'Denver Post' Editorial Board Publicly Calls Out Paper's Owner As More Layoffs Take Place
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The Denver Post opinion page ran this headline Sunday, "News Matters - Colorado Should Demand The Newspaper It Deserves." It was a reference to The Denver Post itself, and a big public shot at the paper's owner, a hedge fund called Alden Global Capital. The Post is the most widely circulated newspaper in Colorado. It's been around for 125 years and has won nine Pulitzers.
Alden Global took control of it in 2010, and since then has been laying people off. At least two dozen people are leaving the newsroom today, bringing its staff to less than 100. At its height, it had nearly 300 people.
Chuck Plunkett is the paper's editorial page editor. When I spoke to him earlier today, he told me the atmosphere in the newsroom has been bleak, but the editorials are helping change that.
CHUCK PLUNKETT: I know that it's been depressing and toxic - lots of crying. What I have gathered since we ran the editorials in this special section over the weekend is that it's been a jolt of adrenaline for folks. People feel encouraged that their newspaper that they've been working for so hard is standing up for them, and that's at least one small bit of solace on this whole thing.
Watching all of those talented folks walk out the door, at least you were able to say something about the value that you believe that they have for the community.
CORNISH: How has Alden Global explained the need for these layoffs?
PLUNKETT: One of the arguments that they make is they're trying to tool us to handle the demands of a digital marketplace. When you lose the print advertising and the revenue that comes with that, how are you going to survive in the future?
CORNISH: And you don't believe them, as you've written.
PLUNKETT: No, I don't. I would believe it to a certain point. I do understand that there are market realities, but I look at my hometown paper in Arkansas that's locally owned, and it's a smaller population, smaller geography, and they have a much larger, much better paper and stronger newsroom. We are not its equal.
CORNISH: You write that Alden, owner of Digital First Media, which is one of the largest newspaper chains in the country, needs to rethink its business strategy for these papers. And you also say that this could be a signal, you write, to our community and civic leaders that they ought to demand better. But what should and could your community do about this?
PLUNKETT: One of the things I wanted to do is just let the community know so that if they want to voice their discontent, if they want to demand better, they're fully informed - that they know that there's a lawsuit that's been filed by Digital First Media's - our parent company that Alden controls - saying that hundreds of millions of dollars of newspaper profits that Alden controls are being pumped into other side investments that are shaky - that have nothing to do with the business of gathering news.
So that there can be a demand that civic leaders then hear and think about and say, you know, we want to build a great city. We want to imagine a great city. We want to, like, matter on the American stage. And to do that, well, we need the important role that journalists provide.
CORNISH: These editorials make for a very public stand against your owners. Do you expect to have a job at the end of this process?
PLUNKETT: It's unclear. Certainly, I'm at peace if I lose my job over doing what I think is right, but on the other side of that, I really hope that I don't. I so wanted to be the editorial page editor. It was something that I worked very hard to do. But if I don't stand up and say something about it just for fear that I might anger the owner and lose my job, the reality is that in a few years, we're going to be writing our obituary.
CORNISH: That's Chuck Plunkett of The Denver Post. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
PLUNKETT: Thank you, Audie.
CORNISH: And we've tried to reach Alden Global Capital for its response but have not heard anything back.
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