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Denver Post Revolts Against Its “Vulture” Hedge-Fund Owner & Demands 126-Year-Old Newspaper Be Saved

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The Denver Post has launched a revolt against its owner: New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital. On Sunday, The Denver Post’s editorial board published a lead editorial headlined “As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved.” Alden Global Capital is the parent company of Digital First Media, one of the country’s largest newspaper chains. Since 2010, Digital First Media has slashed budgets and staff at newspapers across the country, including the Oakland Tribune, The San Jose Mercury News and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Alden Global Capital is backed by founder and chief of investments Randall Smith and president Heath Freeman. Both are known on Wall Street as vulture capitalists who make their money investing in distressed businesses and selling them off. For more, we speak with Ricardo Baca, the former cannabis editor at The Denver Post, who wrote one of the op-eds, titled “When a hedge fund tries to kill the newspapers it owns, journalists must fight back.” Baca worked at the Post for 16 years and is now the CEO and founder of Grasslands.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, The Denver Post has launched a revolt against its owner: New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital. On Sunday, the Post editorial board published a lead editorial headlined “As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved.” In the piece, editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett writes, quote, “If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell The Post to owners who will,” unquote. Alden Global Capital is the parent company of Digital First Media, one of the country’s largest newspaper chains. Since 2010, Digital First Media has slashed budgets and staffs at newspapers across the country, including the Oakland Tribune, The San Jose Mercury and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

AMY GOODMAN: Alden Global Capital is backed by founder and chief of investments Randall Smith and president Heath Freeman. Both are well known on Wall Street as vulture capitalists who make their money investing in distressed businesses and selling them off.

For more, we go to Denver, to Denver Open Media, where we’re joined by Ricardo Baca, the former cannabis editor at The Denver Post, who wrote one of the op-eds, headlined “When a hedge fund tries to kill the newspapers it owns, journalists must fight back.” Ricardo Baca worked at The Denver Post for 16 years and is now the CEO and founder of Grasslands.

Welcome to Democracy Now! I mean, this is quite amazing. The Denver Post, in its own pages, published this open revolt against its new owners, against this New York-based hedge fund. Ricardo Baca, what’s happening there in the newsroom? And what is being demanded?

RICARDO BACA: You know, Alden Global Capital has actually owned the Post and all other MediaNews Group, DFM papers for eight years now. They bought into this group in the year 2010. And even though we’ve seen cut after cut, buyout after layoff, over the years, in my tenure there—I left a year and a half ago—these are still hitting. We found out last month that the Alden Global Capital sent the word down the pike that The Denver Post had to lay off 30 full-time staffers from the newsroom alone. And that was the largest cut, by percentage, in the history of the newspaper, which is 100-plus years. And it was just devastating. And I think, even though we’ve seen so many cuts over the years and so much devastation, we’ve never seen anything to this level. And I think this editorial page from last Sunday is the result of that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ricardo, I remember, when I was president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, back in 2002 and '04, I spent a lot of time in Denver, when there were still two papers. There were over 200 reporters at the Rocky Mountain News and, I think, about 300 in the newsroom at The Denver Post. What is the situation like now? Obviously, the Rocky was closed down. What's the situation in terms of the actual numbers of reporters doing reporting in Denver right now on papers?

RICARDO BACA: Of course, Juan. And I’m a former Rocky Mountain News staffer, back from the '90s, and I remember those heady days. Certainly, you know, the two papers were in a joint operating agreement until 2009, when the Rocky Mountain News went out of business. And when I started at The Denver Post 16 years ago, legitimately, there almost 300 journalists in the newsroom. And, of course, that's copy editors and artists, reporters and editors. But now we’re talking between 60 and 70 journalists, so the staff has been cut by four-fifths in the last 15-plus years. And—

AMY GOODMAN: And they would cut 30 from that?

RICARDO BACA: No, that includes the 30. So there were about 90 to 100, and now there are about 60 to 70.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I wanted to go to the lead editorial in The Denver Post's package, blasting the paper's hedge-fund owner, Alden Global Capital. The editorial board displayed a striking interactive photo showing the toll staff cuts have taken on the newsroom. If you slide the bar to the right, you see a photo taken in May 2013, in which 142 staffers had gathered to celebrate winning a staff Pulitzer Prize. When you slide the bar to the left, however, you see the same picture, dated April 2018, showing the staffers who are now gone—more than half—rendered in black. Ricardo Baca, what are you calling for? What is the staff? I mean, you wrote about how you thought it was odd that you, as reporters, would go outside the paper and actually protest and hold up banners, the kind of thing you were covering years ago with other people in other groups.

RICARDO BACA: It’s so true. You know, I remember that day in 2013, after the Pulitzer, when we went downstairs to the lobby to shoot that picture. And that picture has been hanging in the newsroom ever since, as a very stark and real reminder of what’s been happening since then.

And then, yeah, two years ago, 2016, us reporters, many editors and other journalistic staff did take to the streets. We protested on the steps of the newsroom, which was historic in and of itself. You know, journalists, this is not what we are taught to do in J-school. This is not what we’re supposed to do. But we felt like we didn’t even have a choice. And so, I think the 2018, now, this most recent cut, and this perspective section dedicated to the subject matter, speaks to the desperate times, desperate measures the staff and us former staffers are willing to take.

It’s just—this is heartbreaking for Denver. This is awful news for Colorado. The only good news—this is good news only to crooked CEOs and bad news politicians who don’t want that oversight happening, frankly, at the state Legislature or in boardrooms across the state.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ricardo, if we can, just speaking about crooked CEOs, one of the interesting things about this particular tragedy is that the paper, according to the hedge fund that owns you, was making money, but that, basically, we’re talking about the second-largest newspaper chain in America right now, after Gannett, and apparently they’re using these newspapers as cash cows to invest in other—in other businesses. Could you talk about that?

RICARDO BACA: That’s exactly what’s happening. You know, there have been multiple published reports saying The Denver Post alone is making a very healthy profit. We also know this because when I was still at the newspaper in 2016, we got a note from our president at the time, the president of Digital First Media, saying we’re profitable, we’re doing better than our competitors. And we knew that wasn’t going to stop the hemorrhaging, because that’s only continued since then. And we knew it was bad news for us from the start. So I think this is just where we are. It’s a dire place to be.

And I think, as journalists, because we’re not taught to organize, because we’re taught to kind of stay in the background and keep a nonpublic presence, this was the only thing we knew how to do. We didn’t know how to organize, but we know how to write and put together a section. And I couldn’t be prouder of Denver Post’s editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett for doing what he did this last Sunday.

AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Baca, we want to ask you to stay for Part 2—we’ll post it as a web exclusive at democracynow.org—to talk about Alden’s owners and to talk about how important local media is in journalism across the country. Ricardo Baca is now CEO and founder of Grasslands. He was the cannabis editor for The Denver Post, when he resigned in 2016 after 16 years. We’ll link to your piece, “When a hedge fund tries to kill the newspapers it owns, journalists must fight back.”

That does it for our show. Democracy Now! is accepting applications for our paid year-long social media fellowship. Check it out at democracynow.org.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Happy birthday, David Prude!

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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