- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 18, 2016

DENVER — Newspapers hit the skids years ago thanks largely to internet competition and a soft economy, but a top labor union is blaming the latest round of downsizing on a shadowy right-wing plot.

The Communications Workers of America is fighting efforts to cut staff at the Denver Post and other newspapers by accusing Alden Global Capital, which controls Digital First Media, of a “far-right” conspiracy that involves jettisoning unfriendly reporters.

“Alden Global Capital, a secretive hedge fund with ties to the Republican Party and the far right, has been quietly buying up newspapers around the country,” says a petition on the labor website #AldenExposed. “Its executives stash money in notorious tax havens worldwide and operate a complex web of funds and business structures to hide their investors from public view.”

“Under Alden’s reckless management, newspaper staffing levels have been slashed to the bone. In many cases, Alden is laying off the very journalists who otherwise would investigate and expose this kind of business conduct,” says the petition, which has gathered nearly 5,500 signatures.

Several dozen protesters, including some Denver Post reporters, held a demonstration Friday in front of the newspaper building to decry Digital’s effort to cut 26 employees at Colorado’s largest newspaper through voluntary buyouts.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, Alden Global’s got to go,” the demonstrators chanted in videos posted on Facebook.

Many wore T-shirts and carried signs with the message #NewsMatters. Staffers at other Digital First-owned newspapers, including the Monterey [California] Herald and the St. Paul [Minnesota] Pioneer Press, offered shows of solidarity by posting photos of themselves on Twitter wearing #NewsMatters tees.

Supporters also held signs that said, “Alden: The Public Deserves to Know.”

“We’re blowing the whistle on Alden Global, the secretive hedge fund with ties to the Far Right, pillaging 200+ newspapers across the country,” said a Twitter post by the Communications Workers of America, whose locals include the Denver Newspaper Guild.

The Pacific Media Workers union said Friday on Twitter that First Digital is “laying off the very journalists who would call out their bad behavior.”

The Denver guild is currently involved in contract negotiations with Digital First over issues such as stagnant wages at the Denver Post, which now has about 135 newsroom staffers, according to the Denver Business Journal.

Like many other newspapers, the Denver Post has endured cutbacks in the last few years as the flagship daily struggles to keep up circulation and ad revenue. In April, executive editor Gregory Moore stepped down after 14 years at the helm.

The Post’s predicament is hardly unusual. The Pew Research Center announced last week that from 2014 to 2015, newspapers nationwide saw their overall ad revenue decline by 8 percent and their circulation drop by 7 percent.

“In 2015, the newspaper sector had perhaps the worst year since the recession and its immediate aftermath,” said Pew’s 2016 State of the News Media report.

Reporter Kieran Nicholson, the Post’s labor representative, told the crowd Friday that he recently celebrated his 30th year with the newspaper, but that “no one noticed.”

“Alden Global, which is a hedge fund headquartered in New York City — they didn’t notice,” Mr. Nicholson said as reported by the Colorado Independent.

Digital First, the nation’s second-largest newspaper chain, won a bankruptcy sale of two California newspapers in March and recently consolidated another six West Coast newspapers into two, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

Digital First did not return a request for comment.

Alden principal Randall D. Smith keeps a low profile and isn’t especially prominent in conservative circles, although he did give $10,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2013, according to Federal Election Commission records.

In April, Digital First agreed to sell the Salt Lake [Utah] Tribune to Paul Huntsman, CEO of Huntsman Family Investments. His brother Jon Huntsman Jr. is a former Republican governor of Utah who also served two years as U.S. Ambassador to China under President Obama.

The Communications Workers of America, an AFL-CIO affiliate that claims 700,000 members, endorsed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders last year in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

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