‘The destroyer of newspapers’ is coming after IndyStar’s parent company. Here’s why you should care.

The future of local journalism in Indianapolis and beyond could be in danger if a vulture hedge fund gets its hands on Gannett, IndyStar’s parent company.

Digital First Media, otherwise known as MediaNews Group (MNG) owned by the Alden Global Capital hedge fund, has gained a reputation in recent years for buying newspapers and stripping them of their already scarce resources.

Earlier this year, MNG attempted a hostile takeover of Gannett, which failed. Since then, they’ve nominated six members to Gannett’s eight-member board of directors in another attempt to takeover the company.

Although DFM’s recent reduction from six nominees to three was good news for Gannett in the company’s efforts to resist a hostile takeover by DFM, it’s unlikely the three remaining nominees would help the cause of the Indianapolis NewsGuild, IndyStar, or local journalism in more than 100 cities across the country.

The three remaining nominees have strong ties to Alden and MNG. Heath Freeman is Alden’s president. Steven B. Rossi is MNG’s former CEO. The third nominee, Dana Goldsmith Needleman, serves on the board of directors for Fred’s discount stores — a company that’s seen its share price fall 80 percent since Alden’s handpicked directors joined Fred’s board in 2017.

As the Communications Workers of America wrote in a letter to Gannett shareholders, Freeman, Rossi and Needleman “are hopelessly conflicted by close professional ties to MNG … If elected to the board, these nominees could not credibly negotiate a transaction with Alden, given that they would stand to benefit personally from a deal that unfairly favors MNG/Alden.”

What happens to newspapers acquired by Alden/MNG/DFM? Workers are greeted by a sharper staff-cutting knife than we’ve encountered in Indianapolis.

From 2016 to 2018, Digital First Media laid off workers at twice the rate of other national newspaper chains. The New York Times has labeled Alden “the destroyer of newspapers.”

The publisher at The Denver Post resigned abruptly, saying he was “ready for something a little less stressful” after working under DFM.

Wait, there’s more. In April, we learned the Department of Labor is investigating accusations that Alden took almost $250 million in employee pension assets and channeled the funds into its own accounts.

And now, Alden Global Capital is facing heat after the collapse of Payless Shoes. In court filings, a committee called the Payless catastrophe an “18-month free fall … into one of the largest liquidations in retail history,” according to industry press.

If you care about local news and the value it brings to your community and our democracy, we urge you voice your opposition of a board with MNG-backed members.
Here’s what you can do:

  • Sign The NewsGuild’s petition to oppose Alden Global Capital’s hostile takeover bid for Gannett and, in so doing, join the launch of our broader effort on World Press Freedom Day to #SaveLocalNews – an essential pillar of local democracy: https://actionnetwork.org/forms/save-local-news
  • If you are a Gannett shareholder, vote FOR ALL on the WHITE proxy card, which includes Stephen Coll, the dean of the Columbia University graduate school of journalism and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Forget about the blue proxy card, where you’ll find the folks who dismantled Payless shoe stores and Fred’s.
  • Share this post with the hashtag #SaveLocalNews on Twitter or Facebook.
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State Sen. Taylor: ‘I proudly stand’ with IndyStar workers.

Editor’s note: In July, IndyStar workers delivered a letter to management asking them to come to the table with a fair deal on our health care. After two session of negotiations, we are still waiting for Gannett to deliver a commitment to mitigate the effects of changing our health care. (You can read more about this here and here.)

Gannett also continues to withhold merit raises from its dedicated workers.

After hearing about our situation, some public figures have offered their support to IndyStar journalists and workers. The following is one of those messages.

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“A fundamental part of our democracy is the level of accountability in which elected officials are held to by local journalists.

The Indy Star has done a phenomenal job reporting on local and statewide stories over the years and keeping Hoosiers informed on various issues from top to bottom.

The journalists at the Star deserve to be fairly compensated for the irreplaceable work they do on behalf of our city and state, and I proudly stand with them.”

