The newspaper industry has been on a steady decline for two-plus decades now. Advertising revenues are dropping, and people are increasingly turning to alternative sources of news content, including broadcast media and online outlets. And with the papers that remain in business, the future appears highly uncertain.
Recently the outlook got hazier still. According to CNN Business, the hedge fund-backed media company MNG Enterprises, also known as Digital First Media (DFM), is making a big push to buy Gannett, one of the largest newspaper companies that remains in business in the United States. If they’re successful, they may proceed to gut many of the country’s most prominent papers, which would obviously be an alarming development for the future of the news media business.
MNG’s parent company, Alden Global Capital, is a hedge fund that’s known for buying distressed properties. In recent years, they’ve been “investing” in newspapers only to make dramatic budget cuts once they acquire them. Last year at the Denver Post, for example, the company found itself in a bitter dispute with the newspaper staff, whose editorial board wrote a nasty piece calling out their own owners as “vultures.” Needless to say, newspaper staffers across America are now bracing themselves for a turbulent 2019.
“If DFM takes over Gannett, it will basically be the end of the American newspaper industry,” said Niraj Warikoo, a staff writer for the Gannett-owned Detroit Free Press.
These are dark times for Gannett. The company is best known for owning USA Today, but it also operates a number of successful publications in big cities across America including the Detroit Free Press, the Indianapolis Star, the Arizona Republic and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Those newspapers do still have loyal readers, but nonetheless Gannett has lost more than 40 percent of its value in just the last two years. Additionally, Robert Dickey, the company’s president and CEO, recently announced that he’ll be retiring in May. Add all this up, and MNG has a case that it’s time for new management.
It’s unclear whether Gannett’s recent turmoil has been simply the result of a rapidly changing news industry, or if there’s something seriously wrong with the company’s long-term strategy. At MNG, though, there’s no doubt about that question. The media company has not been shy about criticizing Gannett—a recent letter to the company’s board of directors alleged a “series of value-destroying decisions” by “an unfocused leadership team”—a team they’re eager to replace.
“Frankly, the team leading Gannett has not demonstrated that it’s capable of effectively running this enterprise as a public company,” MNG wrote.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Gannett is scheduled to report its fourth-quarter results on February 18. During the first nine months of 2018, revenue from its advertising business and its overall sales were down.