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Chicago Tribune staff gets buyout offers as Alden takes over

The hedge fund looks to cut payroll after funding its acquisition with $278 million in debt.

The Chicago Tribune’s printing plant, called Freedom Center, at 560 W Grand Ave.
The Chicago Tribune’s printing plant, called Freedom Center, at 560 W Grand Ave.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Employees of the Chicago Tribune have been offered buyouts as the newspaper’s owner, Alden Global Capital, works quickly to cut costs.

Alden, a New York hedge fund, took over Tribune Publishing on Tuesday. Employees were immediately told the CEO, Terry Jimenez, had left the publishing company. His place at the top of the corporate hierarchy was taken by Heath Freeman, Alden president.

The buyout offer went out to employees Wednesday. Terms were delivered to nonunion employees. Sources said newsroom staff, members of the NewsGuild-CWA union, also will be offered a buyout.

The Chicago Tribune reported nonunion workers with three or more years of continuous service were offered 12 weeks of pay to quit, with another week’s pay for each additional year of service. Those with less than three years on staff would receive eight weeks’ pay, the paper reported.

Sources said buyouts also were being rolled out at the eight other major newspapers the company owns. Titles now in Alden’s hands include the New York Daily News, the Baltimore Sun and the Orlando Sentinel. The company could not be reached for comment.

“We are deeply concerned by the direction Alden is taking the Chicago Tribune by saddling its parent company with debt and immediately looking to make cuts across the country. This does not serve the Tribune or the people of Chicago,” said Gregory Pratt, a City Hall reporter at the paper and president of its NewsGuild unit.

Alden has said in a regulatory filing that it is financing its $17.25-a-share acquisition of Tribune with $278 million in loans from a private equity firm and from one of its own companies. Cerberus Capital Management is providing a first-lien loan of $218 million for five years, while part of MediaNews Group provided $60 million at 13% interest over six years.

Alden owns more than 200 papers through MediaNews Group and is known for its deep cost cuts. It has portrayed its investments as saving traditional media hammered by a loss of revenue to Google, Facebook and other digital sources. Critics have said Alden bleeds assets and loads companies with unsustainable debt.

The Chicago Tribune has faced several rounds of buyouts in recent years. The NewsGuild said the paper has lost about 30% of its editorial staff since late 2019, when Alden first acquired a stake in the parent company.