'Chicago Tribune' Reporters Raise Alarm Over New Hedge Fund Owner

Jan 25, 2020
Originally published on January 25, 2020 11:43 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Dozens of newspaper newsrooms have been decimated in recent years, but important stories that need to be covered do not disappear. This week, David Jackson and Gary Marx, two veteran investigative reporters for the Chicago Tribune, took to the pages of The New York Times to sound an alarm because Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund, has become the largest shareholder in the Tribune Company and has begun to offer buyouts to reduce staff. The Tribune also owns the New York Daily News and Baltimore Sun among other newspapers.

Gary Marx joins us from Chicago. Gary, thanks for being with us.

GARY MARX: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: Offering buyouts fits a strategy Alden has used elsewhere, doesn't it?

MARX: It does. They are ruthless cost-cutters. Their game plan is well-known. They will buy a news operation, they will slash costs, they will fire reporters, and they will suck out the profits for their other adventures. And what they leave behind is something that we described as a ghost version of those once proud and great newspapers, such as the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News and other places.

SIMON: We're told that the offer went out to people who have at least eight years of experience in the company. So the effect would be, you lose the most experienced people and presumably some that have the bigger paychecks, too.

MARX: Absolutely. And, you know, it's very sad because newsrooms across the countries have experienced budget cuts, and they have lost, in the past, great and experienced reporters through various buyouts. We've had buyouts before here, and the newsroom has just continually shrunk over the last few years.

But this would be absolutely devastating. And anybody who is here now has been through, over the last 10 years, a number of cutbacks and staff cuts. There's no ill will towards anybody, but personally, I'm not going to take the buyout. I feel like this is a time for me and I think other veterans, hopefully, to take a stand.

SIMON: You know, I always admired for years the wonderfully direct, simple line that was the Tribune's slogan - a great city deserves a great newspaper. What does a great newspaper provide that a news site or an investigative project just can't?

MARX: You know, it provides not just a comprehensive coverage of the news, but, you know, we have an architecture critic. We have a jazz music critic. We have a theater critic. We have people covering all of our sports teams. You know, we're not just part of the community. We're helping create this community.

SIMON: In the column that you and David Jackson wrote, you called for, quote, "civic-minded local owners" to step in and save the paper. Chicago does not lack for billionaires. And, you know, they buy sports teams and contribute to political campaigns. Any contact with any of them?

MARX: Yes. David and I and other veteran reporters have been reaching out. And, you know, we're not expecting a Jeff Bezos to come along. He bought The Washington Post. But we feel like that there are great leaders in this city who want to protect and support a great news operation like the Chicago Tribune.

SIMON: Forgive me, Gary, and I understand if this is totally personal information, but do any young staff members come to you and say, Gary, I wish I could go along with you, but I got to take this buyout?

MARX: Absolutely. I mean, I'm at the late stages of my career, so it's different for me. You know, my kids are older. But if you're somebody who's 40 years old who has 15 years in the business and you have young children, you know, you have to think really hard. I'm not judging anybody else. I'm telling you what I've decided to do. Others, you know, have to make their own decisions and what's best for themselves and their families.

SIMON: Gary Marx, investigative reporter at the Chicago Tribune. Gary, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MARX: Thank you, Scott.

SIMON: We wanted to contact Alden Global Capital for a comment, but the company's site is just a single page with no links or contact information offered. The page simply states Alden Global Capital is an investment manager based in New York, N.Y. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.