Hedge Fund Buys Paper. Hedge Fund Closes Paper.
The Bowie-Blade News, a 41-year-old weekly newspaper in Bowie, Md., published its final print edition on Thursday, two months after its parent …
The Bowie-Blade News, a 41-year-old weekly newspaper in Bowie, Md., published its final print edition on Thursday, two months after its parent company, Tribune Publishing, was sold to the New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital for $633 million.
A brief, unsigned note to readers at the bottom of Thursday’s front page announced the closing.
“Due to the changing habits of our readers and the shifting demands of our advertisers, The Bowie Blade-News will cease print publication effective immediately,” the note said.
The note added that readers could now find coverage of Bowie and the surrounding area at the website of The Capital Gazette, another Maryland paper acquired by Alden in the Tribune deal.
The Blade-News started in 1980, after the merger of The Bowie Blade and its rival, The Bowie News. The final front page included articles on a Bowie police officer accused of stealing two cameras from a local Best Buy, planned upgrades at the Bowie Golf Club and President Biden’s pick for Maryland U.S. attorney. As always, the paper’s motto appeared at the top: “Devoted completely to the people of Bowie.”
“It will be missed,” said Una Cooper, the communications manager for Bowie, a city of 58,000 residents halfway between Annapolis and Washington. “As late as 2012, we did a survey of our residents and asked them the first place they got their news, and the majority said, ‘The Blade-News.’”
In an opinion column that ran in Thursday’s edition, Ms. Cooper wrote that Bowie was losing more than local coverage with the loss of The Blade-News.
“I am firmly convinced,” she wrote, “that reporters and the local newspapers that they write for play a vital role in cities and towns all over this great country. Not only do they keep residents informed, they help to foster a sense of community as residents embrace local causes and share each other’s news.”
Tribune and executives at The Baltimore Sun Media Group, which oversees The Blade-News, declined to comment.
The Blade-News was the city’s front porch, said Mike Rauck, the publisher of a local website, Bowie Living. The letters to the editor section was considered can’t-miss, and Bowie residents regularly took photographs of themselves holding copies of the paper when traveling to far-flung locations and sent them to The Blade-News, which published them.
“Sometimes I think about the list of things that the newspaper covered,” Mr. Rauck said. “Not necessarily in a story, but that it checked off — sharing local sports news, seeing little Janie’s name in the paper, pictures of local things.”
He added, “We didn’t have Nextdoor or Facebook.”
Even before Alden became its owner, The Blade-News endured significant cutbacks.
The austerity measures — which included moving its journalists to the office of a sibling publication, The Capital Gazette, in Annapolis — were put into place as more readers chose to get their news online. That shift meant the industry could no longer rely on its traditional source of cash, print advertising.
Over the last 15 years, more than one quarter of newspapers, mostly weeklies like The Blade-News, have gone out of business, according to a University of North Carolina study. Alden and other hedge funds have bought struggling papers, seeing them as undervalued assets that can be made profitable after further cutbacks.
Donovan Conaway, the primary reporter at The Blade-News and the writer of the article on the Bowie police officer accused of theft, said in an interview that he will continue to report on Bowie whenever there is “a major crime, a big event.” His work will appear on the Capital Gazette site.
Three years ago, another Blade-News reporter, John McNamara, who worked out of The Capital Gazette’s office, was one of the five people killed in the shooting spree there. On July 15, Jarrod W. Ramos, a disgruntled reader who had pleaded guilty, was found to have been sane and therefore criminally responsible for the attack.
“They’ve had the trial going on,” said Ms. Cooper, the Bowie city official. “Then we got the news about the paper. It’s all very sad, happening all at the same time.”
Alden is known for cutting costs and laying off journalists at the newspapers it owns. When it was making moves to acquire Tribune — a chain that includes The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The New York Daily News and The Hartford Courant among its nine major metropolitan dailies — journalists at Tribune papers across the country held protests. A few even tried to persuade would-be benefactors to buy Tribune papers and run them as public trusts.
Alden has said in its defense that it saves struggling newspapers from failing outright.
An alternate bid for Tribune, led by Stewart W. Bainum Jr., a Maryland hospitality executive, came and went earlier this year. In May, Tribune’s shareholders approved the Alden sale.
The acquisition made Alden the nation’s second largest newspaper publisher by circulation. (Gannett, the owner of USA Today, is the largest.) Before buying Tribune, the hedge fund was the owner of MediaNews Group, the publisher of some 200 newspapers.
Since the deal went through, the number of journalists at Tribune newspapers has fallen. Last month, 73 staff members across the company’s newspapers agreed to take buyouts, according to the NewsGuild, a journalists’ union. Additionally, an unknown number of nonunion employees took buyouts, the guild said.
It was the second round of buyouts in just 18 months, even as Tribune reported being profitable and had amassed $250 million in cash on its balance sheet.
“Folks who have been with us a long time, folks who are really well established in their beats, have left,” said Jen Sheehan, a reporter at The Morning Call, a Tribune paper in Allentown, Penn.
In the last three years, the number of unionized newsroom employees at The Morning Call fell to 25 from 55, according to the Guild. During the same period, the number of union journalists at The Chicago Tribune declined to 87 from 169. At The Hartford Courant, that number fell to 31 from 53.
The buyouts have hurt morale and the papers’ ability to do the kind of journalism they are accustomed to doing, said journalists at eight Tribune newsrooms.
“People go into local news reporting because they’re passionate about providing a good quality news product to the community,” said Annie Shields, a reporter at The Orlando Sentinel. “Every time we have a buyout or a layoff, our newsroom is diminished in some way; it hurts our ability to serve the community.”