BY FREDA MIKLIN
On May 22 at the City of Centennial public works building community room, the League of Women Voters hosted a program that featured Larry Ryckman, senior news editor at The Denver Post from 2013 until four weeks ago.
Ryckman spent 22 years with The Associated Press before joining the Post. There he held the positions of assistant managing editor, national editor and Moscow correspondent. He also previously served as city editor of the Greeley Tribune and managing editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette.
The audience of 100 heard Ryckman say that consolidation is changing the media landscape. He explained that the Post has been around for 125 years. By comparison, the Rocky Mountain News endured for 150 years until its demise in 2009. During most of those years, there was a healthy competition between the News and the Post for information and advertising that kept everyone doing their best work. Classified ads paid the bills. Then technology began changing the landscape of the newspaper business.
Now a new business model threatens its very existence. The Denver Post is owned by Digital First Media, formed in December 2013 with the merger of Media News Group and Journal Register Company. A look at public information available shows that Digital First Media (DFM) has been acquiring dailies in medium-sized cities and weeklies in smaller towns. Their website proudly lists its 97 publications in nine states, 19 of which are in Colorado and 38 in California. In our state, they include the Boulder Daily Camera, the Loveland Reporter-Herald and the Longmont Times-Call.
Enter Alden Global Capital, a New York hedge fund whose president Heath Freeman was ripped in a recent article on Bloomberg.com. Alden bought 50.1 percent of DFM in 2010 when it was still named Media News Group. Its actions are living up to the reputation of its industry. Ryckman said that DFM made a $159 million profit in its last fiscal year, reflecting a 19 percent return on investment, far in excess of what has previously been seen in the newspaper industry. That apparently wasn’t enough for Alden.
In a Washington Post article last month entitled, “As a secretive hedge fund guts its newspapers, journalists are fighting back,” the author says that Alden’s own newspapers and their journalists, “accuse Alden of slashing jobs and sucking profits from the papers while starving them of the resources needed to cover their communities.” He notes the “extraordinary rebellion” at The Denver Post and the support for that action by Neil Chase, executive editor of California’s San Jose and Oakland newspapers, who said, “Democracy cannot succeed without a healthy, free press.” The term, “vulture capitalism,” has been used to describe Alden’s practices.
Ryckman lamented the lack of journalists actually working at The Denver Post, because of, “the stories that won’t get told and the scandals that won’t be covered.” He told the crowd that after editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett resigned earlier this month, on the heels of Dave Krieger, editor of DFM’s Boulder Daily Camera being fired after criticizing DFM, it became clear that Alden was not going to continue to tolerate negative stories about itself.
In the end, the former senior news editor said that he resigned from The Denver Post, “when the owners went from cutting its staff to silencing its voices.” He went on to say, “The Post is not another dying newspaper. It’s being murdered by its owners.”
The Villager reviewed a recent Sunday Denver Post front section and counted exactly one journalist with a direct byline whose work was included in the entire 24 pages.
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