Tag Archives: Rupert Murdoch

The reaper visits Cape Cod, New Bedford papers

In September I asked (here and here) whether Rupert Murdoch’s 33 Dow Jones community newspapers might face cuts once they were sold to Newcastle Investment Corp., which is affiliated with GateHouse Media. Over the weekend we got the answer: yes, indeed.

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 10.05.19 AMLocally, the Cape Cod Times and The Standard-Times of New Bedford, both of which enjoy excellent reputations, will have to make do with a lot less. Seven full-time and 10 part-time employees have been cut at the Cape Cod Media Group, which comprises the Times and several affiliated publications. Twelve newsroom jobs were eliminated, with 10 people being laid off.

Similarly, four full-timers and four part-timers were let go at the SouthCoast Media Group, which is dominated by The Standard-Times. The story does not say how many of those employees were on the news side.

Peter Meyer, the publisher of both papers, was quoted in The Standard-Times as saying:

It is important to know that new ownership is not at fault for today’s actions. Any buyer would have taken similar measures based on financial realities. This was a painful but necessary step to position the SouthCoast Media Group for future success.

Essentially the same statement ran in the Cape Cod paper. Yet Meyer also says the papers in both groups remain profitable, though not as profitable as they were in 2009. Which means that the new owners could have invested in growth — admittedly, a dicey proposition — rather than bet on continued shrinkage.

I could not find any announcement for the Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald, the third major local daily that Dow Jones sold in September. But Jim Romenesko reports that the Times Herald-Record of Middletown, N.Y., got rid of all four of its staff photographers and will now rely on freelancers — reminiscent of the move made by the Chicago Sun-Times earlier this year. Three newsroom managers were let go as well.

“I’m getting reports today of ‘bloodbaths’ at some of the former Dow Jones papers,” Romenesko wrote on Friday.

GateHouse, currently going through a structured bankruptcy, owns about 100 community newspapers in Massachusetts, most of them weeklies.

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.

Murdoch sells local papers to GateHouse investor

MA_CCTRupert Murdoch is selling The Middleboro Gazette, the weekly that covers the Southeastern Massachusetts town where I grew up. I’m not sure Murdoch ever knew he owned it in the first place. It’s just something that was thrown in when his News Corporation bought The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones in 2007.

Earlier today, Dow Jones’ chain of local newspapers — formerly the Ottaway group — was acquired by an affiliate of Fortress Investments, the majority owner of GateHouse Media, which will manage the papers. I’m not sure why GateHouse itself isn’t buying the papers, but perhaps we’ll learn more in the days ahead. Jim Romenesko has more.

Dow Jones’ regional properties include some high-quality, well-known dailies such as The Standard-Times of New Bedford, the Cape Cod Times and the Portsmouth Herald of New Hampshire.

Two questions spring to mind:

  • In general, the Ottaway papers have been spared some of the cuts that the financially struggling GateHouse chain has implemented. Will downsizing now commence? Or will the Ottaway papers’ odd status as non-GateHouse papers spare them?
  • What happens to Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell, who’s been running the Ottaway papers for Murdoch since 2008? Will he content himself with running the Herald? Or will Murdoch come up with a new assignment for him?

The deal includes 33 publications, eight of them daily papers. Romenesko reports that financial terms were not disclosed. But given that The Boston Globe recently went for $70 million — not much more than the value of its land — I can’t imagine that a significant amount of money is changing hands.

Update: From Wednesday’s New York Times:

The details of the transaction were not released, but the money involved was evidently relatively small, because if it had been bigger (or, in financial terms, material to the company) News Corporation would have had to disclose more financial information.

Ouch.

Update II: Shows you what I know. Fortress paid $87 million for the Dow Jones papers, which may be a fraction of what they were worth a few years ago, but is more than I had imagined.

According to Tiffany Kary of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, an enormously complicated reorganization is now under way. The long-in-the-making bankruptcy of GateHouse Media is now a reality, and the company will be absorbed into a new company to be created by Fortress called New Media.

