The Sun’s Port Covington printing plant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
The Sun’s Port Covington printing plant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

More than 400 journalists at Tribune Publishing newspapers, including dozens at outlets operated by the Baltimore Sun Media Group, petitioned the company’s board of directors to reaffirm a commitment to local journalism in the wake of investments by Alden Global Capital, once dubbed a “destroyer of newspapers.”

The hedge fund, which owns 60 dailies, including the Denver Post, Boston Herald and St. Paul Pioneer Press, became the largest shareholder in Tribune last month and now holds a 32 percent stake in the company and two seats on the board.

Bloomberg columnist Joe Nocera, who labeled Alden a “destroyer of newspapers,” compared president Heath Freeman to Gordon Gekko, the corporate raider played by Michael Douglas in the movie “Wall Street.”

While the entire news industry is in retraction due to declining ad revenues, Nocera said what makes Freeman different is his idea of a newspaper’s purpose.

“[H]is papers are intended not so much to inform the public or hold officialdom to account, but to supply cash for Freeman to use elsewhere. His layoffs aren’t just painful. They are savage.”

Over at The Washington Post, media columnist Margaret Sullivan, after another round of cuts at the Denver Post, likened the company’s practices to strip-mining.

Tribune workers are now calling on the board to commit to hiring more journalists, be open to offers to sell papers to local owners, negotiate fairly with unionized employees and support a proposed shareholder resolution to publish an annual report on fostering sustainable newsgathering.

“To follow Alden’s path would not only undermine employee morale and foment labor conflict but would violate your fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and your duty to maximize the company’s value, to both its customers and to its shareholders, over the long term,” the petition said, in part.

The news of Alden’s investment comes as Chesapeake News Guild, a union formed last year by community papers within Baltimore Sun Media Group, continues negotiations with Tribune management alongside bargaining units from the Chicago Tribune, Hartford Courant, Allentown Morning Call, Virginian-Pilot and other outlets.

Members of The Capital in Annapolis, The Carroll County TimesThe Aegis in Harford County, SoundOff! at Fort Meade and other Baltimore Sun Media Group journalists organized the guild last November with a call for a living wage and a more stable work environment. The group was voluntarily recognized the following month.

Journalists at the flagship Baltimore Sun, who mounted a campaign earlier this year for raises after years of not receiving one, agreed to a three-year contract extension in September that tied their fates to the negotiations of the Chesapeake News Guild.

If the smaller papers get a pay bump, so does The Sun newsroom–capped at 3 percent. While that limits increases at city’s major daily, environment and science reporter Scott Dance, unit chair of the newsroom’s union, told Baltimore Fishbowl at the time it hopefully shows management is serious about giving raises to both bargaining teams.

“Without this 3 percent cap, it seemed almost impossible to give both groups what they were looking for,” he said.

The larger paper recognized the community outlets essentially replaced the bureaus The Sun once had in areas outside the city, only the workers are not compensated nearly as much as their predecessors.

“We think that’s wrong, and we’ve tried to stand up to [management] on that,” Dance said in September.

Under an agreement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Alden Global Capital’s stake is capped at 33 percent through June. Tribune expanded its board from six seats to eight to add Alden-affiliated executives Dana Goldsmith Needleman and Christopher Minnetian.

A representative from Alden Global Capital did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment on the petition.

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...