Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) started his weekly press briefing on Tuesday – for the first time in many months – with a topic other than the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to talk about something else first, something that I actually think is a greater threat and of more importance in our community right now, which is the acquisition of our one local newspaper, the Capital Gazette, by Alden Global Capital, and some actions that they’ve taken recently,” Pittman said.
He also released an open letter on Tuesday, which he sent to the hedge fund’s leaders, pleading with them not to gut the community’s paper.
“You got a gem. The paper started publishing as the Maryland Gazette in 1727. It’s had a lot of owners and changed with the times, but it’s always kept the people around here informed,” Pittman wrote.
“We’ve heard that you are bad news, that you buy papers like ours, lay off staff, cut local news coverage, and squeeze out whatever profit you can,” the letter continues. “…We rejoiced when other investors stepped in with a competing offer, promising to preserve our paper and the Baltimore Sun under the oversight of a local nonprofit. But you won.”
“That was a blow, but we’re not ready to give up,” Pittman wrote, invoking the perseverance of Capital Gazette staff, who worked through the horror of a gunman’s deadly attack on the paper nearly three years ago.
Over the past week, key journalists who helped the paper continue publishing throughout the tragedy — reporter Chase Cook and editor Rick Hutzell — announced they accepted buyouts that were offered on the heels of Alden’s purchase.
“You may not have noticed, but just as you take our journalists away, our paper is gearing up to cover the trial of the killer that attacked it,” Pittman wrote. “And just as you take our journalists away we are unveiling a memorial” to honor the victims: Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters.
He invited the hedge fund leaders to a ceremony unveiling the Guardians of the First Amendment Memorial on Monday, the third anniversary of the shooting.
“After the event, you can meet with community leaders, elected officials, and Capital Gazette staff for a conversation about how we can protect local journalism as a career and the Capital Gazette as an institution,” Pittman wrote.
Asked why he was taking the unusual step of sending a letter and speaking out publicly against the sale of the paper, Pittman said it wasn’t possible to take legal action because Alden is operating within the law, but it might be possible to sway their actions.
“Public opinion can matter. And they care what their investors think,” Pittman said during the briefing. “And so part of what I hope to accomplish is to shine a light on what’s going on here.”
“…I hope it not only helps to get Alden to think twice about the future of this paper, and to work to build it — they have they certainly have the resources to be able to do that,” Pittman said. “But that it gets others, both in communities and in the industry, to think about the value of local papers.”