Political and union pressure halts hedge fund takeover of Gannett newspapers
Denver Post workers demonstrate on World Press Freedom Day for preserving independent and responsible local papers -- such as their own -- against predatory hedge fund takeovers and other threats. The Post was one of the Gannett papers threatened by such a takeover by Alden Gobal Capital, but The News Guild helped beat in back. | Denver News Guild

WASHINGTON—Political and union pressure appears to have halted, for now, the planned hostile takeover of the large nationwide – and often unionized – Gannett newspaper chain by the Alden Global Capital hedge fund, a monster known for buying, stripping, smashing and then selling local papers around the country, strictly to line the pockets of its corporate chieftains.

Pressure came from the News Guild, which represents workers at many Gannett papers, and also at some papers Alden already owns. And it came from 21 Senate Democrats concerned about the fate of local journalism. Alden had attempted to hide its intentions by rebranding itself as Media News Group before the Gannett takeover attempt.

But the takeover failed. The pressure first forced Alden to cut the number of its Gannett board seat challengers from six to three – and then Gannett shareholders voted those three down at the May 16 stockholders’ meeting.

“This is not just a victory for Gannett,” said Bernie Lunzer, News Guild president. “It is a victory for workers at Gannett papers and for the readers they serve.”

Lunzer, who days earlier won a new term in office by popular vote, spoke at the Gannett shareholders meeting against Alden’s smash-and-grab. Though the Guild, a CWA sector, often has differences with Gannett’s board, he said the union opposed the Alden nominees to board seats “because of the need for “sustainable journalism, which Alden undermines at every turn.”

The Teamsters and the journalists’ union of the United Kingdom, where Gannett is the second-largest newspaper chain, supported Lunzer’s stand. Gannett is the largest U.S. newspaper chain, and it includes its flagship national paper, USA Today.

Before the meeting, the Guild and the Teamsters laid out the stakes in a letter to Gannett shareholders. The Guild represents workers at some Gannett papers and workers at two of them – The Detroit Free Press and The Denver Post – rallied on World Newspaper Day, May 3, against Alden’s takeover bid, as part of the union’s #SaveLocalNews campaign.

“We believe that hedge funds in general and Alden, in particular, have had a destructive impact on the news industry. They have slashed staff and sold real estate to extract cash from the news organizations without regard to the role news organizations play in communities,” the unions wrote.

The senators, led by Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., joined the pressure. “This is not the first time Alden’s predatory tactics have threatened the free press and it isn’t likely to be the last,” they said after the win. They promised to keep an eye on Alden. The Labor Department, they noted, is doing so, too: It’s probing self-dealing with $250 million in employee pension fund money.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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