Anyone want to buy The Saratogian? Please?
I don’t mean today’s edition or a subscription, print or online. I mean the whole kit and caboodle. The newspaper.
Local news is dying, and it’s not merely because publishing companies failed to figure out how to stay profitable in the Internet age. In Saratoga Springs and a couple hundred other cities and towns around the country, one particular owner of local newspapers is intentionally killing them.
The hope for local news, as I see it, could come in one of two forms: a buyer with big bucks and a real commitment to news, or an existing publisher who realizes that in-depth local news can be profitable as well as altruistic.
A few years ago, a hedge fund called Alden Global Capital bought the bankrupt Digital First Media. It owns about 200 papers, including The Saratogian and The (Troy) Record. The purchase wasn’t to save local newspapers from being shuttered, but to squeeze every last penny out of them.
It’s not like these papers, especially the smaller ones, were flush with resources to begin with. But Alden hasn’t simply cut staff to the bone. It has sucked out the marrow, cut the arteries and yanked out the organs. It did this to The Saratogian, which was consistently among the top-earners of journalism awards for its coverage despite its small staff, and to its Pulitzer Prize-winning papers, including its flagship, The Denver Post, and to all its papers in between.
The owners not only made a beloved job not fun; they made it intolerable. That’s why I and other colleagues took a buyout in 2015, and why others, including the esteemed editor of The Denver Post, walked away a year later. It’s why staff at the Berkshire Eagle rejoiced when Digital First sold them to new owners who truly care about local news and restored newsroom positions.
Earlier this month, the Denver staff – or what’s left of it – did a remarkable thing. The Post published a no-holds-barred criticism of Alden Global Capital and urged the owners to sell the paper. Pretty amazing for the employees to call out their owners so dramatically and publicly. I guess they figured they had nothing to lose and they were right: A Colorado civic group has responded, and investors have thus far pledged $10 million toward the purchase, CBS News reported Saturday.
Digital First Media’s staff cuts cannot be shrugged off as a sign of changing times for the media: Alden has been accused of draining hundreds of millions from its newspaper holdings to improperly prop up other questionable investments.
Meanwhile, a cadre of 10 dedicated journalists – no exaggeration, you can count them on two hands — do all the reporting, writing, photography, editing, headline writing, web posting, social media, everything for two seven-day-a-week papers (The Saratogian and The Record) and southern Saratoga County’s weekly Community News.
Who cares if no one digs into local news? Here’s one case for caring: Then-reporter Caitlin Morris took the time to review police logs and investigate an “unattended death” that turned out to be a homeless woman who froze to death – a story that ultimately led to the creation of the Code Blue shelter in Saratoga Springs.
The remaining two handfuls of staffers at The Saratogian and The Record are doing a good job against impossible odds. They believe, as I do, that local reporting is vital for providing news that people need to know and ought to know, to hold our institutions accountable and to serve as a catalyst for positive change.
All we need are people with big enough hearts and wallets to keep it alive.