Should struggling local newspapers turn into nonprofits?

New York (CNN Business)Tribune Publishing (TPCO) is offering buyouts to employees for the second time in two years and months after hedge fund Alden Global Capital became the largest shareholder in the company.

In an email to staffers on Monday, Tribune Publishing announced voluntary separation offers — or buyouts — to employees who have worked for eight or more years at the newspaper conglomerate.
“Although our digital successes provide good momentum, we continue to face industry-wide revenue challenges. A significant amount of our revenue continues to come from our print titles and our commercial manufacturing and distribution business,” Tim Knight, CEO and president of Tribune Publishing, wrote in the email, which was obtained by CNN Business. “Since we remain committed to extending the life of those products and services and to serving our home delivery subscribers, we need to anticipate continued print revenue declines by reducing our expenses.”

    Tribune Publishing owns the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Capital Gazette, the Hartfort Courant and the New York Daily News among others.
    The company reported revenue of $236 million in its third-quarter last year, down from $255.8 million in the year prior. Its digital side is growing, however, with revenue up 49.9% and its digital-only subscribers increased 38%, the company reported.

    In November, New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital purchased a 32% ownership stake. Hundreds of Tribune employees protested the ownership, citing the hedge fund’s “well-documented history of extracting short-term profits from already-lean operations by cutting newsroom jobs and denying fair wages and benefits” in a December 11 petition.
    “Alden Global Capital’s reputation as a destroyer of local newspapers should alarm all citizens in every city with a Tribune Publishing newspaper,” Gregory Pratt, a Chicago Tribune reporter covering City Hall and Mayor Lori Lightfoot, told CNN Business. “We need a civic minded owner who understands that journalism is critical to the communities where we work and that news outlets can’t be a piggy bank for hedge funds to raid.”
    Alden reinforced this reputation when it laid off a third of the staff at the Denver Post in 2018, resulting in the loss of 30 jobs. Staffers fought back with protests outside Alden’s New York City headquarters. They also ran a piece in the paper calling for someone to save it from the “vultures” at Alden.
    It’s unclear how many employees would be eligible for buyouts. A Tribune Publishing spokesperson declined to comment beyond Knight’s email to employees. Alden Global Capital did not respond to CNN Business’s request for comment.
    The various labor unions representing employees across the company’s newsrooms tweeted statements about the buyouts on Monday.
    “During the Nov. 2018 buyouts, @hartfordcourant lost 20% of its newsroom. Decades of experience walked out the door. The remaining news staff was left juggling huge workloads. Though we try our best, these cuts have meant less coverage for our communities,” the Hartford Courant Guild tweeted.
    “Our position is that the buyout offer, as it applies to our members, should be subject to bargaining. We’re going to push for what’s best for our journalists,” the Chicago Tribune Guild tweeted.
    The Guild reiterated this sentiment a separate statement to CNN Business, saying that union was formed to “advocate for journalists, and we plan to keep pushing for fair treatment for our members, even when that means looking out for their interests as they decide whether to leave the company.”

      Danielle Ohl, a Capital Gazette reporter and chair of the Chesapeake News Guild, which covers the Capital Gazette and other Baltimore Sun Media Group properties, told CNN Business that the staff is “still trying to figure out what it all means.”
      “We had a round of buyouts about 18 months ago that we’re still recovering from, so obviously this is very concerning to a lot of journalists across all our newsrooms,” Ohl said. “We’re still dedicated to producing the journalism our communities expect — and need — from us, but with less and less staff, maintaining the level of quality is becoming harder and harder. We love what we do. We just want the resources to keep doing it.”
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