Tag Archives: Gloucester Daily Times

BBJ scores big on two local media stories

The Boston Business Journal has come up aces during the past week with two meaty stories on local media news.

• A shaky future at the Globe. The first, published last Friday, found that confidential financial documents put together by the New York Times Co. suggest The Boston Globe was in slightly worse shape than outside observers might have imagined when the paper and several affiliated properties were sold to Red Sox principal owner John Henry for $70 million in early August. The BBJ’s Craig Douglas writes (sub. req.):

In essence, Henry is buying into a borderline breakeven enterprise already teed up for $35 million in cost cuts over a two-year period before he even walks through the door.

How bad is it? According to the documents cited by Douglas, advertising revenue at the New England Media Group (NEMG) — mainly the Globe, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and Boston.com — is expected to be 31 percent below the 2009 level next year. And paid print circulation revenue continues to slip despite price increases at the Globe and the T&G.

You may have heard people say at the time of the sale that Boston.com was worth more than the Globe itself. Well, I don’t think you’ve heard me say it. Print advertising remains far more valuable than online, and that holds true at NEMG as well. Douglas writes:

The Globe is by far the biggest revenue generator of the group, accounting for 69 percent, or about $255 million, of its forecasted revenue this year. The Telegram & Gazette in Worcester is next in line at $42.5 million in forecasted revenue this year, while Boston.com is on track to book about $40 million.

Print products account for about 88 percent of NEMG’s total annual revenue. That heavy reliance on print-related advertising and circulation revenue has proven particularly problematic of late, as both categories have lost ground since 2009 and are forecasted to see continued deterioration for the foreseeable future.

Douglas’ story is protected behind a paywall, but if you can find a print edition, you should. Suffice it to say that John Henry has his work cut out for him. The picture Douglas paints is not catastrophic. But it does show that the Globe is not quite as far along the road toward figuring out the digital future as some of us might have hoped.

• Tough times ahead for local papers. The other big media splash, which I linked to last night, is Jon Chesto’s analysis of the sale of Rupert Murdoch’s Dow Jones Local Newspaper Group (formerly Ottaway Newspapers) to an investment firm affiliated with GateHouse Media. The papers sold include three prominent Greater Boston dailies: The Standard-Times of New Bedford, the Cape Cod Times and the Portsmouth Herald, on the New Hampshire seacoast.

Chesto’s article is part of the BBJ’s free offerings, so by all means read the whole thing. It’s a real eye-opener, as he explains as best anyone can at this early stage what the sale and simultaneous bankruptcy of GateHouse will mean for local papers and the communities they serve. Unfortunately, indications are the news will be very bad indeed.

Fairport, N.Y.-based GateHouse, which publishes about 100 local papers in Eastern Massachusetts (including The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, The Enterprise of Brockton and The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham), will somehow be combined with the entity that holds the former Ottaway papers into a new company with the uninspired name of New Media (that may change). (Update: Chesto is a former business editor of The Patriot Ledger, which no doubt helped him write his piece with a real air of authority. And thanks to Roy Harris for reminding me of that.)

The deal with Murdoch — at $82 million, quite a bit more than I had anticipated — was done through Newcastle Investment Corp., a real estate investment trust that is part of Fortress Investment Group, which in turn is GateHouse’s principal backer.

The powers-that-be are already talking about slashing the Ottaway papers, which are among the best local dailies in the region. Chesto writes:

The papers are described as “under-managed by News Corp.” with “expense reductions of only 6% since 2010.” Translation: We can take more out of the expenses than News Corp. did. GateHouse has been an aggressive cost cutter in recent years, most notably with efforts to consolidate most of its page design and layout functions. That work was centralized in two locations, including an office in Framingham. But it will soon be downsized further, into one location in Austin, Texas.

Yes, Murdoch, the “genocidal tyrant,” is likely to prove a better steward of local journalism than the people he’s selling to.

