Newsroom unions urge Lee to reject Alden’s offer
$144M purchase would make hedge fund owner of 30+ Va. newspapers
A dozen Lee Enterprises newsroom unions, including three in Virginia, wrote an open letter to company management Monday, urging Lee to reject Alden Global Capital’s purchase offer of approximately $144 million.
“Alden has cut their staffs at twice the rate of competitors, resulting in the loss of countless jobs,” the letter reads. “They’ve fostered unhealthy and untenable workplaces that make it impossible to retain talent. They’ve shuttered physical newsrooms to leave journalists working from their cars, and at properties they lease, Alden stiffs local landlords for the rent. Their investment history is littered with bankruptcies and federal probes, and they use secretive money to fund their shady dealings.”
Among the signatories are the Richmond Newspapers Professional Association, representing newsroom employees at the Richmond Times-Dispatch; Blue Ridge NewsGuild, representing The Daily Progress in Charlottesville; and Timesland News Guild, The Roanoke Times’ newsroom union; as well as unionized newsrooms in Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Montana, New York, Washington and the national United Media Guild.
Iowa-based Lee Enterprises owns 31 newspapers in Virginia, purchased in January 2020 from a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., Warren Buffett’s firm. Among the Virginia newspapers under Lee’s ownership are the Times-Dispatch; Bristol Herald Courier; The News & Advance in Lynchburg; The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg; Martinsville Bulletin; Danville Register & Bee; The News Virginian in Waynesboro; The Roanoke Times; and The Daily Progress.
On Nov. 22, Alden — which owns The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press, among other dailies previously owned by Tribune Publishing Co. — proposed purchasing Lee Enterprises at $24 per share. If accepted by Lee, the acquisition would consolidate 12 of Virginia’s daily newspapers under one owner.
The unions have had earlier conflicts with Iowa-based Lee, which has laid off newsroom employees at most of its papers and moved copy editing and design duties to hubs in Wisconsin and Indiana, eliminating local copy desks at smaller newspapers. However, Alden is considered by many critics to be a killer of newspapers through buyouts and layoffs, as well as closing newsrooms and shutting down publications, a position shared by the Lee newsroom unions in their letter: “They are not good stewards of their investments. They do not even try to run a sustainable news company. They will not turn profits by growing the business and increasing revenue. They will do so by gutting newsrooms. They will take this proud company, built over decades of hard work, and leave it in ashes. Thousands of us will lose our jobs, and the communities we serve will never recover. Cities with weakened or shuttered newspapers have lower voter turnout, higher taxes, more corruption and increased polarization. Our democracy suffers, and Alden reaps the rewards.”
Alden currently owns more than 6% of Lee’s stock, and after its offer last week, Lee’s board adopted a “poison pill” plan that would allow other shareholders to buy shares at a 50% discount or possibly get free shares if Alden gains control of more than 10% of Lee’s stock, effectively killing the possibility of a hostile takeover while the board considers Alden’s offer.