Update III: Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal has posted a must-read analysis of what’s going on. Talk about failing up. GateHouse is going bankrupt and will become part of something bigger. And it looks like GateHouse chief executive Mike Reed isn’t going anywhere.

The Daily was on the Internet — but not of the Internet

dailyRupert Murdoch this week killed off The Daily, the tablet-centric electronic newspaper that he unveiled nearly two years ago to great fanfare and even greater skepticism.

It’s no exaggeration to say this was one experiment that was dead on arrival. Very few observers believed there was a market for a middlebrow paid digital news product aimed at a general audience. And those few were proved wrong.

It so happens that The Daily died just as I was reading “Post-Industrial Journalism,” a new report by Columbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. The authors, C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky, argue that digital technology has ended the industrial model of journalism — an approach to news built around the industrial processes (printing plants, fleets of trucks and the like) needed to produce and distribute it. They credit the phrase “post-industrial journalism” to the redoubtable Doc Searls, who in 2001 defined it as “journalism no longer organized around the norms of proximity to the machinery of production.”

The problem with The Daily — or, at least, one of the problems — was that Murdoch followed the industrial model of news despite his reliance on post-industrial technology. The Daily was a centralized operation built around a daily cycle when it should have taken advantage of not being tied down to a print edition. It was essentially an electronic version of a print newspaper that offered none of the advantages of either format.

The Daily was not part of the broader Web. Social sharing was difficult if not impossible. The Daily was, well, a daily — it came out once a day, you downloaded it and that was that. No updating until the next day’s edition. At first, you could only read it on an iPad, although it eventually migrated to other tablets and to the iPhone.

With print, people are willing to put up with some of these shortcomings because of the convenience and aesthetics of ink on paper, which still haven’t lost their appeal. An online news source simply has to offer more. The Daily was on the Internet, but it wasn’t of the Internet. Its demise was inevitable.

For the Cape Cod Times, the beginning of the trail

Screen Shot 2012-12-05 at 8.40.27 AM

Image via Today’s Front Pages at the Newseum

You may have heard that a journalistic scandal is unfolding at the Cape Cod Times. A 59-year-old reporter, Karen Jeffrey, left the paper after editor Paul Pronovost and publisher Peter Meyer concluded she had fabricated sources in at least 34 stories dating back to 1998. Jeffrey had worked at the daily since 1981.

According to the apology that the paper has published, the fabrications appear to be restricted to “lighter fare,” and that Jeffrey managed to stick to nonfiction when covering hard news. That might help explain how she got away with it for so long. Then, too, fictional sources don’t call up the editor to complain.

Still, you have to wonder if anyone either inside or outside the newsroom harbored suspicions. This is a big deal — as bad as Mike Barnicle, Patricia Smith and Jayson Blair. The only difference is that Jeffrey’s downfall is playing out on a smaller stage. Count me as one observer who would like to know more.

Jim Romenekso covers the scandal here; Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon has more here; Walter Brooks of Cape Cod Today indulges in a little schadenfreude here.

Rupert Murdoch, believe it or not, actually owns the Times, a consequence of his having bought the Wall Street Journal and its affiliated properties five years ago. Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell, a Murdoch protégé, is involved in managing the Times and other Murdoch-owned community papers.

Jeffrey’s reign of error began many years before the Murdoch era. But it will be interesting to see whether Purcell is heard from as this story unfolds.

At the Boston Herald, 30 years down the road

The Boston Herald has put together a video to mark the paper’s 30th anniversary of its current incarnation. In December 1982, Hearst nearly closed the doors before Rupert Murdoch swept in and rescued the tabloid in return for concessions from the paper’s union.

