keeps getting harder,” said Ohl, who is also the chair of the Chesapeake News Guild, which represents The Capital Gazette, Carroll County Times, The Aegis in Harford County, Howard County Times and other community newspapers under the Baltimore Sun umbrella.
It's so hard to work. It's so, so hard to keep going. It keeps getting harder.
— Danielle Ohl (Taylor’s Version) (@DTOhl) May 21, 2021
Staff at the Baltimore Sun in April 2020 launched their “Save Our Sun” campaign, calling on Tribune to sell their newspaper to local owners.
Other Tribune newsroom staff led their own pursuits for local ownership for their papers.
In Maryland, newspaper staff recently welcomed a potential alternative to Alden: Choice Hotels International owner Stewart Bainum Jr., who founded the nonprofit Sunlight For All Institute to purchase The Baltimore Sun and other Tribune-owned newspapers in the state.
Bainum has launched bids for Tribune as a whole — with proposed contributions from investors for newspapers outside of Maryland, including at one time Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss — or for The Baltimore Sun alone.
But Bainum’s latest attempt to acquire Tribune was unable to find an investor to buy The Chicago Tribune.
Staff of newspapers owned by Tribune, and their supporters in the community, held rallies across the country on May 15 to “save local news” and demand their parent company not sell their papers to Alden.
Friday’s vote dealt a devastating blow to their plans, but some remain hopeful that there is still a path forward.
The Baltimore Sun Guild, the union that represents the staff of the Baltimore Sun, said in a statement they are “extremely disappointed” by the vote but that they “aren’t giving up hope for a future with a brighter Sun.”
“We continue to support Stewart Bainum in his efforts to invest in local journalism. And we ask those who have joined us in our Save Our Sun campaign to support us,” the Baltimore Sun Guild wrote. “No matter who signs our paychecks, we will continue to serve our readers and produce quality journalism.”
Sale to Alden hedge fund of @baltimoresun @chicagotribune @NYDailyNews and other @tribpub papers not the outcome we wanted but fight for local journalism continues @SaveOurSun @brianstelter pic.twitter.com/qQANY97fWM
— Jean Marbella (@Jean_Marbella) May 21, 2021
Stewart Bainum Jr. said in a statement he is “busy evaluating various options, all in the pursuit of creating locally supported, not-for-profit newsrooms that place stakeholders above shareholders and journalistic integrity above all.”
He added that he expects to make an announcement soon “that might just make some news on its own.”
— Jean Marbella (@Jean_Marbella) May 21, 2021
Baltimore Sun education reporter Liz Bowie, who is also co-chair of the local unit of the Washington-Baltimore Press Guild, continues to hold faith in Bainum.
“This is a hard day, but I remain encouraged by this statement from Stewart Bainum who says he is not giving up on local news in Baltimore,” Bowie tweeted.
Tribune Publishing shareholders voted to sell nine city newspapers to Alden Global Capital today, including @baltimoresun. This is a hard day, but I remain encouraged by this statement from Stewart Bainum who says he is not giving up on local news in Baltimore. https://t.co/ydNoHwp0Ow
— Liz Bowie☀️ (@lizbowie) May 21, 2021
Baltimore Sun environment reporter Scott Dance said staff are continuing to support Bainum’s efforts to invest in local journalism in Baltimore and asked for community members to maintain their support as well.
“Alden’s takeover of Tribune is incredibly disappointing and, frankly, terrifying. But we aren’t giving up hope for a future with a brighter Sun,” Dance said.
We continue to support Stewart Bainum in efforts to invest in local journalism in Baltimore. We ask those who have joined us in our Save Our Sun campaign to please keep supporting us.
— Scott Dance ☀️ (@ssdance) May 21, 2021