Post-bankruptcy, with $1.2 billion in debt off their backs, the executives now running GateHouse are going to be empowered. According to a presentation put together for investors, Chesto writes, New Media may spend $1 billion to buy up local media companies over the next three years.

Chesto doesn’t say so, but if I were working for the Eagle-Tribune papers north of Boston (The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, The Daily News of Newburyport, The Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times), I’d be polishing that résumé right now. On the other hand, those papers have already been cut so much under the Alabama-based CNHI chain that it’s not like a new owner could do a whole lot worse.

At a time when there are reasons to be hopeful about the newspaper business thanks to the interest of people like John Henry, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett, the GateHouse deal shows that there are still plenty of reasons to be worried about the future.

Three tough losses in Boston politics and media

220px-Cellucci_paul

Paul Cellucci

The Boston political and media worlds have suffered three tough losses recently. The most prominent was former governor Paul Cellucci, who died on Saturday after a courageous battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Cellucci was a dedicated public servant and a class act. The first time I met him was in 1988, when he and Dick Kraus — both of them were state senators — debated as stand-ins for George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis at the Arlington cable studios.

I got to know Cellucci better when I was working on a profile of him for The Boston Phoenix in 1997. The then-lieutenant governor’s career was at a low ebb — The Boston Globe had revealed that he’d run up $750,000 in personal debt, and state Treasurer Joe Malone was thought by many observers to be the frontrunner for the 1998 Republican nomination for governor.

But Cellucci came across as polite, philosophical, even funny, responding “Are you talkin’ to me?” when someone told him he resembed Robert De Niro.

“This is a very cyclical business,” Cellucci told me at the time. “You’ve got to be ready, you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to catch some breaks. And some years you catch the breaks, some years you don’t.”

He steady demeanor served him well both in his political career and in his illness. The following year Cellucci was elected governor; he later served as ambassador to Canada. Since announcing in 2011 that he had ALS, he had been a visible and effective advocate for research into the disease. He will be missed.

• Richard Gaines was a legendary longtime editor of the Phoenix. Yet even though I worked there for nearly 15 years, our paths never crossed. (We met once at a party.) Today many former Phoenicians and others who knew him are mourning his death at the age of 69.

Gaines led a “tumultuous life,” to borrow a description from a friend of mine who worked with him. He was widely praised for his intelligence and his skill as a reporter and editor. In the latter part of his career he worked for the Gloucester Times, where he became a respected expert on that city’s troubled fishing industry.

I got to know Gaines’ wife, Nancy Gaines, when she worked at the Phoenix in the late 1990s. My thoughts go out to her at this sad and difficult time.

• Christopher Cox was someone whose byline I remember seeing in the Boston Herald, but I had no idea about how many lives he had touched until he died recently, and his friends began paying tribute to him on Facebook.

I also had no idea what an accomplished journalist he was until I read this tribute by David Perry in The Sun of Lowell, where Cox had also worked. A remarkable life and career. Read it.

Photo via Wikipedia.

Alabama pension fund whacks local papers (2013 edition)

The Alabama state employees’ pension fund is on the rampage once again.

The Eagle-Tribune newspapers north of Boston axed two of its local publishers on Wednesday, while a third was moved to the position of regional advertising director. The sole surviving publisher, Karen Andreas, will become regional publisher of the daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and websites. The dailies are the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times.

According to the paper’s Alabama-based owner, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI), “the reorganization is designed to refine the structure of its Massachusetts and New Hampshire properties to align them with the strategic print and digital objectives of the company in the North of Boston market.”

But CNHI, whose major investor is the Retirement Systems of Alabama, has been assiduously hacking away at its Massachusetts properties for years, laying off scores of employees and regularly subjecting those who’ve stayed to unpaid furloughs.

Here is the complete body count:

  • Al Getler, publisher of the Eagle-Tribune, and Sheila Smith, publisher of the Daily News, are out.
  • Mark Zappala, publisher of the Gloucester Daily Times, is the new regional ad director. Although it’s not mentioned in the official story, two sources tell me that Zappala will replace Tim Brady, who was also let go.
  • Andreas, publisher of the Salem News, moves up to regional publisher.

