Saturday, March 17, 2018

Save the Denver Post from Hedge Fund Thuggery

The metropolitan area of Denver, not to mention the state of Colorado, was rattled this week by the announcement that the hedge fund owners of the Denver Post planned to lay off an additional thirty workers, gutting an already anemic newsroom staff to an unsustainable number of perhaps sixty. It was real news that elicited actual gasps and tears among the journalists in the room. On the surface it may have appeared that this was once again an example of the fading power of print newspapers, as fewer people are reading hard copies of the news. It could have been quickly passed off as one more sad example of a failing industry. Yet, that's not the case for the Denver Post.

In reality, there are far more sinister forces at work - forces which led DP writer John Wenzel to comment, "The Denver Post is not dying - it's being murdered." And he should know. The layoffs - not buyouts of aging staff - are actually a form of corporate patricide as the hedge fund bumpkins at Alden Global Capital and its subsidiary Digital First Media seem to be cutting the paper's staff to a point where it can't help but fail. The actions are twofold:  to cover losses in other parts of Alden's business and simply undermine and destroy the fourth estate of the institution of journalism. What the Washington Post has speculated as "the strip mining of journalism" is the apparent attempt of the owners to destroy the company.

Denver and Colorado must not let this happen.

Alden needs to have its hand forced. I’ve thought of a couple of possible ways to do this — most of them certainly quixotic — but something needs to be done. The governor needs to call on Alden/Digital First to sell the Post. Now. This is his job. He’s the leader of the state. The leading news site in his state is under what could well be a fatal attack.

As community members and educated citizens, we all know that a thriving and free press is the life's blood of a democratic republic. (We need look no further than the increasingly autocratic state of Russia for confirmation). A civilized society based on democratic ideals and free (or actually mixed) market capitalism must have newspapers staffed by real journalists who are on the ground and working the beat to get the news to the public. Granted, we can concede and discuss the challenges of media bias, and we should certainly continue the debate about news and commentary being distinctly different. But that should not lead to the outright dismissal of the need for papers. The Denver Post has done exceptional (and exceptionally important) work lately on key societal issues, ranging from the opioid epidemic to the challenges of housing costs to the investigation of sexual harassment to the budgetary challenges of the state government.

We need a strong and independent Denver Post, and we need the political and financial leaders of Colorado to vocally support its survival. The Washington Post was saved by billionaire Jeff Bezos a few years ago, and we have a few billionaires in the Rocky Mountain State who could do the same for the Denver Post. Phil Anschutz must be encouraged to revive his interest in purchasing the Denver Post. If he's no longer interested, then it should become the mission of John Malone of Liberty Media or Charlie Ergen from the Dish Nework or Pat Stryker or Tim Gill. Anyone who has any ability to reach out to these leaders and philanthropists should do so for the good of Colorado. But it's not just about finding a buyer.

Alden and Digital Media must be strongly encouraged to sell the Denver Post.

The political and business leaders of Colorado must take action to advocate for the needs of the state. We need a strong and secure print newspaper centered in Denver. The paper is profitable and growing, and it must remain. So, I am calling on Governor Hickenlooper and the leaders of Colorado to do everything they can to lobby for the sale of the Denver Post to a local investor or  group of investors who will protect the institution of the free press.

I encourage you to do the same.

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