Journalists from Digital First Media newspapers picketed Tuesday outside of the Manhattan building where their hedge fund owners, Alden Global, work on the 31st floor.
The journalists were there to protest continued staff and resource cuts made by Alden Global following a tumultuous week at one of the newspapers owned by Digital First.
Alden’s ongoing strategy of cutting costs by reducing staff and resources at the newspapers they own has made the hedge fund firm led by Heath Freeman a flashpoint for journalists and others concerned about shrinking newsrooms across the country.
At the protest Tuesday, reporters from Alden newspapers across the United States gathered alongside the journalists’ union, the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America, holding signs that read: “Heath Freeman, Destroyer of Newspapers” and “Invest or Sell Now.”
“They don’t understand what they own,” reporter Thomas Peele said to the crowd gathered at 885 Third Avenue, Alden’s headquarters. “Newspapers are a public trust, and they don’t understand that.”
In an April interview, Penelope Muse Abernathy, a Philip H. Knight chair and journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, told Institutional Investor that Alden has been taking costs savings from its newspapers and plowing them into other investments, rather than re-investing in the media company.
[II Deep Dive: When Hedge Funds Try Journalism]
Digital First journalists have responded to the cutbacks by lashing out against the hedge fund firm through their editorial pages.
In perhaps the most notable example, the Denver Post’s editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett resigned on May 3 after being told he could not publish an op-ed that criticized Alden, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.
Since then, three other high-level Denver Post employees have stepped down. On May 4, former owner Dean Singleton resigned from his post as chairman, as did senior editors Dana Coffield and Larry Ryckman.
Peele, who writes for Mercury News and the East Bay Times as part of the Bay Area News Group, said the staff at his newspaper has been cut three times since his 2016 Pulitzer for a piece on weapons stolen from local police officers.
“Every day is a struggle,” he said.
After several journalists spoke to the small crowd gathered outside the office building, the protesters attempted to deliver a letter signed by 11,000 journalists and their local readers, who want Alden to either invest more resources into Digital First Media, or to sell the papers to someone who will.
They were met with security guards and police officers in the lobby of the plush building, and were promptly turned away. After that, Peele and the other protesters promised that they would find a way to deliver the letter to Alden.
“We made some noise, they know we’re here,” Peele said. “We’re certainly not going to stop now.”
Alden Global is not taking calls from journalists at this point. Digital First did not respond to an email seeking comment.