It’s [another] end of an era in Chicago media. But this one particularly stings
In a deal anticipated for months, New York City-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital announced Tuesday it has decided to acquire the 68 percent of Tribune Publishing they already didn’t own in a $630 million deal, giving them full control of the Chicago-based media company. In addition to the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing also owns newspapers in nine other cities, including the New York Daily News, the Orlando Sentinel, and the Hartford Courant, among others.
Tribune’s Baltimore Sun is being sold to a non-profit company called Sunlight For All Institute, based in the city.
Alden has been known for bleeding newspapers dry by cost-cutting and reducing the number of journalists at their papers. The group owns more than 100 newspapers nationwide including the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Denver Post, where a newsroom revolt took place shortly after Alden bought the paper with the editorial board calling them “vulture capitalists”.
The news has depressed many in Chicago’s journalism community, fearing local news would suffer even more with the deal. A sampling of some responses, some from the Chicago Tribune journalists themselves.
Alden to strip more newspapers for parts. https://t.co/1LmSS4K9vF
— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) February 17, 2021
— Greg Kot (@gregkot) February 17, 2021
Whatever your politics, wherever you work, please know: A gutted @chicagotribune will be devastating to our city.
— Gregory Pratt (@royalpratt) February 17, 2021
Tribune Publishing CEO Terry Jimenez assured employees in an e-mail this wouldn’t be the case – but he used the same kind of corporate jargon the general public doesn’t understand. “Quality journalism has been Tribune’s driving principal throughout its history and will continue to drive our business well into the future. The actions we have taken to drive digital growth and invest in high-quality content allow our newsrooms, our sales teams and all of our employees across the organization to deliver essential journalism and marketing solutions to the communities we serve.”
Translation: We’ll cut our way to profitability while trying to maintain the same quality journalistic “standards”, even though it is impossible to do without actually investing in it – a problem for years dating back to the day Sam Zell bought the paper in 2007 and took it right to bankruptcy a year later. This blog has documented the Chicago Tribune’s ineptness of covering stories for years, most recently a slip-shod attempt on how Chicago’s Black population has criticized media coverage of their communities – the Chicago Tribune included. And the situation has worsened as those high-quality writers Tribune keep touting have exited the paper in the last decade.
Even though there have been flashes of brilliance in recent years with stories on Crestwood’s water woes and sexual harassment in the Chicago Public School system, you won’t see stories of this caliber anymore, regardless of the babble some CEO says at the paper.
The Tribune finally addresses the Black community's anger at the media, but this story completely misses one huge reason for the distrust: Fox News. https://t.co/pGPFAcD4cG
— T Dog Media (@tdogmedia) August 14, 2020
And we could see more of this…
The future thanks to Alden? A story published about Chicago's exiting African-American population in the New York Times Sunday…showed up in the Chicago Tribune today – the exact SAME story. https://t.co/iXWJNCGUjB
— T Dog Media (@tdogmedia) February 17, 2020
And two journalists went to the New York Times to voice their concerns – though the New York Times is part of the problem to begin with as out-of-towners who tweet this don’t seem to read the Tribune at all.
And as a longtime South Side resident, the Tribune and the rest of the media have done nothing for us. Want our support? Stop ignoring issues important in our community and at least pretend we partly exist.
— T Dog Media (@tdogmedia) January 20, 2020
The deal marks the end of an era in Chicago media, with the Chicago Tribune being the prominent newspaper in the Midwest, founded in 1847. In 1924, the paper invested in an new emerging medium called radio, as they launched WGN-AM with the call letters standing for “World’s Greatest Newspaper”. In 1948, the Tribune did the same with television, launching WGN-TV, carrying home grown programs and sports, such as the Chicago Cubs. By the 2000s, Tribune Co. owned numerous newspapers and became a major television group and a power player in the syndication business, even surviving a 1975 cross-ownership rule the FCC implemented, barring newspaper companies from owning TV and radio stations (Tribune and several others chains received waivers.)
During the Zell era, the company went through layoffs – not to mention questionable ethical practices and an overall dysfunctional atmosphere. In 2014, the company split into two separate companies: Tribune Media and Tribune Publishing, with the former keeping the TV stations and WGN-AM (both would later be sold to Irving, Tex.-based Nexstar) and latter the newspapers.
And to make matters worse, Michael Ferro – who had a hand wrecking the Sun-Times, took over in 2016 and later that year, Tribune Publishing would re-name themselves as “tronc” in a widely-mocked move. In 2018, Ferro resigned shortly before allegations of sexual harassment was revealed. Ferro would later sell his 25 percent stake to Alden, later upping their stake to 32 percent.
With the sale, Chicago and Illinois lose another media company to call the state home. Earlier, Quincy, Ill.-based Quincy Media sold its TV and radio stations to Atlanta-based Gray Television and also plans to sell the Quincy Herald-Wiig – and don’t be surprised if it this paper too, winds up in Alden’s hands.
With the Supreme Court set to rule in favor of the FCC’s reworked media rules to end regulation on cross-ownership, it comes too late for Tribune and other former newspaper-TV-radio combos, who broke up years ago. Many of us suspected when Tribune filed for bankruptcy that the company would be broken up and sold to out-of-town interests. Thirteen years later, this has become a reality. But for those hand-wringing about quality journalism at the Chicago Tribune suffering at the hands of Alden, well sadly, that ship sailed a long time ago.