Why journalists at the nation's largest newspaper chain are nervous

The revelation sent a shudder through newsrooms across the country, from the southwestern border up to the n...

Posted: Jan 15, 2019 9:48 PM
Updated: Jan 15, 2019 9:48 PM

The revelation sent a shudder through newsrooms across the country, from the southwestern border up to the northern Great Plains: MNG Enterprises, the hedge-fund owned company also known as Digital First Media, was submitting a bid to take over Gannett, the publisher of USA Today and about 100 other newspapers.

That concern can be traced to the Rocky Mountain region, where turmoil at the Denver Post last year served as a cautionary tale about MNG's stewardship.

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Media industry

Newspapers

Publishing industry

Journalism and news media

Companies

Gannett Co

Freedom of press

Human rights

International relations and national security

Elections and campaigns

Government and public administration

Politics

Colorado

Continents and regions

Denver

North America

Southwestern United States

The Americas

United States

MNG, largely owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, has earned a reputation for imposing deep cuts at its newspapers -- even in an era defined by painful newsroom layoffs

"They do have a reputation for being pretty much the worst of the worst," Dan Kennedy, an associate journalism professor at Northeastern University, told CNN Business last year, adding that the company has a "relentless focus on the bottom line."

The company burnished that reputation with its ownership of the Denver Post, where MNG cut staff by a third last March, resulting in the loss of 30 jobs.

Employees at the Post fought back. The paper's editorial board ran a piece in April calling on someone to save it from the "vultures" at Alden. In May, Post employees staged a protest outside Alden's headquarters in New York City.

A number of Post employees eventually resigned in protest, with some going on to form their own crowdfunded publication, The Colorado Sun. The Post, meanwhile, has been left to produce a paper with a staff of roughly 60; for comparison, the paper's newsroom had more than 200 employees as recently as 2007.

It's a grim precedent for journalists at Gannett, the country's largest newspaper chain with a portfolio of publications that, like the Post, cover regions of national interest and areas that will be battlegrounds in next year's presidential election. And, of course, those papers are dedicated to covering all manner of local issues that usually go unnoticed by national publications.

If it happened at the Post, the largest news organization in Colorado, why couldn't it happen at Gannett-owned papers like the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Detroit Free Press, the Des Moines Register or the El Paso Times?

It's why Larry Ryckman, who left the Post last year to serve as editor of the fledgling Colorado Sun, warned Gannett journalists of their would-be owners.

"There's no doubt about what would follow [Gannett's sale to MNG]," Ryckman said Monday on Twitter. "This is another reminder of why we need strong, independent, locally owned news organizations."

Gannett journalists probably didn't need the warning to imagine how the pillaging of the Post could be replicated in their own newsrooms -- although MNG is doing its part to win over the skeptics.

In a statement, MNG spokesperson Renée Soto said that the company "has extensive operational experience and a successful track record in the newspaper industry, enabling us to run newspapers profitably and sustainably so that they can continue to serve their local communities."

Still, the news of a possible MNG takeover alarmed many in the Gannett network. And the alarm bells might have rung the loudest at the Detroit Free Press. MNG already owns the paper's intracity rival, the Detroit News, and a Free Press reporter who spoke with CNN Business said that the speculation over Gannett's sale has already prompted chatter of a possible merger between the two publications.

"We're really concerned here in the newsroom," the reporter said. "Nobody thought it could get worse."

A reporter at the Argus Leader, a Gannett-owned paper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said that colleagues were immediately concerned when they heard that MNG could be their new parent company.

"Everyone knew the name and what it means for a paper," the reporter told CNN Business, adding that the prospect of an MNG takeover had inspired talk of updating resumes.

But one reporter at the El Paso Times noted that, under Gannett's ownership, newsrooms have already faced significant cutbacks. "It definitely has people's attention and there is a bit of unease," the reporter said of the possible sale. "But it doesn't feel more intense than the worry over what Gannett has in mind for us."

All three reporters spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

Employees at Gannett papers were already bracing themselves for a round of buyouts this month, and the company has endured its share of financial setbacks. Gannett has lost more than 40% of its value in the last two years, a decline that MNG alluded to in a letter to Gannett's board of directors on Monday.

"Frankly, the team leading Gannett has not demonstrated that it's capable of effectively running this enterprise as a public company," MNG said. The company also used the letter to trumpet two of its media acquisitions, saying that both the Orange County Register and the Boston Herald were "left for dead" before it took over.

