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Tribune Publishing shareholders approve takeover by ‘vampire’ hedge fund

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Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that’s been likened to a “vampire” and a “corporate strip miner,” has succeeded in its bid to buy all of Tribune Publishing, a chain of newspapers from Hartford to Orlando to Chicago.

Reporters at the papers who banded together and sought alternatives to Alden said they will continue to fight against the hedge fund.

“Today, Tribune Publishing shareholders voted to put profit and greed over local news in our country,” guilds representing the reporters said in a statement Friday morning.

Alden already owned about a third of Tribune, making it the company’s largest shareholder. In February the Tribune board accepted a bid for Alden to acquire the rest of the company in a deal valued at $630 million.

Reporters at papers such as The Baltimore Sun and The Chicago Tribune stepped up their efforts to recruit philanthropists who could take over the publications instead. Numerous local benefactors expressed interest, but attempts to mount a fully-financed rival bid did not come to fruition.

So Tribune shareholders voted to accept Alden’s bid to take the company private, as expected. The purchase is expected to take effect by the end of June.

Alden president Heath Freeman, who has rarely spoken publicly about his publishing ambitions or his cost-cutting strategies, said in a statement Friday that “local newspaper brands and operations are the engines that power trusted local news in communities across the United States.”

“The purchase of Tribune reaffirms our commitment to the newspaper industry,” Freeman said, “and our focus on getting publications to a place where they can operate sustainably over the long term.”

His reference to sustainable operations will surely be read as an indicator of further layoffs and cuts.

Reporters who have felt Alden’s blade before warned that readers in local communities would be the ultimate losers in the transaction.

At Tribune’s New York City paper, the Daily News, reporter Larry McShane wrote a column earlier this month calling Alden a “notorious hedge fund known for decimating newspapers like the Denver Post before picking the bones for profit.”

“To folks like me, veterans of local journalism, and for people like you, who appreciate what local journalism offers, this constitutes an emergency,” he wrote.

The reporters and their union representatives hoped for a savior, perhaps Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owned 23.7% of Tribune’s outstanding shares. Journalists urged him to reject Alden’s bid. But he effectively OKed the deal on Friday by abstaining from voting.

A spokesman said “Tribune Publishing has been a passive investment” for Soon-Shiong “as he has remained focused on the leadership roles he holds across his companies.” In other words: He’s focused on the Times and his other California papers.

The guilds — representing journalists at papers such as the Daily News, Orlando Sentinel, and The Virginian-Pilot — expressed confidence that the recent organizing efforts, like recruiting rival buyers, were not in vain.

“Those allies will support us as we fight against Alden to protect local news and the cuts that they will inevitably try to make,” the guilds said. “We stand ready, willing and able to fight.”

Maryland real estate mogul Stewart Bainum Jr., who sought to stop Alden and turn The Baltimore Sun into a nonprofit, signaled that he might have his own vision for a rival to The Sun.

Bainum said “I am busy evaluating various options, all in the pursuit of creating locally-supported, not-for-profit newsrooms that place stakeholders above shareholders and journalistic integrity above all.” His statement said he expects to make an announcement “in the days ahead.”

Article Topic Follows: Business

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