Official No Longer

Official No Longer

Alameda Sun loses city contract

“The Official Newspaper of the City of Alameda,” the Alameda Sun’s masthead has proudly proclaimed these last four years. This is the last edition that the Sun is able to make that boast.

Over these four years, Jillian Strahler and Joyce McConeghey have worked diligently to develop cordial, well-coordinated relationships with city staff.

This is attested to in this year’s staff report about awarding the contract to the Sun. The staff report reads:

“Although the Alameda Journal was the lowest bidder, for the past four years, the City Council selected the Alameda Sun based on general circulation (see attached circulation audits) and because it is locally owned and operated.

“During the COVID-19 panemic, the Alameda Sun has reduced its paper circulation and increased online readership. The City Clerk recommends awarding the contract to the Alameda Sun.”

Despite the recommendation of their own staff, Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, Vice-Mayor Malia Vella and Councilmember Tony Daysog voted at the Tuesday, June 15, City Council meeting to award the contract to the Alameda Journal. Councilmembers John Knox White and Trish Spencer voted to award the contract to the Sun.

On the face of it, the vote makes sense. The Journal bid $5.61 per column inch against the Alameda Sun’s $15 per column inch.

Why such a wide difference? Eric J. Kos and I own the Alameda Sun. The Journal, on the other hand, is part of an Oakland media conglomerate called Bay Area News Group (BANG) which, in turn, is owned by a Denver, Colo., media conglomerate called MNG Enterprises, Inc., which does business as Digital First Media and MediaNews Group.

MNG Enterprises’ major shareholder, Alden Capital Group, is a New York City hedge fund run by Heath Freeman.

The Alameda Sun could be worth about $600,000 with assets valued at $15,000, which mostly include unsold books, a few computers and some second-hand desks and chairs; oh, and a small refrigerator and a microwave oven.

The Sun was netting a slight profit until the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020, when we lost 63% of our revenue.

On the other hand, Alden Capital Group manages more than $1 billion in assets. Dun & Bradstreet estimates BANG’s 2021 revenue at $7.61 million.

It was difficult to nail down MNG’s most-recent revenue. I did make a note in 2017, when the Sun was bidding against the Journal that its Denver-based owner netted profits of $159 million.

On May 21, the Journal’s owner became the second-largest owner of newspapers in the United States, when it acquired the Chicago Tribune.

Is is any wonder that the Alameda Journal-Bay Area News Group-MNG Enterprises- Alden Capital Group can underbid the Alameda Sun by more thant $9 a column inch ?

And what about Heath Freeman, who runs hedge fund Alden Capital Group? Here are two statements about Freeman from a Washington Post story written by Sarah Ellison:
• The reporters who work for him — and the swelling numbers who used to — call him a vampire, a vulture, an embarrassment; some have protested outside his Hamptons home or his Midtown Manhattan office.
• Twenty-one (United States) senators have urged him to stop his “reckless acquisition and destruction of newspapers,” and mayors (!) bemoan his papers’ shrinking coverage of their cities. (The exclamation point is mine.)

Here are three examples of Freeman’s influence on the media from Ellison’s article:
• There was no reporter on the education beat at the (San Jose) Mercury News when the pandemic started closing schools.
• In Denver, Colo., in the aftermath of the 2012 Aurora movie theater mass shooting, the editor was asked to slash staff to improve the next month’s budget numbers.
• In Vallejo, there is exactly one news reporter left at the Times-Herald to cover a community of 120,000 people.

All this being said, however, I do want to thank past City Councilmembers for allowing the Sun to do the city’s legal ads the last four years.

I want to thank Trish Spencer and John Knox White for this year’s vote of confidence in the Alameda Sun.

I would also like to ask for your support. If you are not a subscriber, please become one. It’s just $50 a year. Give us a call 510-263-1471.

We also have history books for sale, two about Alameda and some coffee-table books we’ve done for our London, England, publisher. We accept all major credit cards.

Three members of the City Council have handed the Sun a lemon — we will take a $43,000 hit on our bottom line. However we’ve decided to make some lemonade and have some plans to do so. I’ll describe them in upcoming isues.

Dennis Evanosky is the publisher of the Alameda Sun.