Outraged after yet another round of layoffs, employees of The Denver Post called out the paper’s hedge fund owners in the editorial section of the paper last Sunday, claiming the budget cuts are destroying the good journalism the community relies on. Following that public revolt, a Colorado civic group expressed interest in buying the newspaper with investors so far pledging $10 million in funds.
"We call out other people who we feel like aren’t doing their job or living up to their obligations. We should be able to call out our own owners, and that’s why I did it," editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett told CBS News’ Barry Petersen.
Chuck Plunkett CBS News
In the defiant and desperate editorial, Plunkett and a host of other writers criticized the paper’s hedge fund owners, Alden Global Capital, for slashing staff, and they warned Denver it may lose its century-and-a-half-old newspaper.
"Media experts nationally and locally have reported that Alden is making a profit of around 20 percent. … That’s another compelling reason to go with an editorial like this and let our readers know, ‘Hey, it’s not this narrative that we’re going down the tubes because we can’t pay the bills. … There’s something else going on here, too,’" Plunkett said.
The striking editorial includes a photo filled with silhouettes of the journalists who were laid off or have left since the paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013. The various articles said the paper’s ranks have shriveled to around 60, placing blame squarely on what one writer called the "vulture capitalists" at the hedge fund.
"When we had the meeting about announcing the 30 layoffs there was so much silence in that room, you could hear a pin drop. And looking around that room, especially at the young reporters and the young editors, they were crying because they didn’t know what was going to happen," former Denver Post photographer John Leyba.
For Leyba, The Denver Post was the only journalism home he had ever known. His career started in the photo lab at age 19. Over the next three decades as a sports photographer, Leyba would capture memorable moments for the paper. Monday was his last day.
"I think they’re going to miss a great deal of love for what people do for that newspaper. You know I’ve been getting calls from everybody that they’re going to stop their subscription because they’re not going to be seeing my stuff in the paper anymore," Leyba said.
Sunday’s editorial features a photo filled with silhouettes of the journalists who were laid off or have left since the paper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013
Alden Global Capital is the primary equity holder in Digital First Media, which owns 97 newspapers. According to the NewsGuild union, some papers have lost more than 70 percent their workforce. A recent lawsuit alleges Alden mismanaged hundreds of millions of dollars from the news chain.
Now, Plunkett is hoping community and civic leaders will react to their editorial section and step in to save the flagship local newspaper.
This Sunday, Plunkett plans to publish letters from readers offering support. Critics will be heard, too, like one reader, who wrote, "The Denver Post is reaping what it has sowed. The editorial arrogance and left bias has rendered it irrelevant."
"When you think of the good that a large newsroom can do, that paper of record role, that watchdog role – that function we provide. You speak truth to power, you provide a voice to the voiceless, you try to matter in your community and you try to help your community achieve its goals and live up to its values. And losing that would be such a tremendous loss," Plunkett said.
Alden Global Capital did not respond to CBS News’ repeated requests for comment.