At first blush, a Santa Cruz Sentinel column that mentioned the paper being owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital looked bold and edgy.
Wait … did our local daily just throw shade at the big boss?
When you think about it, though, it makes perfect sense. Sure, in her touching Editor’s Notebook piece profiling outgoing Editor Don Miller, the paper’s Managing Editor Kara Meyberg Guzman did touch on the uncomfortable topic. And yet, what made the mention surprisingly refreshing was the way she approached it—with a sense of optimism and acceptance.
“Many blame the hedge fund’s financial greed for gutting its newspapers’ budgets and staff, but Miller said that’s not the whole picture,” Guzman wrote, breaking down the recent history of ownership. “The newspaper chain the Sentinel belongs to had gone through a bankruptcy prior to the sale, and the hedge fund had to bail out MediaNews Group.”
We’re well into the 21st century, and everyone already knows that big corporations own most daily newspapers. It’s a fact of life, one that leaves some of America’s oldest institutions teetering somewhere between a local community’s public interest and the profit-sucking objectives of CEOs or their henchmen. So, counterintuitively, one could posit that the idea of plainly referring to the Sentinel’s ownership actually sounds like a surefire way to establish some credibility and win some of that all-important community’s trust.
The Watsonville-based radio station KPIG appears to understand this. They’ve been talking frankly about their ownership for years.
“We’re doing what we do. And they’re to do what they do, which is get their money,” says DJ John Sandidge, who explains that the owners know to keep their hands off programming. “They invested a lot of money, and their job is to get money back out. All corners are cut. Or were. There are no corners left.”
That kind of straight talk makes a listener want to turn up the volume, and it’s probably part of what helps KPIG outperform other stations. Which, of course, makes Mapleton more money. What the hell do they care what a DJ who calls himself “Sleepy John” is telling Santa Cruz locals?
Guzman’s honesty about Alden Global Capital came off that same way—at least to me—in her moving reflections on a paper going 161 years strong, and on Miller, the man who lead the operation for the past decade. Surely, no executive got their feelings hurt by that … right?
What’s interesting is that the story has disappeared from the internet. The link to the article has gone dead. No amount of googling or perusing the Sentinel’s website seems to be fruitful.
Is it possible that the story disappeared in some other way that doesn’t involve an administrator scrapping it?
Well, if the story simply got lost on the back end, the editors should have the power to repost it—something the Sentinel has done in the past.
Guzman tells us she can’t comment. Sentinel publisher Gary Omernick never got back to us, nor did Digital First Media, the part of the Alden news organization to which the Sentinel belongs.
Ken Doctor, a media expert based in Aptos who writes the blog Newsonomics, says readers generally expect a newspaper to be transparent about its own operations—especially because reporters are always sticking their noses into everyone else’s business. Still, he said it was “surprising” to see Alden’s shoutout in print.
“It didn’t surprise us that they pulled it in that way, because DFM is a very sensitive company,” says Doctor, a Sentinel subscriber, who enjoyed Guzman’s column and remembers it being well-received for its frankess. “They would say, ‘Why would we want to see our own write about us in print?’”
We hate to sound preachy, but journalism is a public service, especially with the meager wages reporters are making these days. And for a decent journalist, nothing is more important than their integrity and independence. Both are difficult to develop, especially once they’ve been compromised.
And yet, until someone explains what the heck happened with last month’s column, it looks like the Sentinel’s owners are placing their own ego above all else.
If Alden Global Capital is willing to erase their own local reporting, it may be difficult for us to read the Sentinel—or any Digital First Media paper—the same way.