The staff of The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers owned by Tribune Publishing are rallying across the country to demand their parent company not sell their papers to Alden Global Capital, a Manhattan-based hedge fund that was labeled the “grim reaper of American newspapers” after cutting staff and resources at publications it owned.
“What do you do in the bottom of the ninth, when you’re down but not out? You rally,” officials with NewsGuild unions, which represent Tribune Publishing newspapers, said in a statement.
Tribune newspaper staff in Maryland and community supporters will hold a rally to “save local news” at 2 p.m. on May 15 at Susan Campbell Park at the end of City Dock in Annapolis.
Organizers are asking rally attendees to wear masks.
Alden Global Capital became Tribune Publishing’s largest shareholder and secured two seats on the company’s board when Alden bought a 32% stake in Tribune in November 2019.
In 2020, Tribune Publishing offered buyouts to employees who had worked at the company for eight years or more, further reducing the size of newsrooms at The Baltimore Sun and other Tribune papers.
Newspaper staff called on Tribune to sell their papers to local owners, with staff at The Baltimore Sun launching their “Save Our Sun” campaign in April 2020.
Tribune in February announced that it had tentatively agreed to sell The Baltimore Sun and related local publications to the nonprofit Sunlight For All Institute, while Alden would acquire full control of the rest of the company as part of a $630 million transaction.
Maryland businessman and former politician Stewart Bainum Jr., who owns Choice Hotels International, created the Sunlight For All Institute for the purpose of acquiring The Baltimore Sun and Tribune’s other Maryland papers.
But that deal hit a snag when Alden and Bainum disagreed about how to share fees for services before the Maryland newspapers separated from Tribune.
Bainum then tried to put together a competing bid against Alden to purchase all of Tribune Publishing, with Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss joining Bainum in that effort. Bainum and Wyss made a $680 million bid for Tribune Publishing.
But in April, Wyss pulled out of the deal after he and his associates determined that it would be difficult to transform The Chicago Tribune into the national publication that Wyss had dreamed of, The New York Times reported.
With Wyss out and Tribune Publishing moving forward with their deal with Alden, Bainum restarted a search for investors.
Time is expiring as Tribune’s shareholders are scheduled to vote May 21 on the contract with Alden.
Members of NewsGuild unions, which represent Tribune Publishing newspapers, fear that if Alden buys Tribune Publishing, further newsroom cuts will follow.
“Alden can only afford Tribune Publishing by saddling the company with a ton of debt,” union officials said. “We know the acquisition will precede steep cuts to newsrooms, printing staff and delivery workers who are already overworked and underpaid.”
Capital Gazette reporter Danielle Ohl told Baltimore Fishbowl in February that she hoped local ownership would mean career stability, newsroom investment, and appreciation for staff’s work.
“We would have ownership that was invested in the journalism and the work rather than in the shareholders. We would ourselves be valued and invested in,” said Ohl, who is also the chair of the Chesapeake News Guild, which represents The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Carroll County Times, The Aegis in Harford County, Howard County Times, and other community newspapers under the Baltimore Sun umbrella.
Tribune union leaders have been coordinating to find local investors in each of their areas to partner with Bainum.
Speaking on Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources show on CNN, Baltimore Sun education reporter Liz Bowie said employees have found investors in almost every city except Chicago.
Bowie said she believes in Bainum’s effort to beat Alden’s deal.
“I think there is a chance Alden will lose,” said Bowie, who is also co-chair of the local unit of the Washington-Baltimore Press Guild. “I’m betting on Stewart Bainum. I think that there are lots of efforts going on right now, and I think that Stewart Bainum has really kind of flipped a switch on local news. He’s really focused attention around the nation on the need to save local news.”
The absence of strong local journalism would be detrimental to communities, Bowie said.
“When our papers go away, there’s good research that shows taxes go up and voter turnout goes down and you’re more likely to have less watchdog journalism that uncovers corruption,” she said.
Bowie remains hopeful that The Baltimore Sun and other Tribune papers will live to shine another day without Alden. A lot can happen before May 21, after all.
“There’s been twists and turns in this saga every bit of the way, and so I’m not going to predict what will happen,” she said.