Indiana State Senator Greg Taylor (D-Indianapolis)

Sen. Taylor joins Mayor Joe Hogsett, Deputy Mayor of Noblesville Steve Cooke, the head of the Indiana AFL-CIO, and a former IndyStar editor in supporting IndyStar workers as we fight for a fair deal on health care.

 

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We asked for respect. Here’s what we got instead.

On Monday, the Guild’s bargaining committee met with Gannett lawyers for another round of negotiations, two weeks after the last round and more than seven months since we’ve had a contract.

And once again we’ve walked away without even the hint of a fair offer on health care or wages.

The issue? Gannett wants to move Guild members off of our health care plan onto theirs. A move that we have calculated could cost members anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $1,700 per year.

We’ve maintained all along that any discussion about the possibility of moving to a Gannett plan must include mitigation of these effects. We even provided them with cost data so they could do their own analysis.

Yet, when we met on Monday, Gannett’s lawyer once again proposed that we move onto their health care plan without committing to any mitigation payments in return.

Why should Guild members agree to what amounts to a pay cut? Why, when at the same time, Gannett withholds merit raises in order to force us into a contract?

Last month, we delivered a letter to our newsroom management asking that Gannett come to the table and treat its award-winning, dedicated journalists and workers with basic respect.

It is clear to us now that our request has been ignored.

We continue to ask our community to call on Gannett to give us a fair contract. Send your messages directly to ronnie.ramos@indystar.com or tweet them to @Gannett or @RonnieRamos.

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Mayor Joe Hogsett: Indianapolis would be a ‘lesser’ place without local journalism

Editor’s note: The Indianapolis Star Newspaper Guild is in contract negotiations with Gannett. We’ve asked our community to submit letters of support as we try to reach a fair deal. You can read about Gannett’s attempts to downgrade our health care, and their decision to withhold merit raises while we are in negotiations.

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Local journalists are there to celebrate community milestones and capture pivotal moments.

They lead conversations and encourage self-reflection. Their work educates and informs, connecting residents to valuable resources and opportunities.

Without local journalism, many stories would go untold. And without the talented men and women who capture and report on life in our city, our community would be a lesser place for those who call it home.

Joe Hogsett
Mayor of Indianapolis

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Noblesville deputy mayor to Gannett: Work in good faith with members of the Guild

Editor’s note: The Indianapolis Star Newspaper Guild is in contract negotiations with Gannett. We’ve asked our community to submit letters of support as we try to reach a fair deal. You can read about Gannett’s attempts to downgrade our health care, and their decision to withhold merit raises while we are in negotiations.

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Dear Gannett:

I’m writing this letter in support of the highly talented people from the Indianapolis News Guild who produce the Indianapolis Star each and every day. Yes, people. I know their names. I read their bylines before I dive into each article. I know a few of them personally because they live in our community and our professional lives have at times crossed paths. However, most I’ve never met in person. Still, I know them by the quality of their work, and it’s this quality that defines the Indianapolis Star.

As the deputy mayor for a medium-sized city in Central Indiana, I depend on the Indianapolis Star to help deliver information to residents of my community, and to share our success stories with readers both near and far. I want people to read the truth about what’s happening here and the good work that’s taking place. But, yes, not every story is a positive one. I value the accountability that solid journalism demands of our public officials and community leaders, for the facts behind the stories that take hours to uncover, write and report on in a balanced manner – not to mention the additional effort required of them to garner online clicks and social media shares.

I recently became aware of the contract negotiations between Gannett and members of the Indianapolis News Guild after the Star’s investigation into the allegations surrounding a government official. I stand with IndyStar journalists because the work they perform serves a vital role as watchdog within our democracy that cannot be fully served by bloggers, advertisers and my friends on Facebook and Twitter. It’s thanks to a free press and the hard work of Star staff that local citizens can be better informed about such issues.

My concern is what effect the new contract will have on the quality of the Indianapolis Star when we lose the very people readers like me have come to admire and trust. By refusing merit pay raises and reducing contributions to some employees’ health care over others within Gannett, the professionals whose work we know and respect will start to disappear from the pages of the Indianapolis Star.

