Alden Closes a Newspaper After Buying Its Owner, Tribune
The Bowie Blade-News, a 41-year-old weekly newspaper in Bowie, Md., Published its last print edition on Thursday, two months after its parent company, Tribune Publishing, was sold to New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital for $ 633 million.
A brief unsigned note to readers at the bottom of Thursday’s front page announced the shutdown.
“Due to the changing habits of our readers and the changing demands of our advertisers, The Bowie Blade-News will immediately cease its print publication,” the note said.
The note added that readers can now find coverage of Bowie and the surrounding area on the website of The Capital Gazette, another Maryland newspaper acquired by Alden as part of the Tribune deal.
The Blade-News began in 1980, following the merger of The Bowie Blade and its rival, The Bowie News. The final homepage included articles about a Bowie police officer accused of stealing two cameras from a local Best Buy, planned improvements to the Bowie Golf Club and President Biden’s choice for US attorney in Maryland. As always, the newspaper’s motto appeared at the top of the page: “Dedicated entirely to the people of Bowie”.
“We will miss it,” said Una Cooper, communications manager for Bowie, a town of 58,000 people halfway between Annapolis and Washington. “Until 2012, we surveyed our residents and asked them where they got their news first, and the majority said, ‘The Blade-News. “
In an opinion column in the Thursday edition, Ms Cooper wrote that Bowie was losing more than local coverage with the loss of The Blade-News.
“I firmly believe,” she wrote, “that the journalists and the local newspapers they write for play a vital role in the towns and villages of this great country. Not only do they keep residents informed, but they help foster a sense of community belonging as residents embrace local causes and share each other’s news.
Tribune and executives of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, which oversees The Blade-News, declined to comment.
The Blade-News was the front door to town, said Mike Rauck, editor of a local website, Bowie Living. Letters to the editorial section were considered must-read, and Bowie residents regularly took pictures of themselves holding copies of the newspaper when they traveled to far-flung places and sent them to The Blade-News, which published.
“Sometimes I think about the list of things the newspaper covers,” Mr. Rauck said. “Not necessarily in a story, but it’s checked – share local sports news, see little Janie’s name in the newspaper, pictures of local things.”
He added, “We didn’t have Nextdoor or Facebook.”
Even before Alden took over, The Blade-News suffered major cuts.
The austerity measures – which included moving its reporters to the offices of The Capital Gazette, its sister publication in Annapolis – were put in place as more readers chose to put their news online. This change meant that the industry could no longer rely on its traditional source of money, print advertising.
Daily business briefing
In the past 15 years, more than a quarter of newspapers, mostly weeklies like The Blade-News, have gone bankrupt, according to a University of North Carolina study. Alden and other hedge funds have bought distressed papers, seeing them as undervalued assets that can pay for themselves after further cuts.
Donovan Conaway, the main reporter for The Blade-News and the author of the article on Bowie’s cop accused of theft, said in an interview that he would continue to report on Bowie whenever there was “a major crime, a great event”. “His work will appear on the Capital Gazette website.
Three years ago, another Blade-News reporter, John McNamara, who worked for The Capital Gazette’s office, was one of five people killed in the shooting. On July 15, Jarrod W. Ramos, a disgruntled reader who had pleaded guilty, was found sane and therefore criminally responsible for the attack.
“They had the lawsuit going,” said Bowie Town Manager Ms Cooper. “Then we got the news from the newspaper. It’s very sad, it happens at the same time.
Alden is known to cut costs and fire reporters from newspapers he owns. When it set out to acquire Tribune – a chain that includes The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Daily News in New York, and The Hartford Courant among its nine major metropolitan dailies – reporters from Tribune newspapers across the country have protested. A few have even tried to persuade potential benefactors to buy Tribune newspapers and run them as public trusts.
Alden said in his defense that it keeps struggling newspapers from failing outright.
An alternate offering for Tribune, led by Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a hospitality executive from Maryland, has come and gone this year. In May, Tribune shareholders approved the sale of Alden.
The acquisition made Alden the country’s second-largest newspaper publisher in terms of circulation. (Gannett, the owner of USA Today, is the largest.) Prior to purchasing Tribune, the hedge fund owned MediaNews Group, the publisher of some 200 newspapers.
Since the agreement was reached, the number of journalists for Tribune newspapers has declined. Last month, 73 staff at the company’s newspapers agreed to make buyouts, according to the NewsGuild, a union of journalists. In addition, an unknown number of non-union employees have carried out buyouts, the guild said.
It was the second round of buybacks in just 18 months, even as Tribune claimed to be profitable and had amassed $ 250 million in cash on its balance sheet.
“The people who have been with us for a long time, the people who are really well established in their rhythms, are gone,” said Jen Sheehan, reporter for The Morning Call, a Tribune newspaper in Allentown, Pa.
Over the past three years, the number of unionized staff in The Morning Call’s newsroom has grown from 55 to 25, according to the guild. During the same period, the number of union journalists for the Chicago Tribune increased from 169 to 87. At the Hartford Courant, that number increased from 53 to 31.
The buyouts have hurt the morale and ability of newspapers to do the kind of journalism they are accustomed to, reporters from eight Tribune newsrooms said.
“People get into local news reporting because they are passionate about providing a good quality news product to the community,” said Annie Shields, reporter at The Orlando Sentinel. “Every time we have a buyout or a layoff, our newsroom is shrunk in one way or another; it hinders our ability to serve the community.
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