Apr 16, 2024 - Business

Dozens of Alden newspapers run coordinated editorials slamming Google

Photo illustration of newspaper cut-outs shaped like bursts and arrows pointing in varying directions

Photo illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios. Photos: FPG, Heritage Art/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Dozens of Alden Global Capital-owned newspapers ran editorials over the weekend arguing that Google's threat to cut off news in California "is a bully tactic."

Why it matters: Alden declared in 2022 that its newspapers would no longer endorse national political candidates in their opinion pages, arguing the public discourse "has become increasingly acrimonious."

  • But its latest efforts suggest it is interested in driving certain agendas, albeit ones that it probably believes are less likely to draw fiery reactions.

Zoom in: Google is currently testing removing links to publishers from search results amid a regulatory threat to pay news outlets. Meta has threatened the same.

  • The editorials ran in many of Alden's California-based outlets, including the San Jose Mercury News, the Orange County Register and its recently purchased San Diego Union-Tribune. But it also ran in non-California papers, such as the Hartford Courant, Orlando Sentinel and Boston Herald.
  • The editorial concludes with a sentence that explicitly endorses the proposed California law: "This kind of anticompetitive behavior is exactly why legislation like the CJPA is needed."

Between the lines: The editorials are labeled differently by different outlets, obfuscating who is deciding to publish the editorial — the staff at the individual papers, their individual editorial boards, or the leadership from Alden's two subsidiaries: MediaNews Group and Tribune Publishing.

  • The Hartford Courant called it a "Staff Report." The Boston Herald called it an "Editorial." The San Jose Mercury News said the editorial was "By Mercury News & East Bay Times Editorial Boards." The Orlando Sentinel similarly attributed it to "The Orlando Sentinel And Bay Area News Group Editorial Boards."
  • A source familiar with the process said management gave its newspapers the option of running the editorial as they saw fit, but the editorial wasn't mandated and not every paper ran it.

Zoom out: Alden has long been vocal about Big Tech's anti-competitive practices toward the news industry, so these editorials aren't surprising, but the method of a coordinated editorial push is new.

Flashback: A similar situation occurred last October when dozens of Alden-owned newspapers ran an editorial urging the broader media industry to call Hamas a terrorist group.

  • That decision was made by Alden's MediaNews Group and Tribune Enterprises leadership, not the editorial boards of each newspaper.
  • A source confirmed to Axios at the time that company ownership was involved in the decision. All Alden papers ran that editorial

The bottom line: Without some sort of uniform disclosure, it's unclear to readers who is ultimately deciding to advocate for a certain position — their local editorial boards or corporate executives at a massive investment company.

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