Please work in good faith with members of the Guild so a fair contract can be achieved, and so the vital work of IndyStar journalists with their years and in some cases decades of experience can continue.

Thank you very much.

Sincerely,
Steve Cooke
Deputy Mayor
City of Noblesville

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Letter: Indiana AFL-CIO expresses support for IndyStar workers

We at the Indiana AFL-CIO believe that a strong labor movement is essential for an equitable society. In today’s economy, the rich keep getting richer. We believe that it is the workers who generate that wealth who should reap the benefits.

Which is why we are declaring our support for the workers of The Indianapolis Star, represented by the Indianapolis Newspaper Guild, CWA 34070.

As an organization, we represent nearly 300,000 hardworking Hoosiers across several industries: steelworkers, teachers, electricians, grocery store employees, plumbers, construction workers, and many more. We know the value of solidarity. We know what we can achieve when we stand united.

We were dismayed to hear that the Star’s parent company, Gannett, has been withholding pay raises from their hardworking employees. We were likewise disappointed to hear that Gannett is trying to downgrade the union’s health care options.

We call on Gannett to stop these shameless tactics and to enter into a fair and just contract with IndyStar workers.

Only then will the company have demonstrated its commitment to its readers and customers.

Sincerely,
Brett Voorhies
President

Read more about our fight:

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Local journalism needs local journalists: Tell Gannett why you support IndyStar journalists

Last week, IndyStar journalists resumed negotiations with Gannett. We asked them to come to the table with a fair deal. (You can read more about our fight here and here.)

We are not discouraged, but we did not reach an agreement. Negotiations continue in early August.

We recently asked you to share the moments that IndyStar journalism moved you. Many of you mentioned our watershed investigation of child sex abuse at USA Gymnastics. You mentioned our reporting of the recent allegations of sexual misconduct by Indiana’s attorney general, our series on the notorious, violent crew led by Richard Grundy III, and our response to the school shooting in Noblesville.

More broadly, you told us how our arts and entertainment coverage helps you navigate the culture of Indianapolis, how you’ve been impacted by our visual journalists, and how our columnists continue to find ways to move you.

But there’s one thing almost everyone agreed on. Here it is, in your words:

Supporting local journalists is critically important. National news definitely has its place, but there are always stories that don’t apply to most of the country and have a hyper-local target audience. Local news allows people to get news about the place where they live.

Local journalists are a crucial part of any community. They deliver information about our city, schools, twin, environment, politicians and government. We stay informed, thanks to them, which allows us to make good decisions. And most importantly, they hold leaders accountable and uncover truths.

We need local journalists to keep us informed about local events and challenges. People who live here trust others that live here.

Local journalists know this community, what’s happening here, and what’s important to people here. Community pride (and subscriptions) come from local coverage. National and international news is available online from a number of sources. The local paper should be more than a regurgitation of news people have already heard.

Because local journalists are involved in the community you live in. They see your world. They see your problems. Your passions. They tell you the truth about what is happening to you and why. They tell you how you can make a difference.

Local journalism ensures the proper documentation of the activities of local and state governments, which has a profound and direct impact on the citizens therein. Local journalism ensures that our stories, the residents, are told, and are given a voice via journalism.

As we said in a letter delivered to IndyStar management last week: We live here. We don’t fly in every so often, like Gannett’s lawyers do. We have a vested interest in Indianapolis because this is our community, too.

Our negotiations with Gannett resume in early August. Your continued support means so much to us, and helps show our corporate owners that we deserve a fair deal and that we have the support of our community.

We need your help.

So please, consider changing your profile photos to our support image (found here), or share your own reasons why you #SupportIndyJournalists on Twitter or via this survey: https://goo.gl/forms/4nPkdYu2wkSSLTPy2. Better yet, tell our executive director Ronnie Ramos why you support us. Email him (ronnie.ramos@indystar.com) or Tweet him (@RonnieRamos), our company account (@indystar) and our corporate owners (@Gannett).

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