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Reporters Elizabeth Hernandez and Noelle Phillips join other Digital First Media journalists during a protest of Alden Global Capital on Tuesday, May 8, 2018, in New York City. Photo by Adrian D. Garcia

Denver Post Reporters Take the Fight to the ‘Vulture’ Nest

A group of Post reporters took their call for Alden Global Capital to "invest or sell" straight to its NYC headquarters on Tuesday. But are the hedge-fund owners listening?

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The Denver Post‘s ongoing rebellion against its owner Alden Global Capital spilled over from the newspaper’s editorial pages on Tuesday, when reporters took their fight straight to the hedge fund’s headquarters in New York City. Four journalists left behind an already thinly staffed newspaper in Colorado to join colleagues from other Digital First Media outlets—including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the San Jose Mercury News, and East Bay Times—in calling for Alden to make investments in the news organizations in its portfolio or sell to owners who would.

Denver Post business reporter Joe Rubino picked up the bullhorn outside Alden’s Manhattan high-rise to lambast the company’s president, Heath Freeman, and other executives for making deeper cuts than other, less profitable newspaper operators. Rubino serves as secretary for the Denver Newspaper Guild—the union of Colorado newspaper employees that includes Post workers—and worked for the Boulder Daily Camera, YourHub.com, and other DFM properties after graduating from the University of Colorado in 2010.

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“I’m very pessimistic they will ever choose to give us the financial resources to be a better paper and help us grow and succeed. They haven’t shown even an inkling that they’re interested in that,” Rubino told 5280. “What this is about is becoming such a huge pain in the ass that they’ll decide let’s cash out while the property is still valuable. The way they’re going, they’re going to make us so useless by the time they do want to sell we are not going to be worth a damn.”

Rubino was joined in New York by breaking news reporters Elizabeth Hernandez and Kieran Nicholson, as well as Noelle Phillips, who covers law enforcement and public safety for the Post and serves as vice-chair of the Denver Newspaper Guild. Journalists at the 125-year-old newspaper also protested outside of their newsroom in Adams County on Tuesday.

“All of us—all the journalists and employees across all departments of all DFM newspapers—are fed up, disheartened, and angered by Alden’s ownership and DFM’s execution of its cut-throat operating plan,” said Nicholson, who serves as chair for the Denver Newspaper Guild, in his speech. He added that Alden should “sell now while there is still value in the company [they] are hell-bent on destroying.”

In June 2016, Post reporters held a similar demonstration outside their former newsroom in downtown Denver when faced with 26 buyouts. But the current “rebellion,” as it’s come to be known, was sparked in March, when the paper announced plans to cut its nearly 100-person staff by 30. Editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett sent a shot across the bow in early April when he put together a series of op-eds criticizing Alden’s “cynical strategy of constantly reducing the amount and quality of its offerings” and calling for public support. His counterpart at the Daily Camera, Dave Krieger, published a similar public outcry shortly after. Krieger was fired.

In response, Plunkett penned another editorial last week grappling with Krieger’s removal and Alden’s censorship. DFM’s Chief Operating Officer Guy Gilmore refused to publish it, leaving Plunkett with the “only honorable option”—resignation. Senior editors Dana Coffield and Larry Ryckman and former Denver Post owner and chairman Dean Singleton soon followed, leaving the newsroom in chaos.

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The execs from Alden Global Capital made no sign they heard the messages directed at them on Tuesday. A call to their office was not returned and the roughly 65 people in attendance outside the Lipstick Building were not allowed to take up a petition with approximately 11,000 signatures backing the “invest or sell” appeal.

The Post reporters will be back in the newsroom Wednesday, making sense of the staff changes and trying to figure out ways to keep the pressure on Alden.

Phillips said she did not know if her actions were making an impact on the owners. “I know I can’t sit back and be quiet. I have to stand up for my profession,” she told 5280. “This is such a weird position to be in as a reporter. Walking over here I got really nervous like, ‘I don’t do this. I don’t make a spectacle on the streets. I cover the spectacle.’”

Adrian D. Garcia is a freelance journalist based in New York. He previously interned at the Denver Post and reported for the Fort Collins Coloradoan and Denverite.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adriandgarcia.

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