Tribune Publishing last week offered buyouts to employees who’ve worked at the company for at least eight years.
It isn’t the first time the company has cut its staff, but two investigative reporters at the Chicago Tribune fear it could be a sign of things to come.
In a New York Times op-ed published Sunday, journalists David Jackson and Gary Marx warn that the future of one of the city’s important watchdogs – and Tribune-owned newspapers around the U.S. – are in danger now that Tribune’s largest shareholder is Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund with a track record of cutting newsroom staffs dramatically.
“Alden’s strategy of acquiring struggling local newsrooms and stripping them of assets has built the personal wealth of the hedge fund’s investors. But Alden has imposed draconian staff cuts that decimated The Denver Post and other once-proud newspapers that have been vital to their communities and to American democracy. Those newsrooms, which put a spotlight on local political corruption, have served as forums for community voices and have driven the coverage of regional television, radio and online outlets,” Jackson and Marx write.
In a statement, a Tribune Publishing spokesperson said, “All of us – journalists and staff – are focused on engaging readers and delivering quality journalism, in a sustainable way, that serves our communities. Though our industry faces challenges, we have a clear-eyed view of the environment and are taking specific steps to transform our newsrooms for the future.”
While Alden agreed not to try and increase its 32% stake in Tribune until after June, it also landed two seats on the company’s board, a worrying sign for news staff and consumers alike.
“Unless Alden reverses course — perhaps in repentance for the avaricious destruction it has wrought in Denver and elsewhere — we need a civic-minded local owner or group of owners. So do our Tribune Publishing colleagues,” Jackson and Marx write.
“The alternative is a ghost version of The Chicago Tribune — a newspaper that can no longer carry out its essential watchdog mission. Illinois’s most vulnerable people would lose a powerful guardian, its corrupt politicians would be freer to exploit and plunder, and this prairie metropolis would lose the common forum that binds together and lifts its citizens.”
Jackson and Marx join “Chicago Tonight” in conversation Monday.