The Denver Post’s rebellion and ‘a crisis in American journalism’

“The biggest crisis in journalism is not Donald Trump’s attacks on The Washington Post and The New York Times,” Times Editor Dean Baquet said Sunday on CNN. Rather, he argues, it’s “the decline of local newspapers.”

Nowhere is that crisis more apparent than in Denver, where the city’s lone daily paper published an extraordinary package of pieces showing the newsroom in open revolt against its owners. Taking aim at Alden Global Capital, the New York-based hedge fund that owns the paper, the Post published an editorial stating, “If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell the Post to owners who will.”

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Today, the Post will say goodbye to more than two dozen journalists, victims of the latest round of cutbacks demanded by a company looking to squeeze every bit of profit out of its properties. Alden, through its subsidiary Digital First Media, is one of the biggest owners of newspapers in the country, and it has pursued a similar strategy involving drastic cuts at places like the San Jose Mercury-News, the Orange County Register, and the Boston Herald.

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Alden purchased the Post in 2010, taking over a talented newsroom that would go on to win a Pulitzer for its coverage of the 2012 movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. The paper’s lead editorial blasted Alden for engaging in “a cynical strategy of constantly reducing the amount and quality of its offerings, while steadily increasing its subscription rates.” Noting that Digital First Media reported solid profits last year, the piece makes a plea for the company to “rethink its business strategy across all its newspaper holdings.”

The threat that Alden’s strategy presents to journalism and civic life in America should be obvious. A skeleton staff covering a city of 700,000 means less accountability, fewer checks on power, and a diminished marketplace for ideas. As Baquet said on CNN’s Reliable Sources, “This is a major city, Denver. This is a newsroom that now is on the verge of having fewer than 100 journalists. That is unbelievable. That means things won’t be covered, school boards aren’t being covered. This is a crisis in American journalism.” The paper’s rebellion garnered coverage on Sunday’s cable shows as well as a front-page article in The New York Times. Whether it made an impact on Alden’s thinking or the Post’s future remains to be seen.

RELATED: Denver Post cuts fit a disturbing pattern at hedge-fund owned papers

Below, more on the Post, its owners, and a crisis in journalism.

  • Who will save the Post?: Former editor Gregory L. Moore, who left the paper in 2016 after growing dispirited over continuing cutbacks, wrote a piece begging government, business, media, community and civic leadership to help save the paper. “We were a pretty good newspaper for a real long time,” Moore wrote. “We have provided a rich variety of news, opinion and information every day. I will miss it if it is gone. We all will.
  • Tracking Alden’s moves: Freelance journalist Julie Reynolds has spent the past two years producing stories about Alden and Digital First Media, amplifying the voices of DFM journalists. Last month, she spoke with CJR’s Corey Hutchins about the impact of the company’s cutbacks.
  • The man behind Alden’s cuts: Bloomberg’s Joe Nocera profiled Alden president Heath Freeman, writing that, in his view, “papers are intended not so much to inform the public or hold officialdom to account, but to supply cash for Freeman to use elsewhere. His layoffs aren’t just painful. They are savage.

 

Other notable stories

  • A Politico analysis found that Donald Trump performed best in areas with the fewest newspaper subscribers. Drawing on data from the Alliance for Audited Media, Shawn Musgrave and Matthew Nussbaum write that “the results show a clear correlation between low subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election.”
  • BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith looks back at his time as a young journalist in Belarus in the days before September 11. “I was 24, and as a true child of the 1990s, complacent about the direction of history in a way that made me a particularly bad reporter,” he writes. It’s a piece well worth your time.
  • For CJR, Chava Gourarie reports on Google’s efforts to limit the “right to be forgotten” in England. The tech giant is fighting two cases in which businessmen convicted of white-collar crimes have requested that Google delist several links to stories about their convictions, claiming that the results are “journalistic.”
  • The Washington Post’s Loveday Morris reports on the death of Yaser Murtaja, a Palestinian journalist who died Saturday after being shot while covering protests in Gaza. Five other journalists, all of whom were wearing items identifying them as press, were wounded during the protests, according to the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate. Murtaja’s death raises “further questions over Israel’s insistence that its use of snipers on the crowds at the border is carefully targeted,” Morris writes.
  • The New York Times’s Kevin Roose, Cecilia Kang, and Sheera Frenkel preview Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony before lawmakers this week. The Facebook chief heads to the Hill tomorrow for two days of hearings, and is attempting to transform the company’s image “from a defiant, secretive behemoth into a contrite paragon of openness,” they write.
  • CJR’s Alexandria Neason spoke with Les Zaitz, formerly of The Oregonian, about his reporting in the 1980s on Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and thousands of his devotees living on a ranch in rural Oregon. The cult is featured in the recent Netflix documentary Wild, Wild Country.

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