We are Salem News readers, and we are grateful that the paper has been able to keep together much of its skilled, experienced staff. At some point, though, this has to end. I would love to see CNHI try to find local investors to take the paper off its hands. Some days there are so few ads in the News that you wonder how they make payroll.* Is that just the way things are? Or could someone else do better?

*Update: Having heard from an insider, I should clarify. Pick up almost any daily paper, especially early in the week, and you’ll generally find that it’s remarkably thin compared to how many pages it would have comprised, say, 10 years ago. But I have no information on the CNHI papers’ profitability or lack thereof, and my off-the-cuff observation should be taken as no more than that. I also have no doubt the ad salespeople are working their butts off. It’s the out-of-state chain ownership that I question.

Photo (cc) by Joanna Poe and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Bad news continues at New England newspapers

Bad news on two fronts today at New England newspapers owned by out-of-state chains.

First, the Providence Journal announced earlier today that it was eliminating 23 jobs. According to Jim Romenesko, the layoffs include photographers and the paper’s only librarian. Reporters and columnists were reportedly not part of the cut. The Journal is part of the Belo chain of Dallas.

Second, the Eagle-Tribune papers north of Boston have cut 21 positions at their four daily newspapers and several related publications, writes the Boston Globe’s Todd Wallack. The dailies are the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times. The company is owned by CNHI, based in Montgomery, Ala.

More: Wallack has more on the Eagle-Tribune layoffs.

Meanwhile, E-T reporter Mike McMahon, who covered Merrimack College hockey, writes about getting laid off.

Alabama chain whacks local papers — again

The Alabama state employees’ pension fund is taking the axe to its newspapers on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley — again.

CNHI, the Birmingham, Ala.-based chain that owns four daily newspapers and four weeklies north of Boston, has eliminated 36 full- and part-time jobs. The dailies affected by the layoffs are the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times. The chain whacked 52 jobs in 2008.

“We have done our best to weather economic difficulties, but like many companies we must take further steps to sustain the long-term success of the company by reducing staffing levels again,” a CNHI publisher, Al Getler, said in a statement posted online.

But it’s not all bad news for CNHI — if you’re fortunate enough to be near the seat of power. The company recently announced that it would move to Alabama’s state capital, Montgomery, and take up residence in a 12-story building being constructed by its chief investor, Retirement Systems of Alabama. The move is expected to take place in 2012.

We subscribe to the Salem News, and we continue to be impressed with the good job done by the reporters, photographers and editors every day. (Disclosure: Mrs. Media Nation was a Salem News photographer until eight years ago.)

But working conditions have been pretty difficult. For the past several years, most employees have had to take roughly a week of unpaid furlough every quarter. And now things have gotten considerably worse.

No doubt management is having a difficult time of it. The Salem News is pretty light on ads most days. But hollowing out the product year by year is a recipe for eventual closure, not revival. If there is a vision beyond continued cutting, it’s certainly not apparent to readers — or to the journalists who still work there.

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery.

Hard times continue at CNHI

The pain keeps on coming at CNHI, a Birmingham, Ala.-based newspaper chain that owns four Massachusetts dailies: the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times.

On the heels of a holiday furlough several months ago, Yvette Northcutt, the company’s vice president of human resources, is now telling employees they must take five unpaid days off between April 1 and June 30.

CNHI, as you may know, exists mainly to provide Alabama schoolteachers with a comfortable retirement. Those of us who live on the North Shore or the Merrimack Valley can ponder that the next time we wonder why an important local event didn’t get covered.

