What’s Digital First going to do next?

The chaos at the Denver Post may be spreading to other Digital First Media properties, including those in Massachusetts.

Chuck Plunkett, who resigned last week as the editor of the Post’s editorial page, said in an op-ed in Rolling Stone that Digital First, which is owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, “is actively debating whether to do away with house editorials in all of its papers across the country.”

Ken Doctor, a respected media columnist who writes for the Nieman Journalism Lab, reported that Digital First Media is preparing another round of spending cuts in the 10 to 15 percent range. Doctor, citing sources, said the latest spending cuts are at least partially a response to financial pressure caused by one of its lenders, who is upset about the bad publicity coming out of Denver and withdrawing from the refinancing of a $225 million credit facility.

Digital First Media owns 98 new outlets across eight states, including Massachusetts where its properties including the Boston Herald, the Lowell Sun, the Valley Dispatch weekly in Lowell, and the Sentinel & Enterprise in Fitchburg.

All is quiet at Digital First’s publications in Massachusetts, but in Colorado the pushback against Digital First and Alden Global Capital has been strong. It started on April 6, when the Denver Post’s editorial page condemned the spending cuts and the “vulture capitalist” ordering them up. “Denver deserves a newspaper owner who supports its newsroom,” the editorial, written by Plunkett, said. “If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell The Post to owners who will.”

The national coverage of Plunkett’s attack on his bosses probably saved him his job temporarily, but last week, after disobeying an order not to mention his bosses in an editorial he offered for publication, he quit before he could be fired. His departure folllowed the firing of the editorial page editor of the Boulder Daily Camera, also owned by Digital First, for placing an editorial about his bosses that his bosses wouldn’t run in another publication.

In addition to Plunkett, two other news executives at the Denver Post as well as former owner and editorial page advisor Dean Singleton also stepped down last week. “Everything I believe about the news business is being violated,” said Singleton. “It is breaking my heart.”

All this is happening as Digital First is raking in profits. Doctor said Digital First earned a 17 percent operating margin in fiscal 2017 along with profits of $160 million. “That’s the fruit of the repeated cutbacks that have left its own shrinking newsrooms in a state of rebellion,” Doctor wrote.

In his op-ed for Rolling Stone, Plunkett accused his former bosses of neglect and censorship. He also lamented the sorry state of journalism. “Depending on your bogeyman – whether it’s Trump Nation or P.C. Elitism – the desire to retreat to echo-chamber news outlets has grown,” he wrote. “Local papers look more like advertising supplements filled with content from other sources, and ‘serious journalists’ are considered something only national brands can afford.”



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