Monday, May 17, 2021

Tribune Publishing Staffers Stage ‘Save Local News’ Rallies

Orlando Sentinel Columnist Scott Maxwell Rallies With Staffers

Running out of time and hope, more than 100 Chicago Tribune employees and supporters held a rally at the newspaper’s West Town printing plant Saturday evening in a last-ditch effort to prevent the sale of Tribune Publishing to hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

The Chicago Tribune reports the gathering included Trib journalists past and present carrying signs, giving speeches and commiserating under a gloomy sky and a 20-foot inflatable Fat Cat protest balloon.

The message to Tribune Publishing shareholders, who are set to vote Friday on Alden’s proposed $633 million bid to buy the Chicago-based newspaper chain, could be winnowed down to an oft-repeated chant: “Vote no.”

In Chicago: “We are here because we want to save the Chicago Tribune,” Greg Pratt, a Tribune reporter and president of the Chicago Tribune Guild, told the crowd. “In six days, Tribune Publishing shareholders will vote on whether to accept an offer from a company that will destroy our newspaper.”

The union-organized “Save Local News” rally was one of several conducted at Tribune Publishing newspaper sites Saturday in Florida, Maryland, Virginia and Connecticut ahead of Friday’s shareholder vote.

In Orlando:  “Everyone in this community benefits by having a strong local newspaper,” said Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell, who cited the Sentinel’s difference-making coverage of corporate tax exemptions, voucher school scandals and the Joel Greenberg-Matt Gaetz mess. “We want to ensure that the Orlando Sentinel does what our name says — continue standing guard.”

The paper posts healthy profits annually but that’s probably not enough for a hedge fund, Maxwell said.

In addition to the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Publishing owns The Baltimore Sun; the Hartford (Connecticut) Courant; the Orlando (Florida) Sentinel; the South Florida Sun Sentinel; the New York Daily News; the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland; The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania; the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia; and The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia.

Alden, Tribune Publishing’s largest shareholder with a 31.3% stake, reached an agreement in February to buy the rest of the company at $17.25 per share and take it private. The proposed merger will require approval from two-thirds of Tribune Publishing’s other shareholders.

A New York-based hedge fund with a reputation for aggressive cost cutting at its newspaper properties, Alden owns about 200 publications through an operating company known as MediaNews Group. Its larger newspapers include the Denver Post, San Jose (California) Mercury News and the St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press.

The state treasurers of Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland submitted a joint letter to Tribune Publishing Friday urging the board to demand a Tribune-Alden merger maintain newspaper staffing levels for five years and “pursue in good faith” deals to sell the individual newspapers to local owners.

The proposed merger hinges on securing the votes of California biotech billionaire and Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, who owns 23.7% of Tribune Publishing’s 36.9 million outstanding shares.

Soon-Shiong, who built his initial stake in Tribune Publishing at $15 per share in 2016, owns about 8.7 million shares of the company.

In a May 7 interview with Bloomberg, Soon-Shiong said he had not yet made a decision on how he will vote his shares. Soon-Shiong did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

At the rally Saturday, Pratt implored Soon-Shiong, who bought the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune from Tribune Publishing for $500 million in 2018, to vote no.

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