John Paton, Digital First Media’s CEO, announced this week that Alden Global Capital, DFM’s hedge fund owner, is considering selling their newspapers holdings. DFM has newspapers from Vermont to California, including historically important metro outlets like the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Besides the Merc, it also owns a dozen other local Bay Area papers managed through the Bay Area News Group, including my hometown paper, the Marin Independent Journal.
Ken Doctor, who’s been following the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the newspaper trade for years, figures that Alden will sell the papers region by region. It’s easy to imagine an investor group looking to buy the papers with an eye on short term ROI (which was Alden’s strategy all along, anyway). But if the papers end up being sold to an owner with that approach, it spells more death spiral for local newspapers (that’s how the News Guild sees it, too).
Instead, the Bay Area could be the model for how to turn a decaying, declining, near dead newspaper system into something beautiful and powerful. For that to happen, it’ll take a smart team and smart money to figure out how to reverse the trend. This could be an opportunity for the nonprofit journalism world to take the lead – but only if we look beyond our constraints and limitations (self-imposed and otherwise) and begin to act on a bigger stage. Call me crazy, but how else will local journalism survive and thrive?