The most visible battle over the future of local news is taking place in Denver. Reporters for The Denver Post are in open rebellion against the paper’s hedge fund owner. On Monday, 55 of the paper’s roughly 70 staffers signed an open letter decrying “unconscionable censorship” by Digital First Media, which is controlled by the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital.
While conflicts with ownership and dire financial straits are common problems for local papers, such public opposition from its own journalists is rare. The rebellion began a month ago, when an editorial page package in the Post called for Alden to change its business practices or sell to someone who would support real journalism. It continued last week with the resignation of Editorial Page Editor Chuck Plunkett after management rejected another editorial critical of ownership. CJR’s Corey Hutchins writes about the spiked editorial, which is quoted in full in the piece, and reiterated calls for Alden to sell.
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The attention paid to the last daily paper in the nation’s 21st largest city has crystallized a broader fight over the future of local news. The Post has a legacy of serious journalism and remains profitable, yet its out-of-town owners seem intent on slashing its staff and harming its ability to adequately cover the city. Similar cutbacks have hurt local journalism at other Alden-owned papers, including the San Jose Mercury News and Orange County Register.
Journalists from DFM papers, including The Denver Post, plan to rally today outside of Alden’s headquarters in the Lipstick Building in Manhattan. So far, the hedge fund has refused to comment on the reaction to its newspaper business, but NiemanLab’s Ken Doctor reports that “a fresh round of budget cuts in the range of 10 to 15 percent” is being planned for the Post, along with other Digital First Media properties.
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Journalists at the Post have received support from across the industry as well as from political leaders, but an attempt to raise money to buy the paper from Alden is still well short of a realistic number. Continued coverage and public protests place pressure on the paper’s owners, but, so far at least, Alden isn’t showing any sign of backing down.
Below, more on a the crisis at the Post.
- Leadership crisis: NiemanLab’s Doctor spoke with Dean Singleton, the Post’s former owner and long-time publisher, who remained on staff until resigning last week. “Everything I believe about the news business is being violated,” Singleton said. “It is breaking my heart.”
- Plunkett speaks: The recently resigned editorial page editor has a piece in Rolling Stone, explaining his decision. “Over the last several days, I was put in a position where resignation was my only honorable option,” Plunkett writes.
- All eyes on Alden’s response: CNN’s Brian Stelter takes the lay of the land, writing that the sustained rebellion from the Post’s journalists places the ball back in Alden’s court.
- Not just the Post: Alden owns about a dozen smaller papers in Colorado, and CJR’s Corey Hutchins reports on the firing of the editorial page editor at one of them. The Boulder Daily Camera’s Dave Krieger was fired after self-publishing an editorial he claims was blocked by management. Krieger has been advocating for local owners, as well. He wrote a six-page document last year he’s been shopping to venture capitalists around Colorado about why they should buy the Daily Camera.
- Tracking the Post’s owners: Meet Julie Reynolds, who has been pumping out reporting on Alden Global Capital’s mismanagement of papers throughout its newspaper group on #NewsMatters, published by the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America labor union. Reynolds “has been a lone source of steady coverage of Alden and the impact of its business decisions on the newsrooms it owns,” Hutchins wrote for CJR in March.
Other notable stories
- New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman resigned three hours after The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow reported on sexual assault allegations against him. Four women accuse Schneiderman, who cast himself as a champion of the #MeToo movement, of abuse.
- Cambodia’s last independent newspaper, the Phnom Penh Post, has been rocked by the firing of its editor and resignations from staff following it sale to a Malaysian businessman. The New York Times’s Julia Wallace and Mike Ives report that Editor in Chief Kay Kimsong had been fired Monday, and that several top staffers resigned after they were told to take down a story about the new owner’s ties to the Cambodian government. The closure of The Cambodia Daily last fall had left the Post as Cambodia’s only independent English-language paper.
- CJR’s Mathew Ingram notes that Facebook’s early experiments with ranking news sites by trust may be hitting some snags. Ingram writes that April numbers show sites like Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire rising in engagement rankings at the expense of trusted news outlets.
- Until The New Yorker’s Schneiderman piece dropped, yesterday’s most talked-about story was Ta-Nehisi Coates’s consideration of fame, race, Kanye West, and Michael Jackson for The Atlantic. “It is often easier to choose the path of self-destruction when you don’t consider who you are taking along for the ride,” Coates writes.
- McClatchy’s Kevin G. Hall had the media headline of the day: Former Miami Herald editor’s ties to CIA confirmed, but still unclear, in latest JFK docs.
- Not a media story, but it may be the last chance to say this for a while: #TrustTheProcess.
ICYMI: The White House credibility crisis starts at the topPete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.