Tribune Journalists Are Close To an Improbable Win in Quest for New
April 6, 2021, 6:49 PM EDT
Rival bid for Tribune may derail hedge fund’s planned takeover
► Journalists seek out local
buyers for other Tribune newspapers
In January of last year, two Chicago Tribune reporters began looking
for a civic-minded investor to rescue the newspaper from what they
viewed as the clutches of a notorious hedge fund.
For several months, David Jackson and Gary Marx interviewed more than
100 people in the business and philanthropic world, often making calls
from a conference room inside the newsroom. They also published
an essay in the New York Times predicting the hedge fund, Alden
Global Capital, would create “a ghost version of the Chicago
Tribune” -- despite being warned it could get them fired.
Former Chicago Tribune reporters Gary Marx, left,
and David Jackson Source: David Jackson
their efforts appeared to have failed. Alden, which already owns 32%
of the company, was poised to take control of Tribune
Publishing Co. after agreeing in February to buy the shares it
didn’t already own.
“I’d really given
up at that point,” said Jackson, who along with Marx has since left
the Chicago Tribune.
A few weeks ago,
however, the reporters were contacted by a representative of Hansjoerg
Wyss, a Swiss billionaire who said he
values journalism and was partly inspired to buy the Tribune after
reading their essay in the Times.
Jackson and Marx
sprung into action, reopening their contact list and making sure
everyone who expressed interest in buying Tribune newspapers was in
On Monday, Tribune
journalists who have fought Alden’s takeover moved a step closer to an
improbable last-minute victory. The company said a
$680 million offer from Wyss and Maryland real estate magnate Stewart
Bainum Jr. would likely beat out the $635 million offer from Alden.
Wyss has said that
he doesn’t want to see another truth-telling newspaper go “down the
inspired by and grateful for Wyss swooping in at this point and the
statement for why he’s done so,” Jackson said. “I’m anxiously watching
The battle over
control of Tribune isn’t over yet. Alden could still raise its offer.
And the outcome could depend on Patrick Soon-Shiong, the No. 2 Tribune
shareholder. Alden needs approval from two-thirds of the other
shareholders. Soon-Shiong declined to comment.
And being owned by
a wealthy benefactor isn’t without challenges. Los Angeles Times
journalists, for instance, have
clashed with Soon-Shiong, who bought that paper in 2018, over a
lack of diversity in the newsroom. A steep drop in advertising during
the pandemic forced
the paper to furlough 40 non-newsroom employees.
reporters and editors have already faced furloughs, buyouts and pay
cuts under their current owners, and fear things could get worse under
Alden, which has reputation for laying off staff to squeeze costs.
The firm didn’t
immediately respond to requests for comment.
Alden owns dozens
of newspapers through its subsidiary, Digital First Media. In 2018,
one of them, the Denver Post, staged a revolt, publishing a series of
articles criticizing the paper’s continued cutbacks. Tribune
journalists say they grew alarmed in 2019 when Alden bought out the
company’s largest stockholder, Michael Ferro.
Now, the emergence
of a rival bid has given new hope to a highly unusual side gig:
finding someone to buy their newspaper. From Orlando to Hartford to
Allentown, Tribune journalists are trading tips in weekly Zoom
meetings on the best ways to seek out new owners. On Wednesday night,
they plan to hold an online forum to bring together potential
investors and explain their concerns about Alden. Their pleas are also
appearing in print.
“If you have deep
pockets and want to join efforts to buy the paper,” a Morning Call
columnist wrote last
month, “I’ll be happy to put you in touch with local people who are
working on that.”
If Wyss and Bainum
are successful, they would try to find owners for Tribune newspapers
like the New York Daily News, Hartford Courant and Virginia’s Daily
Press, according to the Chicago
Tribune. Under their plan, Wyss would own the Tribune, Bainum the
Baltimore Sun and the other papers would be sold to individuals or
group owners, the newspaper reported.
investors are emerging. A former investment banker in Manhattan has
said he’d offer $30
million to $40 million to buy the Morning Call, which serves
Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. Two Florida businessmen, Mason Slaine
and Craig Mateer, want
to buy the Orlando Sentinel and Sun Sentinel.
Gabrielle Russon, a
reporter at the Orlando Sentinel, said she and her colleagues have
been inspired by the success of journalists at the Sun, which
circulated a petition last year to demand local owners for the paper.
The petition was signed by more than 6,000 people, including Baltimore
Orioles great Cal Ripken and “The Wire” creator David Simon, who is a
former Sun reporter.
“They’ve given us
the motivation that we can succeed,” Russon said. “All the unions at
Tribune papers are talking and helping each other and brainstorming
Russon and her
colleagues have been emailing a list of people and community
organizations that might have the money or connections and goodwill
“to save journalism.”
Newsrooms have also
sought labor protections as they pursue new owners. Last year, the
Orlando Sentinel formed a union, which Russon said offers “an ability
to advocate for ourselves in a way we didn’t have before.”
Over the weekend,
the Orlando Sentinel’s editorial board compared Alden to “a
biblical plague of locusts” and expressed hope that new investors
“As a journalist
you’re used to telling other people’s stories, so it feels strange to
tell your own,” Russon said. “But there’s so much at stake I don’t
think we have a choice.”
At the Baltimore
Sun, the mood has shifted from joy to uncertainty. In February, Bainum
agreed to buy the paper from Alden and turn it into a nonprofit. But
that deal fell apart, and now Bainum and Wyss are trying to buy the
“I will still be
incredibly nervous until I know there’s some conclusion,” said Liz
Bowie, an education reporter for the Baltimore Sun who helped form the
“Save Our Sun” campaign. “We did everything we could have done to try
to save our newspaper.”
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