On February 26, staffers at the Boulder Daily Camera attended the funeral of longtime editor Kevin Kaufman, who died at age 62 after a long and brave battle with cancer. Then they returned to the office, where they learned that Alden Global Capital, their vulture hedge fund owner, had ordered more job cuts at the paper, which has already been decimated by the firm's love of slicing to the bone (and beyond) in order to raise profits.
The symbolism was about as subtle as a punch to the gut — and plenty of Kaufman's former colleagues no doubt felt like they'd taken two blows in quick succession.
The person who informed the wider public about the awful juxtaposition of events was veteran reporter Mitchell Byars, who specializes in covering crime and breaking news for the Camera.
Along with many of his co-workers, Byars attended the service for Kaufman, who spent a big chunk of his laudable career at the publication. His obituary notes that Kaufman joined the Camera in 1994 as assistant city editor, made the leap to managing editor in 2005, and was named executive editor the following year by publisher Al Manzi, who also serves as president and CEO of Prairie Mountain Media, which holds the deed on the paper — although Alden is the power behind the throne.
Here's a Byars tweet about the memorial, which got under way at 10 a.m. yesterday and was covered by another Camera scribe, Sam Lounsberry.
Byars followed up with this observation: "One of Kevin's daughters read a quote that I think perfectly summed up how we all felt about him: 'Not always eye to eye, but always heart to heart.' We had our disagreements, but we never doubted he had our backs as journalists and cared about us as people."
To our knowledge, this last sentence has never been used to describe Alden, whose heavy hand has smacked the Camera before. In April 2018, for example, editorial-page editor Dave Krieger was canned after self-publishing a jeremiad against the hedge fund's journalistic bloodletting; Manzi rejected the editorial for disparaging ownership, meaning AGC.
Krieger's fall was closely linked to another toppling domino: Chuck Plunkett, editorial-page editor for the Denver Post, which is also in Alden's portfolio, resigned in May after his piece about Krieger's treatment, among other things, was spiked at the behest of a hedge fund water carrier.
Alden's nastiness has hardly been confined to Colorado, nor are concerns about it. Indeed, last week Senator Chuck Schumer of New York wrote a scathing letter to the company regarding its attempt to purchase the huge Gannett chain of newspapers.
"Public reports indicate that — over the last several years — Alden Global has pursued a strategy of acquiring newspapers, cutting staff, and then selling off the real estate assets of newsrooms and printing presses at a profit," Schumer wrote. "According to these reports, Alden Global has created commercial real estate holding, management, and brokerage subsidiaries to spin off office and printing facilities for sale, lease, or redevelopment. In some instances, it appears that Digital First Media [another entity associated with the fund and its Denver holdings] has engaged in sale-leaseback transactions with these Alden Global affiliates and then invested the profits into other companies not related to media."
This strategy's consequences have been felt by the Camera, and there's more to come, as Byars tweeted at 4:26 p.m., less than ninety minutes after he sent his funeral message.
"Just a few hours after going to the memorial service of our editor, we found out today we're going through more position cuts," wrote Byars, who declined further comment after being contacted by Westword. "I really wish the folks at Alden could have been in the newsroom today to see the devastating effect their greed has on the people who work for them."
Just over twenty minutes later, he added, "To be clear, as to timing I don't know when it was known these cuts were coming. And yes, I would rather have found out sooner than later. But regardless of the reason, I can't pretend it didn't make it harder to hear given we were all already in a rough place."
As for how deep these cuts will be, and who will be impacted. Manzi replied to an email asking for details with these brief lines: "The changes are minor in a group of 214 employees. I cannot get specific about the changes." But knowledgeable sources reveal that while no current employees will be pink-slipped, what's been characterized as the retirement of a photo editor was announced. And two open newsroom jobs have been eliminated, including the position previously held by Kaufman.
We're told that the current plan is for the Camera to move forward without an executive editor.
In the meantime, folks who tweeted back at Byars expressed disgust over his revelations. One person wrote, "Abhorrent. Ghouls. I'm so sorry." Another summarized his reaction like so: "Beyond fucked. Sorry, newsroom fam."
And then there was this: "I had been a subscriber to the Post. I got caught in a circle of wanting to support the journalists and not wanting to support Alden's greed. When it became so clear they didn't give a rat's ass about why I remained a subscriber I quit. Best of luck to you."
The journalists who remain at the Camera will need it.
This post has been updated to note that Sam Lounsberry covered Kevin Kaufman's funeral for the Boulder Daily Camera and Mitchell Byars declined additional comment. In a second update, we shared details about position changes.