Democracy is not self-maintaining, and freedom isn’t free. For years, Americans have been bombarded with these phrases, but very few fully comprehend the value of those words or the more subtle meanings behind them. Local news is on the decline within this day and age, and with it, an informed public. While there is no singular cause for said fall, one name stands out as a key accomplice in the death of local news: Alden Global Capital.
The decline of local news is not just some old tradition in decline. Since 2004, 2,000 American newspapers have gone out of business, making local news a struggling industry despite its incredible importance to the modern media environment. With media trust at an all-time low, local news is of the utmost importance to maintaining an informed and well-rounded American public. According to a study conducted by the Knight Foundation in 2019, 45 percent of Americans trust local news organizations “a great deal” compared to just 31 percent of Americans who say the same about national news outlets. 79 percent of Americans say that local news does a better job of reporting news they can use in their personal lives. The trust of the media, it seems, is tied to local, new companies.
Into this tragic reality comes Alden Global Capital. For those unfamiliar with this infamous New York Hedge Fund, AGC is one of the most ruthless investment companies in all of the news. They own 97 different newspapers as of 2018 and are notorious for squeezing companies dry of their journalistic value. All while leaving an already struggling industry in the dirt.
A Ruthless Strategy
In the Bay Area of California, this parasitical relationship was on full display. Through massive cuts and a lack of investment, AGC turned the robust regional news environment into a shell of its former self. What was once a strong but struggling community of sixteen regional papers and a thousand employees was soon turned into a ghost town of a hundred and fifty employees.
The Boston Herald, one of the oldest newspapers, went into bankruptcy in 2017 but was soon facing the ruthless ownership of Alden’s subsidiary, Digital First. The paper that was known for its exposés was soon being gutted like many papers before it. By 2018, the paper had gone from 225 employees fell to 110.
They’ve also bought the largest share of Tribune Publishing, which owned The Chicago Tribune and WGN America. They began to do what they’ve done to many companies before that, firing reporters as much as they could. Heidi Stevens, a former columnist with the Tribune, was soon scrapped despite her popularity. Others like the fierce and unrelenting Dahleen Glanton were also given the boot not long after Alden made its move.
Other newsrooms have tried to fight back. The Denver Post, which has been subject to some of these same cuts that have made Alden so infamous, has revolted through its opinion section, calling on Alden to sell the paper so that it could find a more suitable owner. A Colorado civic organization soon offered 10 million dollars to the company, hoping to protect the Post from Alden’s grip before the city lost its century-old newspaper.
Transparency? What’s that?
While some at Alden and other pro-business organizations may argue that the hedge fund must make these cuts, that might not be true.
In 2018, a minority of shareholders in Alden sued the company in the hopes of forcing another of Alden’s companies, Media News Group INC, to open its books to shareholders. These shareholders allege that the company was secretly funneling money while supporting failed investments, effectively violating their obligations to their stakeholders.
If true, then it would stand to reason that Alden’s real goals have little to do with necessity and more to do with unadulterated greed.
As it stands right now, Alden is taking advantage of an already horrible situation for its own benefit while undermining the very media institutions that could restore public trust and sanity. And if that isn’t a crime, I don’t know what is.
Originally published at https://progressiveamerican.substack.com on July 22, 2021.