Orlando Sentinel pleads for white knight investors

The Orlando Sentinel on Friday published an editorial beseeching white knight investors to rescue the newspaper from a hostile takeover that Alden Global Capital has been pursuing for the paper’s parent company Tribune Publishing.

In the unusual public call for support, Sentinel editors express contempt for Alden, their potential corporate owner, and characterize the moment as existential for the newspaper’s future.

“Alden’s history with newspaper ownership is akin to a biblical plague of locusts — it devours newsroom resources to maximize profits, leaving ruin in its wake,” charges the editorial headlined, “Deliver us from Alden so the Orlando Sentinel can continue covering Central Florida.”

Alden Global Capital has been maneuvering for more than a year to acquire Chicago-based Tribune Publishing. Other papers in the group included the Sentinel’s sister in Fort Lauderdale, The Sun-Sentinel of South Florida, along with the company’s flagship Chicago Tribune, and the New York Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, the Hartford Courant, and The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania.

In recent weeks talk has emerged of possible white knights, investors saying they’re committed to retain strong journalism at one or more of the company’s newspapers. The Sentinel editorial names a few: Baltimore hotel executive Stewart Bainum; Swiss billionaire Hansjörg WyssMason Slaine, a former media executive who lives in South Florida; and Orlando’s Craig Mateer, the founder of Bags Inc., which runs visitors’ services at Orlando International Airport, Walt Disney World and other tourist centers.

Someone, anyone, the Sentinel urges, should save the paper so it might continue a public service mission the editorial describes as “to keep the public informed and hold government officials like Joel Greenberg accountable.”

The editors cite what happened to Alden-acquired newspapers in Denver, St. Paul and elsewhere, when newsrooms were decimated with job cuts, and where local journalism withered. The editorial notes that the Sentinel already has suffered its own deep newsroom cuts, from a 170-person newsroom staff in 2010 to fewer than 80 today. “With Alden as our owner, however, it could get much, much worse,” the piece warns.

“Our deepest hope is that the investors who are emerging as a possible antidote to Alden will prevail so the Orlando Sentinel and other Tribune Publishing newspapers can continue serving the public by reporting the news, and keeping you informed,” the editorial concludes.

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