Opinion: The city shouldn’t pay Alden Global Capital, which destroys local news

There’s a recommendation coming before the City Council on Tuesday that’s frankly, a small financial matter when you compare it to the ongoing and increasingly costly Queen Mary problem and the latest issue with Community Hospital—those two quandaries combined will amount to a loss of God-knows-how-many-millions of dollars over God-knows-how-many-years; it’s an ethereal figure that is only going to go farther into the financial stratosphere.

This one is for the tiny (in terms of civic expenditures) amount of $5,500, or $11,000 over its proposed two-year life. The proposed agreement is to pay MediaNews Group for digital access to the Press-Telegram in order for city employees to keep up with local news. Actually, the wording is to obtain access to the “Long Beach Press-Telegram,” which is not the publication’s name, nor does it reflect its mission.

The once-powerful and popular publication is no longer the juggernaut of Long Beach news as it was 30 or 40 years ago. It no longer has an office in Long Beach (or anywhere, for that matter) and it prints news gathered from its skeletal staff as well as from other MNG newspapers, including the Los Angeles Daily News, the Orange County Register and other papers from cities as far-flung as Riverside, Whittier, Pasadena and others.

Those are all newspapers that have been decimated and devastated by the vulture capitalist hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which the Washington Post called “one of the most ruthless corporate strip-miners seemingly intent on destroying local journalism,” and Vanity Fair termed “the grim reaper of American newspapers.” (Want more, watch an upcoming “60 Minutes” report on Alden.)

No one who’s had the sickening and dispiriting feeling of working for an Alden-owned (and -crippled) newspaper can spare a charitable thought about the experience.

When John Molina bought the Post in 2018 in order to give Long Beach the news coverage it deserves, a half-dozen Press-Telegram employees happily bolted from beneath the suffocating MNG to join the Post. In the next couple of years a few more came over.

The hedge fund has bought some 200 newspapers and has laid off thousands of journalists and has been the death of local journalism in scores of small towns. When the city of Long Beach signs a check for $5,500 to MNG, not a penny of that will go to the Press-Telegram or any of its other papers. It won’t so much as buy a pencil. It goes, instead, toward Alden Capital’s executives, including Heath Freeman, who collects mansions like some people collect swizzle sticks: Last September, Freeman bought a Coconut Grove mansion in Florida for $19 million. The same month, he bought a restaurant in East Hampton for $4 million. He owns many more luxury properties. You don’t make that kind of money by throwing it away on newspaper workers’ salaries.

I don’t have a problem with the city paying MNG to allow employees to read the news. If the city is doing that to help support local journalism, we’d find that admirable, because we support whatever work other publications are struggling to provide this city. But the simple matter is paying MNG for the scant news their papers provide about Long Beach, the money will only allow the papers to stay alive for the dwindling days before Alden sucks their last dollar.

I spoke with City Manager Tom Modica, who says the city doesn’t pay the Long Beach Post for news for the somewhat obvious reason that it’s free. Giving the public free access to the news is a key part of our mission statement and our ethics. And, while we offer our work at no cost, it’s not without considerable expense.

To encourage and help ensure that the Post and the Long Beach Business Journal continue to report true local news, we have received thousands of donations from our readers. These readers do it because they believe in our mission and appreciate our work, not because they have to: They’re paying for something that’s free and that gives us great satisfaction and pride.

If it cares about the news we offer to its employees and the citizens it serves, we won’t turn down a donation to help us expand. We’re growing, as opposed to shrinking like every Alden news product, and have provided dozens of local jobs. And your money will go to help us continue to keep local journalism alive in Long Beach.

If city employees wish to keep up with the real news in their city, they should be reading the Long Beach Post. If they appreciate what we do and wish to make a contribution, that’s great, but not required. And your contributions will stay in Long Beach, not fly off to Coconut Grove or East Hampton.

Support our journalism.

Hyperlocal news is an essential force in our democracy, but it costs money to keep an organization like this one alive, and we can’t rely on advertiser support alone. That’s why we’re asking readers like you to support our independent, fact-based journalism. We know you like it—that’s why you’re here. Help us keep hyperlocal news alive in Long Beach.

Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.
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