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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Corporate piracy

It’s time to bring corporate raiders like Alden Capital to heel


“Where is the outrage?”
That was the question rightly asked by fellow publisher Reed Anfinson, of Benson, Minn., in an op-ed that appeared last week in this newspaper and many others around the country that decried the pending closure of eight more once-thriving newspapers in Minnesota, including some that were among the very best weeklies in the state just a few years ago.
While newspapers have faced headwinds in the age of the internet, none of these newspapers are closing for truly economic reasons. And, in each case, these newspapers have continued to fill a critical niche in their small cities, as the primary or in many cases the sole source of news about the functioning of their communities.
They face closure not because of an inexorable economic reality that will eventually send all newspapers to the grave. They closed because our government, our culture, our society, allows vandals to wreak their havoc in America and call it capitalism.
These eight venerable papers, unceremoniously tossed on the trash heap of history, are disappearing because pirates organized under a corporate title, known as Alden Capital, have decided that they would rather take resources that had maintained viable businesses that served a critical public purpose and strip them to add more zeros to the bottom line of their primary shareholders.
Alden owns many newspapers, but it has no interest in the news. For Alden, newspapers are simply opportunities to enrich themselves at the expense of communities served by these newspapers and, ultimately, at the expense of America. When Alden gains control of a newspaper, the outcome is predictable. They slash workforces beyond the bone, sell off real estate, raid cash reserves, and jack up subscription prices for a short-term profit boost before readers begin to see the impact of the bloodletting.
Take the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, the state’s oldest and second-largest newspaper. Before Alden came on the scene, the paper employed over 200 union news workers, including reporters, editors, and photographers. But when Alden gained control, the paper was stripped. The print plant was sold off. The paper’s main office and associated real estate went shortly after. Then again, they didn’t need an office since the workforce was slashed mercilessly. Today, fewer than 30 news staff remain.
As the Pioneer Press and dozens of other venerable newspapers around the country were being stripped, Alden’s founder and CEO Randall Smith was using the proceeds to, among other things, buy up a total of 16 mansions in Florida. Each of them represented the jobs of dozens of people who were providing an important service to their communities, as well as the legacy of so many who worked at their newspapers before them.
The eventual outcome for each of these newspapers is the same. Once Alden has squeezed the last of the lifeblood out of them, they dispose of the corpse like rotting fruit. Alden Capital is so vile that it typically won’t even entertain offers from community members seeking to reinvest and restore their community newspapers. Alden isn’t just money-grubbing… these people are truly vandals, interested mostly in destroying what is good.
It didn’t used to be this way. Indeed, when the founders drafted the U.S. Constitution, corporations, at least in their modern form, did not exist. Many of the founders, particularly Thomas Jefferson, feared the impact of concentrated economic power and would have taken steps to control such forces had they existed at the time.
But early corporations in America were issued charters and only for purposes deemed in the public interest, and their charters could be revoked if they didn’t live up to their commitments.
Sadly, in the America of today, we simply accept that corporations can form for the purpose of destruction for private enrichment. A corporation like Alden can organize to strip viable businesses (that do serve a public interest) of their assets and throw countless Americans out of work, to concentrate wealth in the hands of individuals who, by the definitions we should have learned in Kindergarten, are simply evil.
If there is a role for the government in saving newspapers, it should surely involve putting an end to an entity like Alden Capital. As the Supreme Court has stated, corporations are people. Yet we would never allow an individual to roam the streets engaging in the kind of mayhem Alden Capital wreaks every day before breakfast. We’d lock ‘em up and throw away the key.
Instead, we just shake our heads, assuming we’re helpless to change an economic system that has come to benefit a tiny few at the expense of the many. And the more that we allow companies like Alden Capital to shutter our sources of credible information, the more helpless we really are.
So, yes indeed, where is the outrage?