Hedge Fund Moves on Virginian-Pilot Parent Company

by Kerry Dougherty

If you think The Virginian-Pilot is just a shadow of what it once was, just wait.

It may get worse.

A lot worse.

Perhaps you heard, Alden Global Capital – a hedge fund that Vanity Fair once described as “the grim reaper of American newspapers” – is poised to buy The Tribune Publishing company, the parent of The Pilot, The Daily Press and 75 other newspapers.

Terrible news for Southeastern Virginia, which could find itself essentially newspaper-less in the future.

This move has been in the works for more than a year. The New York Times reported the alarming news this way:

Alden, a hedge fund that has already amassed a media empire of roughly 200 newspapers nationwide, made its first big move on Tribune Publishing in 2019 when it took a 32 percent stake, making it the publisher’s largest shareholder…

Now Alden’s endgame is coming into sharper focus. In a Dec. 14 letter to the Tribune board that became public in a federal regulatory filing on Thursday, Alden proposed buying the Tribune shares it did not already own for $14.25 apiece. That would be 11 percent more than the Wednesday closing price for Tribune, a publicly traded company…

Revenue for the local news industry has plummeted over the past 15 years as readers have increasingly favored getting the news on screens rather than in print newspapers. Alden and other hedge funds have nonetheless been able to wring profits from newspaper chains through austere management practices, and the finance industry has driven a wave of consolidation in the news media business.

“Austere management practices” is a polite way of saying that hedge funds like Alden buy struggling newspapers, slash costs to the bone and slurp up advertising revenue, vampire-style.

This does not result in good journalism. Then again, that doesn’t seem to be the goal.

In a recent story, The Washington Post described Alden’s business model this way: “Alden has made a business out of gobbling newspapers, ruthlessly cutting costs and gutting the staff and then, cutting even more when the product is invariably damaged.”

Hedge funds like to liquidate newspapers, like chop shops. Selling them off for parts.

The Tribune company itself has pared down both The Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot. Neither of the newspapers have physical offices any more. The Pilot’s building on Brambleton Avenue in Norfolk was sold to a developer more than a year ago. The Daily Press offices were closed earlier this year.

The reporters who remain on staff after more than a decade of layoffs and buyouts are working from their homes. If they can afford homes, that is. They may be working out of their cars.

Yes, I hear from many of you who are disgusted with the liberal editorials in The Virginian-Pilot. You lament the lack of comprehensive local coverage. Still, the small staff is working hard and without a net. They need reinforcements, money and experienced editors. They do not need even more “austerity” measures.

For those who remember The Pilot when it was one of the great dailies in America, the place where all of Tidewater went for in-depth reporting about everything from city halls to the military to shenanigans in Richmond, this latest development is devastating.

The Virginian-Pilot was the largest newspaper in Virginia for decades with bureaus in many cities and aggressive investigative reporters who collected scalps without regard to politics or special interests. The journalists won awards and put people in prison with their excellent reporting. They also got a few out of jail who didn’t belong there.

Corrupt politicians and businessmen can breathe a sigh of relief once a hedge fund is running the show. After all, a limp newspaper, drained of its resources, is nothing but a paper tiger.

This column has been republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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29 responses to “Hedge Fund Moves on Virginian-Pilot Parent Company

  1. So sad. The Virginian-Pilot was once a great newspaper. I started my journalistic career as a summer intern there. My big scoop was uncovering a Norfolk police investigation into the local animal shelter!

    I agree with Kerry: As much as we object to the increasingly left-wing orientation of our daily newspapers, a future without newspapers of any kind is even worse. I don’t know what kind of journalism supplants the Pilot in southeastern Virginia, but it won’t come close to keeping the politicians honest.

    Perhaps the Pilot will survive in a drastically downsized form in which its expenses have been cut to where they can be supported by online advertising revenue. That likely will mean an editorial staff of maybe 20 (a dozen of whom are reporters). Not nearly enough to cover everything that needs to be covered in a metropolitan region of 1.5 million people.

    • I’m awaiting my renewal notice for the RTD. Can’t wait to see what it costs now (paid over $400 last year, with delivery tip). Of course, I am overdue getting the notice as another institution crashes, the US Postal Service. That’s one of many bills I should have seen by now that has not arrived.

      It was nice while it lasted. I’ll never regret my ten years on the Roanoke paper, and then the many years since when I “wrote” for the paper through news releases, political speech writing, op-eds and wise-ass quotes. 🙂 But we’ve watched this train crash unfold for a decade or more now.

      • I have a suggestion. My next payment to the DP (April) will be 100% tip and 2 or 3 times my usual tip. Severance Package.

      • Speaking of Post Offices… here’s my peeve.

        The Post Offices in this area are, one by one, closing and reopening in rented spaces in shopping centers which is fine, I suppose, if it reduces long term costs.

        But the bastards have failed to put in “drive up” mailboxes. Now, to drop at the Post Office, you have to park, get out of the car, and walk up to the postbox that is just outside the door.

        • Not only that but they are removing existing ones, including at our local P.O. for “security reasons” we’re told.

          Maybe the bottle bombers are active again.

    • Jim,

      The VP doesn’t keep politicians honest. Maybe back in your day, but the pols run the VP on what to print and who to talk to.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese

    Newspapers disproportionately publish Black crime and mugshots. They are a tool of white supremacy as they strive to use facts, figures, and “proper” (white “style”) grammar. Plus they don’t use equity as a basis of what they charge for their subscriptions or what they charge for advertisements/ notices. Not everyone can afford these services, especially economically disadvantaged people, who are often disproportinately BIPOCs. Thus they should be abolished.

