If you’re one of the largest newspaper owners in the country, with more than 60 daily newspapers and several weeklies in your portfolio, you can make more than $100 million in an elegantly simple way: Destroy your holdings slowly. Lay off your workers with their capital-draining paychecks. Cut back until there’s nothing but bleached bones and no further funds to gnaw from the carcasses. Profit!
It’s worked brilliantly for the vulture capital firm Alden Global Capital, a New York-based hedge fund, which wrecks newspapers with the same gleeful abandon as a beach bully kicking over sandcastles.
Oh, we could go on and on about this, but the havoc that Alden Global has wrought on its newspapers, which, locally, include the Press-Telegram, the Daily Breeze, the Orange County Register and the Grunion Gazette, has been amply documented, and the big losers are not merely the employees of those papers, but the millions of readers in the communities that are no longer being adequately served by local journalists.
One day in February, the Press-Telegram’s city editor Melissa Evans and I were experiencing just another day of spiraling into despondency over the state of the paper when she said, “Can’t you call John Molina and ask him to buy the paper?”
No. That would just be weird.
Two hours later, my phone rang. Caller ID showed that the call was coming from John Molina.
“What will it take for me to buy the Press-Telegram?” he asked.
I covered the phone and scream-whispered to Melissa: “He wants to buy the paper!”
Molina spoke, in that initial conversation, about the state of Long Beach journalism. “We’re the second-largest city in the county, the seventh-largest in the state. Readers here don’t care about what’s going on in Glendale or Woodland Hills. They care about Long Beach, and they deserve to have a place where they can read about what’s happening in the city.”
To cut through a long stretch of relatively eventless but nevertheless crazily optimistic days, Alden was not willing to sell. Its principals apparently still felt they could still wring a couple rolls of quarters out of the venerable 121-year-old Press-Telegram.
Melissa; Jeremiah Dobruck, our crime and public safety reporter; and I made things easy for Alden: We quit our jobs in May to join the Long Beach Post to bring a much more robust and comprehensive job of covering Long Beach than the city has seen in more than a decade.
City government. Crime and justice. Businesses both new and old. Profiles of the powerful as well as your neighbors. Schools from pre-K through Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach. Reviews and features of the city’s wildly diverse restaurants. Entertainment news. Ways to spend your weekend. Photo essays. Questions. Answers.
And all about Long Beach, from its nine Council Districts and its 11 ZIP codes and its dozens of neighborhoods — little towns that make up the city.
While John Molina is our patron (patron saint, to some of us still feeling giddy over being rescued from the death grip of Alden), along with the other five members of his Pacific6 investment and development company, he agrees that he is not buying journalists and expects us to keep as close an eye on his other endeavors as much as anything else going on in the city.
But we’re not looking askance at this project. We can tell you that Molina and his partners are not launching this project to get rich — there’s no one with a degree in economics who would tell you that the days of building a Hearst Castle with news-gathering profits are long gone and still rapidly receding. Rather, he’s doing it because Long Beachers do, indeed deserve to read about the events and issues in their town. We hope to do that, and we hope to expand in the coming years with what profits we can muster being invested back into the business of reporting news rather than in yet another Palm Beach mansion for a vulture capitalist.