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Sale Of Tribune Publishing To Alden Global Capital Raises Concerns In Newsrooms

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tribune Publishing owns a host of notable newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, the Hartford Courant and the Orlando Sentinel And now, the company is being sold. The privately held hedge fund known as Alden Global Capital is buying it in a $630 million deal. And that has raised deep fears in newsrooms around the country. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins us now to explain what is going on.

So, David, why would Tribune be selling these pretty important daily newspapers in the first place?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, the newspaper business has been pretty battered by recent trends. If you look at Facebook and Google, they've been scooping up all digital advertising - or seemingly all digital advertising - and much more of our attention than ever before. And so newspapers have been trying to manage decline.

And in addition, Tribune has itself been led over a series of different proprietorships, ownerships, and (unintelligible) pretty poorly. They've done a bad job of innovating. They've not been able to figure out how to make their peace and hold on to those subscribers in local markets. And what you've seen is the wholesale dismantling of a once-great media empire, and this is really the last step in that.

CHANG: So what do we know about Alden Global Capital? This is the hedge fund that will become the new owner.

FOLKENFLIK: Right. Well, Alden Global Capital is a privately run hedge fund based here in New York City. They're very tight-lipped. But they actually own already more than, call it 100 daily newspapers, more than 200 publications through an outfit called Digital First. And they're - you know, they have not only matched the deep cutting that has gone in newsrooms around the country of other rival publications, but they've gone farther.

And so, you know, they have a reputation for kind of being rapacious about this. Journalists throughout Tribune are really apprehensive about this acquisition. I spoke with Gregory Pratt. He is the Chicago Tribune City Hall reporter and head of the newsroom union. And he said, look; we've had bad. This is going to be worse. Here's what he had to say.

GREGORY PRATT: They're shameless about cutting. They don't care about the social value of the news, at least not in any meaningful way. They will say that they do. They will argue to the contrary, but their actions where they gut newspapers across the country say otherwise.

FOLKENFLIK: And you can think of major markets like Denver, where there's certainly strong evidence to say that. I must say, although they're not commenting at this time, folks at Alden Global Capital, its president, Heath Freeman, has said in the past they do care about finding a sustainable path for local newsrooms. But if you look at their papers, they've shrunk greatly in size, you know, far fewer pages, and there's a lot less original reporting. So readers of their papers aren't - say they're not getting the full picture of what's happening in their hometowns and regions. And you're hearing a lot of criticism not only from journalists, but from civic leaders in the towns they serve.

CHANG: Well, I mean, as you say, the newspaper business, it's really rough right now. So I guess I'm wondering what's the attraction here? Like, why would Alden want to take over these papers?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, if you look at profits and losses, they're already by and large profitable because they've been cut so much. And they can justify further cuts and amortize the cost even more widely across their other properties if they do it. A number of other major companies like Gannett and McClatchy newspaper businesses are similarly owned by big financial investors.

CHANG: That is NPR's David Folkenflik. Thank you, David.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

(SOUNDBITE OF PETER BRODERICK'S "STOPPING ON THE BROADWAY BRIDGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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