Reporters at The Morning Call newspaper are calling on the community to join their efforts to save the paper from hedge fund ownership.
The Morning Call is currently owned by Tribune Publishing and in November 2019, New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital bought 32 percent of Tribune stock.
According to a timeline presented during the “Save Our Papers Summit” webinar hosted April 7 by Tribune Publishing papers, The Morning Call has lost 22 percent of its staff since this purchase.
In February of this year, the Tribune board announced its agreement to the Alden acquisition, pending the approval of two-thirds of non-Alden shareholders.
Kayla Dwyer, secretary of the Morning Call Guild, said while there is no way to predict with certainty what Alden ownership would look like, Alden’s reputation, including its nickname as “the destroyer of newspapers,” has left many reporters fearful of what complete hedge fund ownership might look like for their paper.
“The business model of hedge funds like Alden Global Capital is to strip news organizations of as many assets as they can while keeping it afloat,” she said.
The Morning Call no longer employs editors for sports, business, politics or state news, as noted at the “Save Our Papers Summit” webinar. Other effects of Alden’s part-ownership include the loss of a dedicated reporter for Easton, cutting to one reporter covering all local arts and entertainment, only two reporters covering all crime and courts, and no reporter covering higher education or school districts in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.
Dwyer said that she recognizes this loss of coverage could have negative effects on the community.
“I’m not just concerned about the health of the paper, but I’m really concerned about what the health of the paper means for our community,” she said.
Keith Groller, who has been a full-time reporter at The Morning Call since September 1982, said he’s worried the length of his service will leave him vulnerable to cuts made under hedge fund ownership.
Molly Bilinski, a self-described “baby guild member” who joined The Morning Call staff in January 2021, said she’s also nervous about hedge fund ownership.
“I think that we’ve all seen what Alden is capable of,” Bilinski said. “They have a pretty clear track record of what happens to papers that are owned by them.”
According to NewsMatters, a newsguild project for digital first media workers, Alden utilizes a “slash-and burn” strategy on the papers it purchases, leaving reporters without jobs and citizens without local papers.
After 100 years of operation on Sixth Street in Allentown, Alden closed The Morning Call’s doors in August 2020, citing the pandemic and instructed journalists to work from home indefinitely.
Bilinski said the guild is focused on returning the paper to the community and getting the Lehigh Valley excited about local journalism again.
“I can’t in any way, shape or form understate the importance of a community newspaper,” Bilinski said.
She said it has been refreshing and invigorating to hear from community members who want to help.
According to Dwyer, the involvement of Lehigh Valley citizens in this effort is necessary.
“We can’t just rely on rich people to save local newspapers,” she said. “We need the community behind us.”
Groller said despite the trimming of staff in recent years, The Morning Call’s localizing of issues is a necessary service that local citizens cannot get elsewhere.
“We’re not what we used to be, but we’re still pretty damn good,” Groller said. “I hope somebody will see that.”