The full text of Northcutt’s memo follows:

We have chosen to implement reduced work schedules for hourly employees and reduced work schedules and pay reductions for salaried employees in the second quarter of 2010. The details are described below:

  • We will implement a reduced work schedule for hourly employees during the second quarter of 2010. All hourly employees must take five days off without pay between April 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010. It is expected that no work will be done during this time. This applies to full and part-time employees. Part-time employees’ work schedules will be reduced on a prorated basis. These days must be taken during the second quarter, and regular vacation, personal and sick days may not be substituted for these unpaid days.
  • A reduced schedule will also be implemented for salaried employees during the second quarter with a corresponding reduction in pay. Salaried employees already affected by the first-quarter pay reduction will simply see their current base salary roll forward. The second-quarter pay reduction will be applied over all pay dates occurring during the second quarter. In turn, salaried employees must take five days off between April 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010. Under this plan, the days off will not reduce the employees’ existing allotment of regular vacation, personal and sick days. Regular vacation, personal and sick days may not be substituted for these additional days off.
  • We are asking our unions to voluntarily agree to similar arrangements for the employees they represent. If our unions agree, this will help us avoid future layoffs.
  • In order to ensure staffing needs are met, these off days must be planned and approved in advance. Please submit the attached Request for Second Quarter Days Off form to your manager by March 15, 2010.

Thank you again for your hard work, dedication and support. Please contact Human Resources if you have any questions.

Tough times at CNHI’s local newspapers

eagletribune_20091218In reporting on downsizing woes at local newspapers, it sometimes seems as though the Boston Globe and GateHouse Media are the only two players in Eastern Massachusetts. But they’re not alone.

Among the more significant is CNHI, a huge national chain that competes with GateHouse on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley, owning the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times.

This week, staff members received an e-mail from Al Getler, publisher of the Eagle-Tribune, the Gloucester paper and several smaller publications, announcing some holiday uncheer: a company-wide day off without pay that must be taken by Dec. 26. Media Nation received a copy of Getler’s e-mail earlier today.

“Folks, I know what a tough year it has been and please know how much I appreciate all of your hard work and dedication. I am seeing signs that things are slowly beginning to get better. My hope is that, in the second half of 2010, this is all a distant memory,” Getler wrote.

CNHI, based in Birmingham, Ala., is an investment for the Retired Alabama Teachers Association, whose members presumably are less than concerned about the quality of local news coverage north of Boston.

The Media Nation family subscribes to the Salem News, which does a remarkably good job despite a succession of furloughs and cutbacks. (Disclosure: Mrs. Media Nation is a former Salem News photographer.) This latest cut, though, seems like cruel and unnecessary punishment. The full text of Getler’s holiday message follows.

Dear Team,

Today I received an email from Donna Barrett, CEO of CNHI.

You have often heard me speak about the commitments we have to people that invest in our company. Donna described a critical financial target that is necessary for us to hit before the end of the year.

Unfortunately, hitting this target means we will take one additional day off without pay between today and December 26, 2009.

The requirements are this:

All hourly employees must take off eight hours without pay between now and December 26.  It is expected that no work will be done during this time. This applies to full- and part-time employees. Part-time employees’ work schedules will be reduced on a prorated basis.

A reduced schedule will also be implemented for salaried employees with a corresponding pay reduction.  Salaried employees must take off one day between now and December 26.

The way the North of Boston Media Group management team has decided to do this is as follows:

All newspaper offices will be closed for business on Christmas Eve. This means for many who were scheduled to work, this will become your unpaid day. If you planned to take that day off as a vacation day already, you now have to reschedule that vacation day.

Editorial, production and circulation will work on a minimized schedule for Christmas Eve. The schedule will be announced as soon as possible.

There will be no in bound telephone classified ads processed on Christmas Eve.

There is one less day to process ads as all salespeople are included in this additional day off. Plan accordingly and watch for production deadline changes.

Ads will be produced to announce this change in policy.

Please note that we will not have employee withholdings for benefits on our December 31 paychecks, which will help mitigate the impact on take home pay. This applies to those that have benefits deducted.

Folks, I know what a tough year it has been and please know how much I appreciate all of your hard work and dedication. I am seeing signs that things are slowly beginning to get better. My hope is that, in the second half of 2010, this is all a distant memory.

Please see your supervisor, manager or director with any questions you may have. And as always, feel free to contact me.

Best,

Al Getler