Newspaper employees wonder who will cover their plight

Reporters at the Pioneer Press and other newspapers owned by Digital First Media and its hedge fund bankroll have only Twitter left to tell the story of how the local papers are being run into the ground while the corporate owners reap huge profits.

Newspapers are notoriously bad at covering themselves and the destruction of the local paper is only the latest example.

But it’s happening despite the rebellion at the company’s flagship, the Denver Post.

It published an editorial lamenting what’s happening to the free press. But since then, Digital First is sending word to all of it newspapers: thou shalt not speak ill of Digital First Media.

“The stakes are too important,” Chuck Plunkett writes in Rolling Stone. He lost his job as editorial page editor last week. “Now that we’ve placed the vultures on notice, let’s keep them there until we win.”

That Plunkett is fighting a losing battle is only because his point is being proven. It takes a strong local newspaper to effect change and shine a light on community evil.

On Tuesday, representatives of the Pioneer Press and other DFM newspapers attempted to drop petitions at door of the hedge fund, Alden Capital in New York City. They were thrown out.

The strategy newspaper reporters and editors are using in Denver isn’t being embraced by colleagues at the Pioneer Press.

“Our goal in the end is to keep the Pioneer Press viable, to keep it alive for the people of St. Paul and the east metro,” Pioneer Press newspaper union boss Dave Orrick told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer Wednesday. “We are focused on quiet conversations with people who could buy us. A little less on the shaming side.”

That appears to reveal a split among reporters and editors at the company on how to get coverage and put pressure on the hedge fund.

Writing in “The Nation,” Julie Reynolds called on Digital First editors and reporters to act.

“It’s time for Digital First editors and publishers to be transparent about who owns their newspapers and what those owners have been doing to destroy their trust,” she said. “It’s time to be honest with the public and stop hiding the truth.”

Without a functioning newspaper, the truth is hard to find.

  • MrE85

    “Newspapers are notoriously bad at covering themselves…”

    In my experience, the same can be said of most news outlets, with a few notable exceptions. Both NPR and MPR have had some “Me Too” challenges, and their reporters have tried to do their jobs under some very unusual circumstances.

    • Perhaps, but the reality is that newspapers dictate the news agenda for almost all other forms of media in a community

      • MrE85

        That certainly was the old model. What next, I wonder?

        • Fascism

        • Jack

          Just spent the morning listening to two investigative reporters talk about the profession. We can’t lose that.

          On a related note, would love to be a forensic accountant working on current events.

  • Typically it’s considered a breach of journalistic ethics for the business side to tell the editorial side what to cover. Editors are in charge of editorials (thus the name) which is why they quit when they are undermined . It’s an ethics thing.

  • Mike Worcester

    Last spring John Oliver had a great piece on this topic. If you can see past his somewhat profane delivery style, it’s an excellent segment and makes me wonder how, if the Cowles family still owned the Strib, they would approach the modern journalism business environment.

  • Erik Petersen

    An element in this kerfuffle seems to be that Alden is accruing about a $10M annual profit off Pioneer Press operations. The proximate journalists object to this, because it ostensibly comes at the expense of earnest effort journalism from the St. Paul newsroom.

    I have difficulty with the premise. Thing is, its not obvious, I don’t think, that $10M is an inappropriate profit given the scale of the operation… which is small. In the old days of family ownership and way larger circulation & ad revenue these families were booking hundreds of millions a year.

    Which means $10M is actually a small number, and not a big number. I wonder if there’s not a large / small number fallacy that people are being confused by. So I’m a little sympathetic to Alden.

  • Guest

    I am a hedge fund. I am sure I can make more money by behaving in MY best interest (short-term of course) by putting my interests ahead of “ethics” .

    Question to the US: Aside from each person’s idea of “morality, obligation, ethics” IS there any legal restraint to choosing MY interests over all else?

    Second Question: WILL I pay a penalty in the market and yet still get my money out (in the short-term of course)?

    • // I am a hedge fund. I am sure I can make more money by behaving in MY best interest (short-term of course) by putting my interests ahead of “ethics” .

      You’re free to make just as much money as you want and pull it all out of a local economy to live the lifestyle you want to live and you’re free to destroy a 179 year old institution.

    • Erik Petersen

      I don’t think Alden is properly called a hedge fund. They are not trading around in securities with an arbitrage strategy, contrarian or otherwise.

      They buy and hold and try to create / throw off value as time goes on. Its ‘private equity’, and a lesser pejorative.

      • Rob

        The term I prefer is “vulture capitalism.”

        • Erik Petersen

          Pejorative! but I’ll allow it. Better than hedge fund.

  • Rob

    How are the local TV news operations covering the Pi Press situation? I get my local news from the Pi Press, Strib, MPR and Minnpost, so I don’t know how, or even if, local TV is covering the hedge fund shenanigans…

    • They’re not.

      • Rob

        Any surmises as to why such a major story is going uncovered by local TV news ops? Is it too unsexy?

  • mplstransplant

    While the PiPress and others are not covering their demise, The Gizmodo staff are doing an excellent job of articulating the issues of their new owners, Univision.

  • Barton

    Bob, did you see the news out of Salt Lake City?

    A friend, who left the Trib 4 years ago, said those laid off received notification via email.