"MNG stepped up and invested in them when others wouldn't, saving many of those jobs and providing for new jobs," the letter said. "We improved operations and made them viable and profitable by providing them with new leadership, a seasoned executive team and a new strategy when others clearly had failed."

For now, Gannett journalists are left to wait and hope for a better fate than the one that met many staff members at the Denver Post. And, much like those journalists, some have gone public with their appeals.

Brett Kelman, a reporter at The Tennessean, the Gannett-owned paper in Nashville, posted what amounted to an open letter Monday on Twitter.

"Dear @Gannett: I've worked for you for 11 years," Kelman said. "We do important journalism in many great communities that depend on us. Through thick and thin, I have loved this job. Please don't sell to these hedge-fund vampires."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 24850

Reported Deaths: 1050
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin8393613
Ramsey3019124
Stearns202113
Nobles15395
Anoka139970
Dakota132755
Washington63632
Olmsted62610
Kandiyohi4961
Rice4622
Scott4262
Clay42328
Mower3182
Todd3160
Wright3131
Sherburne2432
Carver2102
Benton1773
Steele1580
Blue Earth1400
Martin1305
St. Louis11814
Freeborn1170
Pine890
Unassigned8910
Nicollet8710
Winona7915
Cottonwood750
Watonwan740
Carlton730
Crow Wing712
Otter Tail680
Goodhue663
Chisago611
Polk612
Lyon560
Itasca5410
Dodge520
Chippewa511
Morrison460
Meeker450
Le Sueur441
Douglas420
Becker400
Jackson390
Murray390
McLeod370
Isanti350
Waseca260
Rock220
Mille Lacs191
Pennington190
Faribault180
Swift180
Wabasha180
Fillmore171
Brown162
Sibley160
Beltrami150
Cass142
Norman130
Marshall120
Pipestone120
Kanabec111
Wilkin113
Wadena100
Pope90
Aitkin80
Koochiching80
Mahnomen61
Yellow Medicine60
Lincoln50
Redwood50
Big Stone50
Renville50
Red Lake40
Grant40
Lac qui Parle30
Clearwater30
Traverse30
Houston20
Hubbard20
Roseau20
Lake10
Kittson10
Stevens10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 19521

Reported Deaths: 535
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4227126
Woodbury275034
Black Hawk174644
Linn95577
Dallas90421
Marshall89416
Buena Vista7830
Johnson6149
Wapello59310
Muscatine55741
Crawford5162
Tama40327
Scott35910
Dubuque34418
Louisa34411
Sioux2750
Pottawattamie2638
Jasper26016
Washington1898
Wright1690
Plymouth1322
Warren1320
Allamakee1214
Story1151
Mahaska9410
Poweshiek908
Henry711
Bremer706
Des Moines631
Boone620
Clinton611
Taylor560
Clarke550
Guthrie503
Cedar471
Benton431
Webster401
Monroe385
Shelby370
Hamilton370
Jones360
Clayton353
Buchanan330
Iowa330
Osceola330
Marion320
Cerro Gordo291
Madison282
Cherokee280
Lee270
Fayette270
Jefferson270
Lyon240
Monona240
Winneshiek240
Harrison230
Davis220
Dickinson210
Grundy200
Mills190
Floyd191
Sac190
Humboldt180
Hardin170
Lucas170
Clay160
Butler161
Hancock160
Delaware150
Emmet150
Keokuk150
Appanoose153
Ida140
Franklin130
Page130
Greene130
Howard120
Cass120
Audubon121
Pocahontas120
Jackson120
Winnebago110
Carroll100
Chickasaw100
Kossuth90
Adair90
Van Buren90
Union80
Adams70
Montgomery70
Palo Alto60
Fremont40
Mitchell40
Ringgold40
Worth30
Calhoun20
Wayne10
Decatur10
Unassigned10
Rochester
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 64°
Mason City
Broken Clouds
61° wxIcon
Hi: 88° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 61°
Albert Lea
Overcast
57° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 57°
Austin
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 69°
Feels Like: 63°
Charles City
Overcast
61° wxIcon
Hi: 86° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 61°
Powerful storms and summer-like conditions are coming our way
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

${item.thumbnail.title}

StormTeam 3: Tuesday's Severe Weather Outlook

Image

Minnesota churches open doors to more congregants

Image

George Floyd protests continue in Austin on Sunday

Image

Sean Weather 5/31 2

Image

Rochester restaurant prepares to open patio to public

Image

Sean Weather 5/31

Image

Rochester People's Rally

Image

Religious leaders call for justice for George Floyd

Image

Rochester downtown under curfew Saturday night

Image

Sean Weather 5/30

Community Events