The tremors rippled out of the newsroom around 3:30 Wednesday afternoon.
In a staff meeting, the @DenverPost editor just told us that we are cutting 30 positions in the newsroom.
There are some sobs in the room.
— Jon Murray (@JonMurray) March 14, 2018
For the newsroom of about 100, that’s a massive cut for a daily newspaper covering a city of its size. About 700,000 people live in Denver. Throw in the other nine counties that make up the greater metro area, and we are talking about nearly 3 million people in the Post’s primary coverage territory.
ALL job categories affected. Editors. Reporters. Copy editors. Designers. Photogs. Digital folks. All super skilled. All lovely to work for and with. #newsmatters.
— Dana ☀️ Coffield (@danacoffield) March 14, 2018
Oh my God. This is the worst. Literally the worst. That’s a third of our staff roughly. Oh my God. https://t.co/xCu1WkZPHc
— Jesse Aaron Paul ☀ (@JesseAPaul) March 14, 2018
By now, Post staffers are used to news about themselves and their paper’s secretive corporate hedge-fund owner Alden Global Capital, known for its cash-harvesting and its control of Post parent company Digital First Media. Two years ago, journalists rallied outside their own building in protest of their hedgefund owner. One week in 2016, both Denver’s alt-weekly Westword and the city’s lifestyle magazine 5280 both were running cover stories about the paper’s bloodletting.
It was only four months ago when the latest round of layoffs— about a dozen— lashed the broadsheet with four of them coming from the newsroom. Already rounds of cuts had sliced deep into the paper, which its top editor, Lee Ann Colacioppo, acknowledged in a memo to staff released Wednesday.
“These job losses are painful, and we know meaningful work will not get done because talented journalists have left the organization,” she said. “I’m sure some commenters will cheer what they believe is the eventual demise of the mainstream media, but there is nothing to celebrate when a city has fewer journalists working in it.”
Some commenters? That’s inevitable. Most? No way.
Heartbreaking news for Denver, and Colorado, and people who care about journalism. The Denver Post's hedge fund owners are cutting 1/3 of its already bare-bones staff. pic.twitter.com/4xfqlsETnu
— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) March 14, 2018
It did not take long for the ire to find a source of focus— owners Digital First Media and Alden Global.
Solidarity with the journalists of @denverpost, who learned yesterday that hedge-fund Alden Global Capital will cut 1/3 of the newsroom staff – part of its ongoing vulturization of the papers it controls. Workers are fighting mad! They're demanding Alden sell! #AldenExposed pic.twitter.com/BVXzpsWPpB
— NewsGuild (@news_guild) March 15, 2018
The anger is well placed.
About two months ago, The Denver Post’s local management decided to put up a digital paywall for the first time since it dropped its pay-to-read strategy five years ago. The paper’s journalists made an impassioned plea for readers to subscribe and pay between about $7 and $12 a month for access. Editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett pointed out how the move came as employees were leaving the white-and-green curved building by the Statehouse for a printing plant in Adams County to cut costs. Reporters at the Post, he wrote, were “So over working for free.”
But even then, some readers were conflicted about knowing where their money would go. “I’ve had multiple people tell me, ‘Well, I don’t want to buy The Denver Post because I don’t want that hedgefund to get any of my money,’” one reporter said. “I understand wanting to punish them,” she says of the paper’s owner, “but you’re hurting me. They’re not going to hurt. I am.”
When I asked Colacioppo about that for a Jan. 19 story in Columbia Journalism Review, she said there wasn’t anything in writing from corporate saying revenue generated by the new paywall will stave off future newsroom cuts, though she said she was hopeful they would. “The best I can say is: If we meet our subscription goals, we would expect it would stabilize our business and would allow us to stop the bleeding,” she said. “That’s the entire intent, that’s what we’re doing it for.” She declined to specify the Post’s subscription goals, but said she believes they are “absolutely achievable.”
Two months after the big paywall push, she announced the latest layoffs, which represent the deepest to the newsroom in recent years.
So the damage is 5 exempt and 25 guild repped people, 25 gone by April 9, the other 5 by July 1. For 1 week people can offer themselves in tribute. Ears open for jobs. No person left behind. #newsmatters
— Dana ☀️ Coffield (@danacoffield) March 14, 2018
“This is dreadfully stressful, I know,” Colacioppo said in her memo to staff. “I also know this: The Denver Post will emerge on the other side still doing important work that impacts the lives of our readers – stories that inform them, move them, surprise them and entertain them. We will continue our aggressive, groundbreaking efforts to find ways to reach and connect with those readers.”
That the newspaper’s owners brought down the ax so fast after putting up the wall left one subscriber feeling “like a sucker.”
I didn't trust the owners when they instituted the paywall. But I sucked it up & paid because the reporters deserve it.
Now I just feel like a sucker. So angry. Denver and Colorado deserve better.
— Mateo the Tweeter 🍄 (@Fly_Agaric) March 14, 2018
When it comes to the question of reader support, there are clashing views.
repeat after me: subscribing to a local newspaper does not help address the local journalism crisis if that paper is owned by a hedge fund
— Adam Schweigert (@aschweig) March 15, 2018
For the record, subscriptions have a direct effect on the newsroom and the number of people working in it. And this sort of thinking doesn't help local journalism anywhere, not just in Colorado, when so much of it is owned by large corporations. https://t.co/d4OOEOhNJ0
— Jenn Fields (@jennfields) March 14, 2018
Since the news broke on social media, it reached near media saturation in Denver, carried across the public radio airwaves and on the nightly broadcast network news.
Talk has since moved to what might be done about it.
The Denver Newspaper Guild and others are calling for the private equity firm to just hurry up and sell the damn paper already— preferably to a local buyer if one comes forward. “This latest newsroom cut leaves The Post with 49 working journalists now compared with 200 in place when Alden took over the newspaper seven years ago,” the Guild wrote. “The gutting of the Post newsroom is an assault on the community.”
The Denver Post could really use a new owner who's proud of Denver & its growing community + supports LOCAL news. One-third of our staff will lose their jobs starting April 9 because we're profitable. If you know anyone who makes sense, please pass this on #newsmatters
— Tamara Chuang (@Gadgetress) March 14, 2018
The P/E firm that owns it, Alden Global Capital, needs to sell to a local consortium. Waiting for the call. https://t.co/gNrrE20uBo
— JB Holston (@jholston) March 14, 2018
The only way The Denver Post can survive is if Alden Global Capital sells the paper. These quarterly cuts won’t stop.
— Alex Scoville (@AlexScoville) March 14, 2018
Someone even wrote a letter to the governor:
Alden Global Capital's ownership of the Denver Post is nothing short of an assault on Colorado citizens. We implore your help. pic.twitter.com/rvmGSiSuxJ
— Thomas Ryan Murphy (@TR_Murf) March 15, 2018
Another local writer had an edgier idea: State government shoud seize The Denver Post under a public use argument in eminent domain law.
That’s unlikely, but something surely needs to happen. What that will be remains to be seen.