The video, featuring Herald columnists Joe Fitzgerald, Margery Eagan and Howie Carr, publisher Pat Purcell (who bought the paper from Murdoch in 1994) and others, is a self-celebration over Boston’s having remained a two-daily town — rare then and even more rare today. It’s accompanied by a column in which Fitzgerald remembers the emotional rollercoaster everyone was on.

I should add that Fitzgerald was the subject recently of a touching column by his colleague Jessica Heslam following the death of his wife, Carol. Heslam’s piece has slipped into the paid archives, but John Carroll recently excerpted parts of it. Media Nation extends its best wishes to Fitzgerald and his family.

What’s next for Kevin Convey?

Kevin Convey presents an award to boxing legend Joe Frazier last August.

Obviously Kevin Convey doesn’t wear the right kind of shoes.

Word came Wednesday afternoon that Convey, a former Boston Herald editor, was being replaced as editor of the New York Daily News (via Poynter). The new boss: Colin Myler, who was editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World when it was shut down amid the phone-hacking scandal. Myler was reportedly not involved, and even called out James Murdoch over his claims that he knew nothing about nothing.

According to Capital New York, Convey was seen by Daily News staffers as never quite fitting in during his two years at the helm. An unnamed source is quoted as saying that, among other things, “he dressed funny. What type of editor-in-chief wears Chuck Taylor All-Stars to work?” Well, there you go.

The shake-up at the Daily News gets a mention in the Boston Globe’s Names section today, and the Herald runs an Associated Press story that contains no reference to Convey’s Herald tenure (different in the print edition, perhaps?). The unanswered question is whether Herald publisher Pat Purcell would bring back Convey in some capacity. Convey’s a smart, interesting guy, and it would make sense to bring him in at least as a consultant, provided he wants to do it.

Now, follow the bouncing tabloid battles. Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, whose roots are in Boston, hired Convey from the Herald, which used to be owned by Murdoch and whose current owner, Purcell, continues to have business ties to the “genocidal tyrant.”

Zuckerman’s competition, of course, is Murdoch’s New York Post. Now Zuckerman has replaced Convey with Myler, an old Murdoch hand who may be looking to get revenge. This should be fun.

Last year, David McKay Wilson profiled Convey for the Colby College alumni magazine. To shed further light on the scandal that brought Convey down, Wilson reports that Convey was wearing “black tasseled loafers” when they met — though without any socks.

“I haven’t worn socks in the summer for years,” Convey told Wilson. “I like cool beachy feet.” Hmmm.

Photo (cc) by Akira Kouchiyama and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

For the Herald, a long-term lease and lots of space

We already knew that the Boston Herald, having shut down its printing presses, was getting ready to leave its hulking South End plant. Now the other shoe has dropped, as Herald owner Pat Purcell announced yesterday that the paper will move to the Seaport District in early 2012.

Two pieces of information seem significant. First, the Herald signed a 10-year lease, which, if nothing else, ought to give pause to those who perpetually predict the tabloid’s demise. Second, the paper will commandeer 51,000 square feet of space.

I’m not good at visualizing what that means, but it sounds like a lot for what has become a small operation. Is Purcell planning to expand? Or does he have additional ventures in mind? Don’t forget that he moonlights as head of Rupert Murdoch’s South Coast papers.

Memo to Tom Menino: Boston is not “a two-newspaper town” — it’s a multiple-newspaper town, with excellent papers ranging from neighborhood outlets such as the Dorchester Reporter and the South End News to specialty publications like the Boston Phoenix and Bay Windows.

Boston is a two-daily town, and it looks like Purcell intends to keep it that way for as long as he can.

The Boston Globe covers the Herald’s move as well.

Rupert Murdoch, Peter Lucas and the politics of hate

Peter Lucas

Former Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas has a scorcher of a piece about his old boss Rupert Murdoch online at the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise and the Lowell Sun. Lucas’ job was one of many that were saved when Murdoch took the dying Herald American off Hearst’s hands in 1981. But he says he discovered the dark side of that deal in December 1982, when he was personally asked by Rupe: “Is the governor on the take?”

