Hedge fund’s policies led to layoffs of Bay Area News Group staff, reporters say

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Pacific Media Workers Guild/Courtesy

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On March 8, a group of reporters from the Bay Area News Group, or BANG, held a press conference in which the reporters denounced the business practices of BANG’s corporate management, a hedge fund called Alden Global Capital. The hedge fund’s practices, according to the reporters, led to the layoffs of nearly 30 reporters on Jan. 19.

The press conference was inspired by the “ongoing destruction” of BANG, which — according to Carl Hall, executive officer for the Pacific Media Workers Guild, the union that represents BANG reporters — has accelerated even though a team of BANG reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the “Ghost Ship” fire.

“Some of the leading reporters and photographers on that Ghost Ship story decided they’d had enough,” Hall said. “We decided to blow the whistle.”

In a statement released March 6, BANG reporters alleged that Alden is using “slash-and-burn” policies, including ordering major layoffs, in order to increase profit. The statement also alleged that Alden’s ultimate goal is to “make as much profit as it can before shutting down or selling what little of the company remains in a few years.”

BANG offered a buyout package for reporter layoffs that includes 26 weeks’ worth of salary and five months of healthcare benefits in exchange for leaving the newspaper company. Employees with at least 25 years of experience at BANG were eligible for buyouts and were given until the end of January to accept the package.

“When an investment company is running a newspaper, it’s not always pretty,” said BANG Executive Editor Neil Chase.

Another hedge fund, Solus Alternative Asset Management, filed a complaint against Alden on March 5, alleging that Alden used millions of dollars of its media funds to finance independent investments, including investments in a pharmacy chain and “Greek sovereign debt.”

Hall said the complaint “claimed essentially” what the union has been saying for two or three years. According to Hall, the union has seen growing evidence that business analysts and investors, as well as staff members, agree that BANG’s ownership needs to change.

“Our issue is not with our local management, our editors, the folks that we’re dealing with every day,” said Robert Salonga, a reporter for the Mercury News, which is published by BANG. “We and our editors are working together.”

Salonga cited the lack of reaction from Alden when BANG journalists won the Pulitzer Prize last year as an example of what he describes as the disconnect between journalists’ goals of keeping the public informed and the goals of Alden, which, Salonga said, involve maximizing profit.

“Our primary goal here is serving our communities. We need ownership that aligns with that kind of philosophy,” Salonga said.

Contact Rachael Cornejo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RachaelCornejo.