In a formal petition made public today, the Chicago Tribune Guild urged the board of Tribune Publishing to push back against Alden Global Capital, the New York-based hedge fund that just acquired a 32 percent stake in the company. It cited Alden’s “troubling record of diminishing newspapers’ abilities to cover their communities” and its reputation for destroying newspapers by cutting newsroom staffs.
“To follow Alden’s path would not only undermine employee morale and foment labor conflict but would violate your fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and your duty to maximize the company’s value, to both its customers and to its shareholders, over the long term,” the petition stated.
Signed by more than 400 editorial employees from Tribune newspapers across the country, the petition calls on the board to “commit to increased staffing and investments in news and business opportunities” and to “consider in good faith any offers from outside entities that would return Tribune Publishing papers to civic-minded and/or local ownership.”
It followed a similar plea last week by Mary Schmich, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Tribune, who urged a benevolent billionaire or two to come forward and rescue the paper. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make your mark on Chicago history, to make yourself rich in honor, to be — no exaggeration — a hero,” she wrote. “But hurry. History won’t wait.”
Accompanying the petition is a proposed shareholder resolution asking the board to prepare an annual “journalism report” detailing the company’s commitment to news.
“While our company currently measures its revenue, expenses, and profitability attached to creating news, it does not reveal to investors the impact its choices about news coverage might be having. We believe tracking and reporting on our core service news is critical for investors to assess our company,” the resolution states. “For investors concerned about the fate of journalism, such public monitoring represents a means to understanding how our company creates value.”
No response yet from Tribune Publishing to the petition or the call for a resolution.
In addition to the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing includes the New York Daily News, The Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Hartford Courant, the Virginian Pilot, the Daily Press and Virginia Gazette, the South-Florida Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel.
Here is the full text of the petition:
To the Tribune Publishing Board of Directors:
We, the undersigned employees of Tribune Publishing, urge you to take immediate steps to reaffirm your commitment to journalism — the engine that powers this company — and to fair economic investment in newsroom staffing and resources.
We ask this in light of the board’s expansion to include representatives of a hedge fund with a troubling record of diminishing newspapers’ abilities to cover their communities. Alden Global Capital has been described as a “destroyer of newspapers,” with a well-documented history of extracting short-term profits from already-lean operations by cutting newsroom jobs and denying fair wages and benefits.
To follow Alden’s path would not only undermine employee morale and foment labor conflict but would violate your fiduciary responsibility to shareholders and your duty to maximize the company’s value, to both its customers and to its shareholders, over the long term.
That’s why we are asking you to take the following specific steps to help preserve our institutions:
- Commit to increased staffing and investments in news and business opportunities;
- Consider in good faith any offers from outside entities that would return Tribune Publishing papers to civic-minded and/or local ownership;
- Continue contract negotiations with your unionized employees in an efficient and respectful manner, and voluntarily recognize any new unions that file for recognition;
- Support a shareholder resolution filed this month on behalf of members of Tribune Publishing’s bargaining units that requests an annual sustainability report on your core product: journalism.
Such a report is a routine and established way for companies to report on the economic, environmental and societal impacts of its business decisions. This is crucial information for investors, particularly as the number of seats on the board expands to include two Alden representatives.
We urge you to present this shareholder resolution for a vote and to consider what you would like your first sustainability report to say about Tribune Publishing.
This first report could note the board’s success in growing digital subscription and advertising revenue because of their strategic investments in journalism, user experience and advertising capabilities.
Or, it could document the destruction of our storied and vital institutions and the end of our ability to serve our communities, both at the hands of disinterested hedge-fund operators.
We urge you to take these steps and to consider your legacy here with Tribune Publishing.