Wanted: New owners.
That's the message today from journalists, ad reps and other media workers across the country seeking alternatives to Digital First Media, the nation's second-largest newspaper chain.
This morning, Monday Sept. 8, Newspaper Guild-represented staff at major newspapers including the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News and St. Paul Pioneer Press are publishing ads online and in print seeking local, community-minded buyers for their newsrooms.
"Dear deep-pocketed, local community benefactor," one such ad begins, "A longtime newspaper, with more than 100 years of history and multiple Pulitzer Prizes, is looking for an owner who cares about Denver, Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Empire. The current owner, a hedge fund out of New York City, refuses to open its purse strings and reward employees with much-needed raises."
Properties owned by Digital First Media have yet to be put officially on the market, but recent actions (including the sale of newspaper buildings and the shutdown of the company's Thunderdome initiative) make it clear that investors are seeking an exit strategy.
Nationally, The Newspaper Guild-CWA is reaching out to Digital First CEO John Paton, offering to help identify potential new owners for individual papers and regional clusters.
"The future of journalism is too important to leave in the hands of distant investors who fail to grasp that investing in better news products is also good business," said Bernie Lunzer, president of The Newspaper Guild. "These papers are profitable, and they can remain so, but cutting costs is not a long-term business strategy."
Comprising Media News Group and 21st Century Media (formerly Journal Register), Digital First Media manages more than 100 local newsrooms in 18 states. Its majority owner is the "Distressed Opportunities Fund" of New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital, founded by Randall Duncan Smith, a specialist in "vulture investing."
Under the direction of Alden, Digital First has drained its media properties of real estate and other assets, while laying off journalists, cutting wages and reducing news coverage.
"When we were fully staffed, our coverage was better, there's just no getting around it," said Kieran Nicholson, a breaking news reporter who's worked at the Denver Post for 28 years. "Everyone here continues to work hard -- we try to do more with less, but it's a tough road."
Nicholson and his colleagues are hoping for owners who would take pride in the Denver Post and its tradition of excellence, he said. "Every business has to be profitable, and we all understand that, but we think a local owner might also see this as community service."
The Guild welcomes confidential inquiries from potential investors, as well as Digital First employees, including those at non-represented papers. Below are contacts for investor inquiries and media questions: