The Chicago Tribune is “one of America’s most storied newspapers”, says McKay Coppins in The Atlantic. It “endorsed Abraham Lincoln” and has won dozens of Pulitzer prizes. Yet when it was sold earlier this year, the new owners didn’t bother talking up the importance of journalism. “Instead, they gutted the place.” A quarter of its journalists were laid off. The newsroom was moved from the city centre to the paper’s downtown printing presses. Morale sank.
The new proprietor is Alden Global Capital, a “secretive hedge fund” that has bought more than 200 titles and is now America’s second-largest newspaper owner. It has a simple formula: cut staff (by an average of 36%) and office costs, then ramp up subscription prices. It doesn’t care if the quality declines, or if subscribers cancel, or even if the paper goes under. As long as it can recoup the cost of buying the title, it’s quids in. When Alden co-founder Heath Freeman heard that The Denver Post had won a Pulitzer, he apparently asked: “Does that come with any money?”
Bad as this is for the newspapers involved, it also has significant “social consequences”. When a local paper vanishes, it tends to correspond with increased polarisation and misinformation. “City budgets balloon, along with corruption and dysfunction.” Journalists have gamely tried to resist the Alden juggernaut, but to no avail. “It feels like we’re going up against capitalism now,” says Baltimore Sun reporter Lillian Reed. “Am I going to win against capitalism in America? Probably not.”
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