It’s a drama worthy of the movies: a heartless hedge fund, a hostile takeover, a poison pill and the fate of local news in the balance.
But Alden Capital’s move against Lee Enterprises is more of a horrorshow than anything else.
The hostile takeover started in 2020, when Alden, a hedge fund that recently bought Tribune Publishing’s newspaper properties and slashed 70 percent of the union newsroom jobs, bought a 6 percent stake in Lee Enterprises. It became official last week, when Alden offered $24 per share, about $141 million, for Lee’s 96 or so daily and weekly papers — which, incidentally, includes the Triad’s biggest daily newspapers — the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal.
To say this is bad for local journalism is an understatement.
Alden is a vulture capital firm, with a business model that relies on drastic payroll cuts, liquidation of assets and reduction in quality in its near-religious pursuit of profit.
But the news business — particularly the local news business — is not like the others. We’re not making widgets here; we’re keeping an eye on the cops and elections, asking tough questions of our officials, holding the powerful accountable. Not a single one of us who work in local news is doing this for the money. Not even the TV people.
And another thing: If this deal goes through, Alden may find that the carcasses of our biggest daily newspapers have already been picked clean. Warren Buffet’s BH Media, the papers’ former owner, sold the real estate out from under them, shut down one of the presses and kept the other one. Lee Enterprises has thinned the newsrooms at both papers so severely that they can barely cover the sort of news that we rely on our daily newspapers to report.
As of this week, Lee is fighting back. The board unanimously approved a shareholder bill of rights, known as a “poison pill” in the vulture capital parlance, which puts the brakes on any sale for the time being. In response, Alden nominated three new board members. The whole thing is inching slowly towards a showdown.
And none of the people making these moves — not a single goddamn one — gives a shit about local news in Greensboro and Winston-Salem.
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