Tag Archives: Salem News

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.

Book notes and upcoming appearances

Christine Stuart and me at last Thursday's book event in New Haven. Stuart, who runs the online news service CT News Junkie along with her husband, Doug Hardy, was the first person I interviewed for "The Wired City."

Christine Stuart and me at last Thursday’s book event in New Haven. Stuart, who runs the online news service CT News Junkie along with her husband, Doug Hardy, was the first person I interviewed for “The Wired City.”

Many thanks to Paul Bass, editor and publisher of the New Haven Independent, and Will Baker, director of the Institute Library, for a terrific event for “The Wired City” last Thursday. It was great to catch up with folks I hadn’t seen in quite a while and to meet new people. The Independent’s Thomas MacMillan covered the event here; the New Haven Register’s Randall Beach and Melanie Stengel here.

Closer to home, Will Broaddus of The Salem News interviewed me last week for his book column.

I’ve got three events coming up during the next week that you might be interested in.

• On Wednesday at 6 p.m. I’ll be part of a panel that will discuss the New England premiere of “Corporate FM: The Killing of Local Commercial Radio,” directed by Kevin McKinney. It’s not cheap, but it’s for a good cause: The event will benefit WHAV Radio, an independent online-only radio station based in Haverhill. The screening will take place at Chunky’s Cinema Pub, 371 Lowell Ave., Haverhill. You can find out more here.

• On Thursday at 6:30 p.m. I’ll be doing an event for “The Wired City” at the Globe Lab, which works on new technology projects for The Boston Globe. The lab is located at the Globe, which is at 135 Morrissey Blvd. The event is free and open to the public.

• Next Monday, June 24, I’ll be sitting down with Emily Rooney to talk about “The Wired City” on “Greater Boston,” on WGBH-TV (Channel 2).

Photo by Thomas MacMillan for the New Haven Independent.

Lantigua hails departure of Eagle-Tribune publisher

William Lantigua (left) meets with Gov. Deval Patrick in 2009, shortly before Lantigua took office as mayor of Lawrence. Patrick spent the day discussing Lawrence’s precarious finances with city officials.

William Lantigua, the ethically challenged mayor of Lawrence, has issued a statement celebrating the departure of Eagle-Tribune publisher Al Getler, according to Tom Duggan of the Valley Patriot.

“For the past six years, Al Getler has worked to discredit our community, our residents and our image as a whole from behind his desk in North Andover,” Lantigua wrote, adding that he plans to reach out to new publisher Karen Andreas “to better promote the positive news that continues to break in our City of Lawrence.”

I know Andreas slightly, and I assume she will tell Lantigua that the Eagle-Tribune will continue to hold him accountable.

Getler left as part of a shake-up at four daily papers north of Boston owned by the Alabama-based chain CNHI earlier this week. Andreas, who had been publisher of CNHI’s Salem News, is now regional publisher for all four dailies as well as the company’s weekly papers and websites.

Photo (cc) by the office of Gov. Patrick and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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.

Hudak’s new venture hits an amusing snag

Blast from the past: the Hudakmobile, circa 2009

Far-right Republican politico William Hudak’s recent announcement that he was abandoning a congressional race in order to get involved in a multi-level marketing operation was amusing enough. But the comedy factor increased exponentially Tuesday when Julie Manganis reported in the Salem News that Hudak’s new business partner had pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution.

Albert Muir and his then-wife, Manganis writes, ran a “health spa” in Branford, Conn., called Marlow’s, which was shut down by authorities in late 2009. Muir, who is also described as a professional poker player, is serving a five-year suspended sentence. He told the News that he pleaded guilty because he was afraid his then-wife, who was seeking a divorce, would send him up the river.

Here is Marcia Chambers’ Branford Eagle account of the police raid of Dec. 2, 2009, which came about in part because Marlow’s openly advertised its services on Craigslist. Chambers reported that police considered the spa to be “a full-scale prostitution ring.” Muir’s then-wife, Jazmin Benavides, is named in the article, but Muir is not, although Mark Zaretsky of the New Haven Register identified Muir as the co-owner. Chambers told me by email yesterday that Muir was arrested and charged in March 2010 after police conducted a follow-up investigation.

Hudak says he didn’t know nothin’ about nothin’. As Manganis notes, Hudak made much of the legal woes facing Democratic congressman John Tierney’s family when he ran against him two years ago. Tierney’s wife, Patrice Tierney, ended up doing time for her role in what federal authorities described as an offshore money-laundering operation run by her brother. But Hudak tells the News that “I think you’re really stretching” when he was asked whether he should have known about his new BFF’s legal woes.

When Hudak ran against Tierney in 2010, he achieved notoriety for putting up posters on his Boxford property comparing then-candidate Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden and for questioning whether Obama was born in the United States — although he denied that he actually believed Obama was not an American citizen.

Hudak also claimed the day after Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in the 2010 U.S. Senate special election that Brown had endorsed him in the Republican primary. Brown’s office denied it, but then endorsed Hudak over Tierney that fall.

Unfortunately for Tierney, he won’t get to run against Hudak again. This time, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination is former state senator Richard Tisei of Wakefield, who was Charlie Baker’s running mate in the gubernatorial election in 2010.

Tisei is a smart, personable moderate. Combined with Tierney’s family issues, the North Shore probably represents the Republicans’ best chance to pick up a congressional seat in Massachusetts this fall.

Laura Crimaldi moves on to the AP

Laura Crimaldi

Congratulations and best wishes to Laura Crimaldi, who left the Boston Herald this week and will soon start a one-year temporary job at the Associated Press’ bureau in Providence, where she’ll focus on law enforcement and the legal system.

I’ve gotten to know Laura through her work with the New England First Amendment Center at Northeastern University, for whom I occasionally contribute blog items. Laura is a director of the center, and has done a great job of re-energizing the blog.

Laura’s married to longtime Herald photographer Mark Garfinkel, who worked with Mrs. Media Nation at the Beverly Times back in the day. (The Times was later subsumed into the Salem News.) I don’t know if it’s a small world, but Greater Boston is definitely a small town.

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.

Salem News adopts real-names commenting policy

My local daily, the Salem News, has added itself to the growing list of news organizations that are requiring real names for online comments in order to root out the hateful speech that too often mars such forums. It’s the right move, and one I adopted about a year ago. Editor David Olson explains:

If you write a guest column for the newspaper, you have to use your real name. If you are quoted in a story, we use your real name — no anonymous sources allowed. And if you write a letter to the editor, not only do you have to sign your name, you have to give us an address and phone number so we can check to make sure you are who you say you are.

Online commenters, until now, have had to do none of this.

Like Media Nation, the News will rely on the honor system for the honest majority and intuition (and informants!) for rooting out those who adopt fake names. That’s definitely the way to go. Last July the Sun Chronicle of Attleboro unveiled a real-names policy that required people to turn over their credit-card information if they wanted to comment. If you poke around, you’ll see that the paper’s website has pretty much become a comment-free zone.

This blog post by Howard Owens, editor and publisher of the Batavian, remains the definitive explanation as to why real names should be required.

The center of the news universe

That would be Danvers, world headquarters of Media Nation and now the home of four — count ’em — news organizations battling it out for local eyeballs. The newest is our very own Patch, joining the Salem News, the Danvers Herald and the Boston Globe’s Your Town/Danvers site. Who says the news business is dead?