The vultures are circling again.
In February, Tribune Publishing agreed to be acquired by Alden Global Capital, the New York City hedge fund, in a deal worth $630 million. Based in Chicago, Tribune Publishing owns The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun; the Hartford (Conn.) Courant; the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel; the South Florida Sun Sentinel; New York Daily News; the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md.; The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa. the Daily Press in Newport News, Va.; and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va.
Although Tribune has had its fair share of making tough calls in the past, such as combining the positions of editor and publisher, a ridiculed rebranding to tronc (tribune online content) in 2016 and then a reversal two years later, an $815 million offer from Gannett that went nowhere, and more recently, the closures of five physical newsrooms, those familiar with Alden’s notorious approach of slashing costs and eliminating newsroom jobs were sympathetic and fearful of what lay ahead for the organization.
Even though Alden has assured us they are committed to “ensuring the sustainability of robust local journalism,” not everyone is buying it.
“Alden Global Capital is known as the destroyer of newspapers for good reason,” Gregory Pratt, a politics reporter at the Chicago Tribune and president of the Chicago Tribune Guild, told WWTW News. “The Chicago Tribune is full of dedicated journalists who are passionate about keeping the public informed, so anything that threatens that is of highest concern.”
The Orlando Sentinel editorial board called the impending sale to Alden “an existential moment for our newspaper’s future.”
“Alden’s history with newspaper ownership is akin to a biblical plague of locusts—it devours newsroom resources to maximize profits, leaving ruin in its wake,” wrote the board.
Industry analyst Doug Arthur told The Washington Post: “They (Alden) are the ultimate cash-flow mercenary. They want to find cash flow and bleed it to death.”
Yet, there is still some breathing room and life left in Tribune’s future.
In early April, Stewart Bainum Jr., a Maryland businessman, offered $680 million for the entire company. Initially, Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss billionaire who resides in Wyoming, was going to help fund the bid, but has since dropped out. Bainum remains committed in his pursuit.
In Florida, two businessmen are pursuing publications there, according to Tribune reports: Tribune investor Mason Slaine in the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel, and Craig Mateer, founder and former owner of Orlando-based baggage-handling company Bags Inc., said he was primarily interested in the Orlando Sentinel.
A mystery bidder was also revealed for The Morning Call Media Group—Gary Lutin, a Manhattan former investment banker, who is willing to “plunk down $30 to $40 million” for the company, according to reports by The Morning Call.
Although Tribune Publishing’s board of directors has recommended shareholders approve Alden’s deal (the vote was scheduled for May 21 after we went to press), there might still be time to fend off the “vulture capitalists.” Like with Jeff Bezos at The Washington Post, Glen Taylor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, John Henry at the Boston Globe, and Patrick Soon-Shion at the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, newspapers may once again be saved by the wealthy. As my headline says, money talks, and in this case, it is shouting and yelling. Now we just wait and see who will be heard.
Nu Yang is editor-in-chief of Editor and Publisher. She has been with the publication since 2011.