About News

From a Bad Situation Comes a Powerful Defense of Local Journalism

Tom Arenberg is an instructor of news media at the University of Alabama.

I’m doing no work for this blog post because George Lynett is going to make the point for me.

George Lynett is the publisher emeritus of Times-Shamrock Communications, which last week sold its four daily newspapers in Pennsylvania (Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Pottsville and Hazelton) to the worst media chain in the country, MediaNews Group, owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Lynett was the lone dissenter among family members in selling to Alden and ending 128 years of family ownership. Although family-owned publications and even chains still exist, that kind of ownership has shriveled in recent decades. Ownership by national corporate chains dominates the industry today. With that have come consolidation and reduction, and in some cases decimation.

Alden, the second-largest newspaper chain in the U.S. with over 200 dailies and weeklies, is especially villainous. So much so that Lynett and his grown children went public with their displeasure, releasing a statement that is eloquent, heartfelt and sad. And full of truth.

“Newspapers have been our family business for nearly 128 years. Since 1895, we have had the privilege of serving this community with local news, events and happenings. Today marks a very sad end to that legacy. Our family would like to express our gratitude to the loyal employees, readers and advertisers who have been with us all these years.

“We feel it is important to express our personal dissatisfaction with the sale of Times-Shamrock newspapers to MediaNews Group, a subsidiary of Alden Capital. This was a transaction that we do not support or endorse. Alden does not reflect the business principles we feel are consistent with the stewardship of any newspaper.

“The sale was driven by a majority of our shareholders. We understand the fears about our ability to remain competitive. We recognize the underlying concerns about the newspaper industry’s revenue and audience declines, and the desire of many of the shareholders to leave the painful decisions to cut costs, coverage and employees in someone else’s hands. 

“We remained confident and hopeful that our current Board of Directors and management team would have been able to lead us through the industry’s headwinds more effectively and humanely than a hedge fund like Alden.

“The willingness to sell a company steeped in integrity and family tradition – and staffed by loyal, bright, compassionate employees – to a company with such a devastating reputation in the industry runs against everything we believe in. We are concerned for our employees, our communities and our family legacy.

“Newspapers are a tough business. That’s undeniable. But a newspaper is much more than just a business. It is the only business explicitly protected by the Constitution. It is a local institution and expected to track government spending, keep an eye on politicians, advocate for the voiceless, ask tough questions, cover local sports and businesses, and record the milestones in readers’ lives.

“Newspapers provide the ‘first draft of history’ as the local historical record. They are the only true local watchdog with a large newsroom and resources capable of providing in-depth, verified news and investigative reporting on a large scale in any community.

“Most family newspaper sale announcements bear some variation of stock language regarding the new owner’s ability to ‘assume the families’ stewardship,’ ‘continue to provide strong local reporting,’ and ‘maintain the legacy’ of the selling family. Sadly, we feel that none of that will be true in our case.

“For four generations, members of our family dedicated their careers to the idea of a free and independent press that would ceaselessly endeavor to improve the community. As a newspaper family and stewards of reliable news, we have heavy hearts ending that legacy and will forever cherish the countless community of dedicated employees who worked alongside us and our family for generations.”


Tom Arenberg is an instructor of news media at the University of Alabama. He worked for The Birmingham News and the Alabama Media Group for 30 years. He published this commentary originally as a post on his blog, The Arenblog.

About News is a BirminghamWatch feature that publishes commentary by those who teach the craft and think about the values and performance of today’s journalism, a civic flashpoint. BirminghamWatch is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News whose members generally rely on individual gifts, foundation grants and sponsorships to support their work. It also publishes About News articles on Facebook and Twitter and invites readers to join the conversation about their news in those forums.