The Chicago Tribune, once the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Newspaper” and long a preeminent source of news for the region, has fallen into the clutches of a hedge fund known for cutting newsrooms and destroying local journalism.
On Friday shareholders of Chicago-based Tribune Publishing voted to approve the $633 million purchase of the company by New York-based Alden Global Capital. The deal is expected to close June 30.
Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, owner of the Los Angeles Times and the second biggest shareholder in Tribune Publishing, did not cast a vote. While some reports suggested that his abstention could affect the outcome, Alden Global Capital was quick to declare victory.
“Local newspaper brands and operations are the engines that power trusted local news in communities across the United States," Alden president Heath Freeman said in a statement. “The purchase of Tribune reaffirms our commitment to the newspaper industry and our focus on getting publications to a place where they can operate sustainably over the long term."
Editorial employees at the Tribune called it “a sad, sobering day for journalism and the city of Chicago.”
In a message to members of the Chicago Tribune Guild, union leaders said: “We will continue to fight for a better newsroom and each other. We have powerful labor protections in the form of status quo that prevent the company from taking unilateral actions. We will push back on any attempts to cut jobs or diminish your work.
“Now more than ever, we need to stand united and stay in touch. Please keep us posted if you hear anything about changes within the newsroom. We are all in this business to tell stories and make a difference. Let's keep that going.”
Stewart W. Bainum Jr., the Maryland hotel executive who tried to assemble a group to top Alden’s bid, thanked journalists, readers and “civic-minded investors” who supported his last-ditch attempt.
“While our effort to acquire the Tribune and its local newspapers has fallen short, the journey reaffirmed my belief that a better model for local news is both possible and necessary,” he said in a statement.
The impact of the sale will be felt throughout the suburbs, too, where Tribune Publishing owns the Naperville Sun, Elgin Courier-News, Lake County News-Sun, Aurora Beacon-News, Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana, Daily Southtown, the weekly publications of Pioneer Press, and the monthly Chicago magazine.
Since Alden acquired a 32 percent share of Tribune Publishing in November 2019, staffing in Tribune city and suburban newsrooms has fallen 32 percent, according to a NewsGuild report published by Poynter.org.
While a succession of previous owners already hollowed out the suburban dailies and weeklies, Friday's move put their very survival in jeopardy.
Outside the Chicago area the deal includes the New York Daily News, Baltimore Sun, Hartford Courant, South Florida’s Sun Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel, Virginia’s Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot, and The Morning Call of Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.