The Media Today

Another skirmish at The Denver Post costs editor his job

May 4, 2018

A month after taking a bold stand against The Denver Post’s owner, the paper’s editorial page editor resigned. Chuck Plunkett, the editor behind a stirring call to action targeted at freeing the paper from the grip of its New York hedge fund owners, turned in his resignation on Thursday after a follow-up editorial was rejected.

The package of editorials Plunkett put together in early April drew national attention to the actions of Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that has squeezed every cent of profit it can from a string of newspapers including the Post, the San Jose Mercury News, the Orange County Register, and dozens of other titles. The lead editorial pleaded with Alden to change its business practices, and stated, “If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell the Post to owners who will.”

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Plunkett knew he was risking his job, telling The New York Times, “I had to do it because it was the right thing to do. If that means that I lose my job trying to stand up for my readers, then that means I’m not working for the right people anyway.” Yesterday, he turned in another editorial critical of Alden for continuing to cut jobs even as it made a healthy profit of its news business. He told the Times that the piece was rejected by Guy Gilmore, the chief operating officer of Digital First Media, Alden’s newspaper-owning subsidiary.

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Plunkett’s resignation comes a week after the editorial page editor at another Alden-owner paper in Colorado was dismissed for criticizing ownership. The Boulder Daily Camera’s Dave Krieger was fired after self-publishing a piece sharply critical of Alden’s approach.

Alden has faced a rising tide of public opposition, from journalists around the industry and at its own papers, as well as from civic leaders, but the company shows no signs that it is interested in selling its media assets. NiemanLab’s Ken Doctor recently crunched the numbers, showing why Alden would be hesitant to sell. Digital First Media had a 17 percent operating margin along with profits of $160 million last year, according to Doctor. The business of wrecking local journalism is apparently good business, so why would Alden want to stop?

Below, more on Plunkett’s resignation and the situation at Alden-owned properties.

  • Home coverage: The Denver Post’s Larry Ryckman wrote the paper’s own story on Plunkett’s resignation. “I hope all the journalists who have worked for The Denver Post and continue to toil in this difficult environment can continue to do good work,” Plunkett told him. “Don’t lose heart at what’s going on in our company.”
  • Forced to act: Plunkett told the AP’s Nicholas Riccardi that he couldn’t remain silent after Krieger’s firing and Doctor’s report on Alden’s profits. “I was boxed into a corner and given an ethical quandary I couldn’t resolve,” he said.
  • A network problem: After the Post’s editorial package in April, CJR’s Corey Hutchins surveyed the reaction at other Alden-owned papers and found a mixed response.
  • An overview: Last week, CNN’s Jill Disis looked at the situation in Denver and at other Digital First papers, providing some background on Alden’s approach and attempting to answer the question of what comes next once a paper declares open rebellion against its owners.


Other notable stories

  • The Washington Post’s Amy Brittain and Irin Carmon have a follow-up report on CBS’s response to complaints about sexual misconduct by Charlie Rose. “An additional 27 women—14 CBS News employees and 13 who worked with him elsewhere—said Rose sexually harassed them,” they write. The reporters also cite three instances in which CBS management was told about Rose’s behavior. The line that stood out to me, as a sign of why well-funded newspapers matter: “The Post’s investigation is based on interviews over a five-month period with 107 current and former CBS News employees as well as two dozen others who worked with Rose at other television programs.”
  • NBC News corrected a report that claimed federal investigators had wiretapped Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. The initial report came early yesterday afternoon, but lead reporter Tom Winter walked back the most explosive charges, telling Chuck Todd on air that authorities recorded a log of phone calls to and from Cohen, but hadn’t listened in on the content of those conversations.
  • CJR’s Mathew Ingram spoke with Campbell Brown, Facebook’s head of news partnerships, about the thorny issues surrounding the ways in which Facebook handles news and information on the platform and how the tech giant is struggling with the need to pick trusted sources.
  • Peter King is leaving Sports Illustrated, inking an exclusive deal with NBC Sports. The departure of SI’s top football writer and leading traffic driver comes as the magazine is reportedly being shopped by new owner Meredith Corporation.
  • Weekend reading: HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg got her hands on a video of an April 6 conversation between The Atlantic’s Editor in Chief Jeffrey Goldberg and star correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates that was held in front of company staff. The event took place the day after the magazine fired Kevin Williamson, and the transcript makes for a fascinating look at the debate facing left-leaning publications.
  • Politico’s Jason Schwartz reports that Sinclair is gearing up to challenge Fox News. “Sinclair executive chairman David Smith has been holding meetings with potential future employees, including former Fox News staff members, and laying out a vision for an evening block of opinion and news programming that would compete with Fox’s top-rated lineup,” Schwartz writes.
  • Amy Chozick’s new book about her years covering Hillary Clinton for The New York Times has “reopened a sensitive wound inside a newsroom fiercely protective of its reputation,” writes BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg. He reports that Chozick’s recollection of internal newsroom politics has resulted in “some embarrassment and hurt feelings, particularly among members of the political team that Chozick’s account has exposed to criticism.”

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.