  3. I too am an ex Pilot person. It was a great paper. I loved its liberal editorial stances. The paper won a Pulitzer for opposing the Klan in the 1920s and massive resistance in the 1950s. I was a summer intern in 1973 and then a staffer from 1975 to 1981. My contemporaries went on to the NYT, WaPo, LA Times, Philadelphia inquirer, the National Geographic and other places.

  4. The dearth of seasoned editors to mentor young reporters fresh out of j school with heads full of propaganda and little real world experience is a serious problem. A few years back, a newly hired reporter for the RTD, assigned to a local board of supervisors’ meeting, back when they covered thing s like that, told me that he had never read a newspaper until he started working for one.

  5. And this, too, shall pass.

    But wherever shall we run the obituary? I guess the WaPo will be the closest paper left.

    • If you know who would just go the hell away, the WaPo would also see its circulation fade. It will be a pretty shameless cheerleader for what follows, and that sells fewer papers….Will it bring down Hunter Biden with the same energy? No way.

  6. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    They had a good run. Things come and go. Even Lowery’s had it coming.

    • Well, for one thing, I recall it being red brick. There’s an adequate replacement in Kilmarnock.

      • Fortunately, I’m told, Tides Inn is still alive and well. Many years ago after sailing out of my slip in Jackson Creek Deltaville there was always great excitement aboard our vessel when passing Stingray Point and knowing in a few hours we’d be welcomed by the Tides’ dockmaster.

        • Done the same thing many times. Sailing out of Hampton, we’d put in at Jackson’s Creek and arrive the next day. Surely, we do know one another.

          • As in Hampton Yacht Club or Salt Ponds? You’re not Kenny Sailor I presume? Did you do the Oyster Festival at Urbanna too? Neat place to drop a hook.

          • No. Not Kenny, nor Dan Winters, or Jim Miller. That covers the sailmakers. HYC, yes. Never did Urbana. Used to like the Chicahominy. Solomon’s and Cambridge. Annapolis, of course. Hoping to get this damned vaccine to head south by next October.

          • The only FBYC guy I can remember was a guy they called Frank Blank. Pilot for Piedmont I think. J/29 owner.

    • It is has been several years since I have been in that neck of the woods. So, I take it that Lowery’s is closed?

  7. If the VP reported news and opinion fine. They can’t only report a leftist viewpoint (and I’ve been right there to see it) and ignore the other side. They can’t take their orders from politicians on what to print and what not to print. If they aren’t reporting news, and they’re not, get rid of them.
    Corruption has gone un reported by the VP for years.

    Good riddance.

  8. Someone will create an online space for obits. Many funeral homes already use something like this. People are opting out of the high cost of putting an obit in a “real” newspaper.

    • And 10 years on, most are 404. Well, we are ephemeral beings. Perhaps it is best the memories of us should be also. No one will find the clippings of a webpage in an attic.

  9. The answer is for “outlets” like Facebook, Twitter and BaconsRebellion to pay a small fee every time a reader of that “outlet” accesses the link. The fee goes to the original publisher. In return, the reader of BaconsRebellion automatically gets access to that article without a subscription. Some outlets like Facebook would cover the sourcing fee via advertising. Others, perhaps like BaconsRebellion, would have to charge their readers a small fee per month (perhaps $5 / month) to subscribe to the blog. Readers who wanted free access would not be able to click the links referenced in BaconsRebellion.

    $400 per year for the RTD? Are you serious?

    The centralized paywall scheme isn’t working. As might have been said in 1998, “The eyeballs have been consolidated”. Yet the consolidators don’t pay for any material. Commentary is user generated content and linked content is either free or behind a paywall that most won’t purchase since (as consumers of the eyeball consolidators) they want access to many paywall protected sources. Most will click on the link and read as much as they can for free then move on. Advertising revenue for Facebook but nothing for the original author.

    People want news but aren’t willing to pay a large fee for electronic access to any one source of local news. The ubiquitous internet has changed people from seeing themselves as consumers of Tidewater news to consumers of American news with an emphasis on Virginia and Tidewater.

  10. I decided to get the RTD online only. I can’t access on my cellphone and when I try to call a recording says there is a 20 minute wait. They get paid automatically. Sucks.

    • I have access to RTD on-line and the print edition. I get the print edition for several reasons. Primarily, it is because I like being able to sit back in a comfortable chair and hold the newspaper. Also, not all the articles in the print edition show up on-line. Finally, I find that I tend to read more of the print paper than I do the on-line version. The RTD mobile app used to be pretty good, but the new one really sucks.

      Each time the RTD has been acquired, the price has gone up. It really jumped after the new group bought it from the Warren Buffet subsidiary. It is much more expensive than any of the national subscriptions–NYT, WaPo, or WSJ.

  11. I decided to get the RTD online only. I can’t access on my cellphone and when I try to call a recording says there is a 20 minute wait. They get paid automatically. Sucks. I also get VP this way. Never a problem.

  12. Let ’em go under. I’d rather have to piece the news together than get biased crap from the MSM. They don’t hold the left accountable.

    For example, the Post spent a lot of money covering Roy Moore’s U.S. Senate race, while they didn’t dig into Northam’s blackface scandal when he was running for Lt. Governor. Why didn’t the rag that says “Democracy Dies in Darkness” expose Northam? The fewer the number of practicing journalists, the better the world.

    I read where Bezos is going to expand the newsroom. Will the expansion include sufficient resources to operate a functioning ombudsman? If he does that, there might be hope yet.

  13. Just renewed hard copy RTD. Waiting on hold for 30 minutes got me back down to about what I paid last year. They claim the $489 list price IS a discount! Compared to the newsstand price! Shameless. Like Dick I read more of the print edition. Mainly I just can’t abandon the few people I still know there. Next year? We’ll see….

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