A group of Tribune Publishing newspapers, including The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, The Carroll County Times and other local publications in Baltimore Sun Media Group, today joined The Baltimore Sun in calling for the parent company to sell to local ownership.
The Baltimore Sun Guild launched its Save Our Sun campaign on April 28 to petition Tribune to sell the region’s largest daily newspaper to a group of local group. Within weeks, a petition supporting the effort received more than 6,000 signatures, the group said.
The Abell Foundation, the Goldseker Foundation and former Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis have expressed their desire to acquire The Sun and eventually turn it into a nonprofit.
Now, the other Tribune Publishing papers are launching their own “Save Our” campaigns with petitions for the public to sign in what the News Guild, a union representing journalists, calls a “sweeping vote of no confidence in Tribune’s current leadership.”
The Chicago Tribune, The Hartford Courant, The Orlando Sentinel, The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia, and The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania are also part of the campaign.
“These cities will be better served by local ownership, including not-for-profit models, who share our vision of serving our communities with a vibrant newspaper,” Phil Davis, a Sun reporter and NewsGuild steward, said in a statement. “We hope to build a future in which profits are reinvested back into the newsroom.”
The move comes one day before Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that’s been dubbed a “destroyer of newspapers,” is able to purchase a larger stake in Tribune Publishing.
Alden, which owns 60 dailies, including the Denver Post, Boston Herald and St. Paul Pioneer Press, became the largest Tribune shareholder last November and now holds a 32 percent stake in the company and two seats on the eight-person board.
Under the terms of that deal, the company can buy more shares beginning on July 1, the start of a new fiscal year.
“Alden has a well-documented history of buying newspapers, loading them with debt, slashing staff and selling off assets, extracting profits while the papers are left to bleed out,” the News Guild said in today’s announcement. “Control under Alden puts journalists’ ability to tell the important stories of cities like Annapolis, Chicago, Hartford, Allentown, Orlando, and Norfolk more gravely at risk.”
In February, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., at least 11 Baltimore Sun Media Group employees accepted buyouts to leave the company.
Three Capital Gazette journalists who reported on the shooting of their own newsroom and four Baltimore Sun reporters and editors were among those to take the offer.
Papers all across the company were hit by the staff reductions, according to figures shared by unions representing the newsrooms. More than a dozen left The Chicago Tribune. At least four at The Morning Call. Twenty between The Virginian-Pilot, Daily Press, The Virginia Gazette and Tidewater Review.
By April, as COVID-19 spread across the U.S., forcing many businesses to shut down, Tribune Publishing furloughed non-union employees making between $40,000 and $67,000 a year, a cost-cutting measure to offset the ripple effects of the pandemic on the company’s advertising revenues.
The company also made permanent pay cuts, ranging from 2 to 10 percent, for non-union employees making more than $67,000 a year.
Tribune Publishing CEO Terry Jimenez said at the time that unionized workers would be asked to accept similar concessions.
On May 1, the Baltimore Sun Guild agreed to permanent pay cuts for union employees making $67,000 per year or more and one-week furloughs. Those making less than that would be furloughed for three weeks.
One day prior, Matt Gallagher, president of Goldseker Foundation, told Poynter the local group interested in acquiring The Sun had approached Tribune with an offer.
He later told Baltimore Fishbowl a nonprofit model could stabilize an organization that has endured years of buyouts and other cost-cutting measures.
“Return expectations are vastly different when being compared to a hedge fund,” he said. “Our hope is with that kind of approach, if this were to come to pass, we could position The Sun on much more stable footing going forward and can reinvest back into the paper.”