Media company owned by a hedge fund wants to buy Gannett

A media company led by a hedge fund is making a play to take over Gannett, one of the largest newspaper companies in the United States.

MNG Enterprises, which is also known as Digital First Media, announced Monday that it has proposed to buy Gannett for $12 a share in cash.

MNG is mostly owned by Alden Global Capital, a New York-based hedge fund known for buying distressed properties. It has been investing in newspapers for the last decade. While the newspaper industry has struggled in recent years, critics say MNG cuts deeper than most of its rivals.

MNG’s move comes as Gannett is preparing for a leadership transition. Robert Dickey, Gannett’s president and CEO, said last month that he plans to retire in May.

In an email to the staff on Monday morning, Dickey confirmed “receipt of an unsolicited proposal from MNG Enterprises” and promised to keep staffers informed about developments. “[B]ut we are business as usual,” Dickey said in the email, a copy of which was obtained by CNN Business.

While it is best known for owning USA Today, Gannett also operates dozens of other publications across the country. Digital First’s portfolio includes about 200 newspapers.

Gannett, meanwhile, has lost more than 40% of its value over the last two years — a drop that MNG says makes it ripe for new ownership.

In a letter to Gannett’s board of directors, MNG dinged the company for a “series of value-destroying decisions made by an unfocused leadership team.”

“Frankly, the team leading Gannett has not demonstrated that it’s capable of effectively running this enterprise as a public company,” MNG wrote.

Gannett (GCI) stock was up nearly 20% in pre-market trading Monday.

Still, it is unlikely that news of the acquisition will be met with celebrations in Gannett’s newsrooms across the country, as MNG’s aggressive cost-cutting tactics have earned derision from plenty of journalists.

MNG found itself embroiled in a dispute last year with employees at the Denver Post, whose editorial board wrote a blistering piece calling out the “vultures” at Alden.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report on Digital First’s plans to buy Gannett. When the news broke Sunday night, journalists across the industry expressed alarm, bracing themselves for yet more instability in small and local newrooms.

As longtime media critic Jim Romenesko put it: “Haven’t newspaper employees suffered enough?

Niraj Warikoo, staff writer for the Gannett-owned Detroit Free Press tweeted: “If DFM takes over Gannett, it will basically be the end of the American newspaper industry.”