Pioneer Press Guild Seeks New Owner With Strib Ad
Employees at the St. Paul Pioneer Press joined other guild-represented newspaper staffs around the country in taking out ads Monday calling for new buyers to snatch up their papers from the New York-based hedge fund that owns them.
The Minnesota Newspaper and Communications Guild purchased ads online and in Monday’s print edition of The Star Tribune asking for a new owner to offer to buy the Pioneer Press from Digital First Media, the nation’s second largest newspaper chain. Staff at the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News took out similar ads in their respective markets.
“Unfortunately, the newspaper’s owner … is more interested in dismantling the newspaper to increase profits than in investing in the future,” the local ad says.
The Pioneer Press’ parent company, Digital First Media, manages more than 100 local newsrooms in 18 states and is owned by the “Distressed Opportunities Fund” of New York-based hedge fund, Alden Global Capital. Alden emerged as a majority shareholder of the Pioneer Press after the newspaper emerged from bankruptcy in 2010.
Dave Orrick, the Pioneer Press guild’s spokesman, maintains that the newspaper remains a financially viable business but declined to provide figures, citing a confidentiality agreement. He added that about 40 percent of households for multiple zip codes in the east metro area had some kind of subscription to the paper.
“The Pioneer Press still has that kind of reader loyalty you can’t buy,” Orrick said.
But staffing levels continue to dip. As of July, Orrick said, the paper had 92 newsroom employees—down from its 2001 high-water mark of 246. Increasingly, positions aren’t filled: Orrick said the paper hasn’t hired a new photographer since he arrived in 2006.
“We’re at the point where when people are on vacation or key positions need filled, awful choices need to be made in terms of what to cover and what not to cover,” Orrick said.
Digital First Media has yet to put properties on the market, but the Minnesota Newspaper & Communications Guild said it believed investors are seeking an exit strategy. Earlier this year, the Pioneer Press shifted its printing to the Star Tribune, which resulted in the loss of about 160 jobs on the production side. In its story about its decision to shift printing, the Pioneer Press also said its downtown St. Paul headquarters were for sale and that the assessed value of that 172,430-square-foot building is $3 million.
In late June, the Star Tribune’s new owner, Glen Taylor, expressed interest in purchasing the Pioneer Press were it to be made available but said he had no “reason to believe what that time table might be.”
But Orrick said Pioneer Press readers in St. Paul and the east metro area, which the paper has covered for more than 150 years, would bristle at any sort of merger between the two competing papers.
“There’s no need for a merger: The Pioneer Press is an absolutely viable business. We’re looking for an owner with a sense of civic pride,” Orrick said.
Orrick said staff wanted to take out Monday’s ad in the Pioneer Press instead of its rival, but publisher Guy Gilmore, who also serves as an executive vice president at Digital First Media, declined to run the ad. Requests to speak with Gilmore were not immediately returned. The Pioneer Press, meanwhile, declined to comment for this article.