Lucas doesn’t say which governor. In late 1982, Ed King was the outgoing governor and Michael Dukakis, coming back after his defeat at the end of his first term in 1978, was governor-elect. It seems likely Murdoch was more interested in Dukakis than King. In any event, Murdoch soon developed a deep and abiding hatred for Dukakis, which came to a full flowering during the Duke’s ill-fated presidential campaign in 1988. Lucas writes of Murdoch’s Herald:

The paper, under Murdoch’s orders, turned on Dukakis with such hate that it was difficult to comprehend. Murdoch, who supported Vice President George Bush, simply used the paper — Dukakis’ “hometown” paper — to savage Dukakis. The more serious Dukakis’ candidacy became, the more he was mocked, smeared and ridiculed, as was his poor wife, while Murdoch secretly met with Bush.

In Des Moines just days before the important Iowa Democratic presidential primary, a Murdoch executive from the Herald told his reporters, “My job is to make sure Dukakis doesn’t become president.”

It was during that period I met with a key Murdoch editor of the paper from London. I asked him, “Where did all this hate come from? We never had this hate before.”

He turned red in the face and looked down at his shoes. When he did not answer, I said: “You guys brought it in.” Needless to say, I was soon gone.

Lucas writes that the Murdoch he knew had “a darkly cynical, nasty and negative attitude toward politics, government and humanity in general.” Certainly nothing has changed over the years. Fortunately, Murdoch sold the Herald in 1994.

Back in his Herald days, Lucas was one of the most visible and respected political columnists in Boston. It was Lucas who was victimized by then-Boston mayor Kevin White in 1983, which led to the Herald’s classic “White Will Run” headline. (White wouldn’t run.) And he’s no liberal — his reincarnated political column consists largely of conservative criticisms of Gov. Deval Patrick and the local political culture.

Lucas’ observations about Murdoch should be taken for what they are: the first-hand account of a good newsman, appalled at the lack of ethics and standards epitomized by Murdoch and his wrecking crew. Keep that in mind as we try to figure out whether Murdoch’s son James was lying or simply didn’t know what he was talking about when he and Dad appeared before a parliamentary committee earlier this week.

The ongoing collapse of Murdoch’s media empire

Rupert Murdoch

Like media obsessives everywhere, I’ve been watching with gleeful fascination as Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire collapses around him. I wish nothing but ill for the “rotten old bastard,” and I certainly don’t expect that the electrifying news of the moment — that he has withdrawn his bid for BSkyB — will be the end of it.

The next step is for the Murdoch media scandal to get untracked in the United States. There’s certainly plenty for us to sink our teeth into. Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton is a Murdoch intimate who is up to his neck in the British phone-hacking scandal. Even better, the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are mandated by law to investigate Murdoch’s News Corp. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because of allegations that Murdoch’s British operations paid bribes to police officers. (I can’t believe I’m linking to Eliot Spitzer.)

Even a few days ago, some critics doubted Murdoch would fall because of all the powerful friends he had made. It’s clear now — it should have been then — that he has no friends. He had allies he cultivated, and he was able to do so because they feared him. Now the fear is gone. Instructive is this New York Times story on how quickly British prime minister David Cameron is moving away from him. Far more entertaining is this Simon Jenkins commentary in the Guardian, which I guess is sort of a defense of Murdoch. Roasted genitals figure prominently.

Kudos to the Guardian (for whom I am a contributing writer), which has led the way on breaking the Murdoch story. You can follow its coverage here.

Also worth bookmarking is Greg Mitchell’s “Murdoch Watch” blog at the Nation. Mitchell is nothing if not comprehensive, as he has proved by blogging WikiLeaks developments over the past seven months. The WikiLeaks story may have allegations of sex, but for my money the Murdoch story is a lot sexier.

Photo (cc) by the World Economic Forum and republished here under a Creative Commons licnese. Some rights reserved.