By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Darkness falls

Ugh. I’ve already made my thoughts known about Rupert Murdoch’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal, both here and in the Guardian. So I’ve really got nothing new to say now that he’s finally pulled it off. (Indeed, this has gone on so long that opinion-slingers like me have run through our ammo two or three times already.) But the Journal is well on its way from being a great, independent paper to a very good paper with a grasping, interfering owner.

I love Eric Alterman’s take in The Nation. Alterman argues that because the Journal’s news pages will be seen as less serious under Murdoch, so will its nutty right-wing editorial page. Alterman writes:

The silver lining of this takeover is that when Murdoch destroys the credibility of the Journal — as he must if it is to fit in with his business plan — he will be removing the primary pillar of the editorial page’s influence as well. In this regard his ownership is a kind of poisoned chalice.

Locally, meanwhile, let the outsourcing (and selling?) begin. Last week, the Globe’s Steve Bailey reported that Herald publisher Pat Purcell — who bought the Herald from Murdoch, his old mentor, in 1994 — would look to strike a deal for the Herald to be printed at a Dow Jones-owned plant in Chicopee should the Murdoch deal succeed. (Dow Jones is the Journal’s parent company.) Purcell confirmed his interest in a Herald story two days later the same day.

The Herald’s current property, next to the Southeast Expressway, is worth far more than its crumbling plant. A printing deal would presumably enable Purcell to sell the property and reduce his costs by vast sums, and might even ensure the long-term financial health of his paper.

Today the Globe reports that the Globe itself is in negotiations to print the Patriot Ledger of Quincy and the Enterprise of Brockton.

Now, follow the bouncing newspaper owners:

  • The Globe, of course, is owned by the New York Times Co., and Murdoch’s Journal is likely to emerge as the Times’ principal competitor nationally. If the Globe’s main print rival, the Herald, is getting help from Murdoch — well, I have no idea what to say except that it’s interesting.
  • Dow Jones, Purcell’s possible savior, owns several community dailies in the area through its Ottaway division, including the Standard-Times of New Bedford, the Cape Cod Times and the Portsmouth Herald. The Patriot Ledger and the Enterprise are owned by GateHouse Media, which also owns about 100 papers, mostly weeklies, in Eastern Massachusetts. So there’s an additional rivalry.
  • Except that Murdoch might sell off his community papers, which don’t seem to fit any grand strategy. And the most likely buyer would be GateHouse. Does it matter that James Ottaway positioned himself as Murdoch’s not-so-mortal enemy? Damned if I know.
  • Which would leave Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI), better known as the Alabama state teachers’ pension fund, isolated and alone on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley. CNHI owns the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, the Salem News, the Gloucester Daily Times and the Daily News of Newburyport. And guess what? Michael Reed, chief executive of GateHouse, used to be chief executive of CNHI.

Murdoch’s victory could be just the beginning for local newspaper readers.

Oh, my. Jim Cramer, the screaming loon of CNBC, hopes Murdoch will push the Journal so that it finally matches the relevance of, yes, the New York Post business pages. By the way, the Post’s business coverage is quite good. But come on.

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  1. Anonymous

    I thought the Herald would collapse in a couple of years. Not so sure about that now.

  2. Rick in Duxbury

    The NYT piece pays lip service to the decision to have Murdoch pay the seller’s advisory fees. In my business, this is a sleazy way to extract more money from a buyer while still maintaining that said advisor has a fiduciary relationship with the seller, “we’re just a commission away from a deal”. Obviously, one can’t sit on (and advise)both sides of the table. This belies the Bancroft claims that it wasn’t about the money. Where were their concerns about the paper when Peter Kann was paying his wife a seven-figure salary? If they were unaware that the illuminator of American mismanagement was itself a striking example thereof, shame on them. Did they think the place would run itself? That America’s second-largest paper could see NO GROWTH in the value of it’s equity for decades? What were these people smoking? GE isn’t a fun place to be any more either, but they’re still around and healthier than ever.You may hate his politics but Rupert was the only viable alternative.

  3. stockTagger

    For all the crap that Cramer gets, I bet he’s revelling in his win here. He’s been speculating on this outcome since May

  4. Anonymous

    My only comment is that if the Herald starts printing in Chicopee and sells off its Albany Street plant, it’s a sad thought that the press guys won’t be coming to J.J. Foley’s any more after the run starts, bringing fresh copies of tomorrow’s edition and wearing those stupid newsprint hats. Fond memories of seeing them often in the 1990s.

  5. Anonymous

    Dan – As soon as I heard about the Murdoch takeover I immediatly wanted to check your blog to get your take on it. I wish I was still in class with you to talk this to death. Really nice analysis about how this takeover can and will affect the local weeklies in Mass. Keep up the good work Dan. – Jessica H.

  6. Local Editor

    Don’t forget, Rupert now owns the Middleboro Gazette.Does News Corp. have any interests in casinos?

  7. Ron Newman

    If the Herald is printed in Chicopee instead of Boston, what will that do to their news deadlines?

  8. Steve

    WBUR’s “On Point” takes up this topic today (rebroadcast at 7 PM or available online here).I didn’t hear anything surprising. The topic of media ownership concentration (which to me seems to be the most important part of this story) is raised, but not discussed much. Mostly it’s “Rupurt Murdoch – Threat or Menace?”.

  9. Anonymous

    The Globe article says, toward the end, that CNHI and Gatehouse are potential buyers for the New England Ottaway papers. Could be … both have recently acquired newspapers in this area. However, in my experience, CNHI now has been behaving more like sellers than buyers — hiring freeze at Eagle-Tribune papers, caps on pay raises and recent promotions in name and responsibilities only — though they could be trying to improve their bottom line for a run at the Cape Cod Times, Portsmouth Herald and New Bedford Standard-Times. Those papers, plus the North Shore and Merrimack Valley ones they already own, could make CNHI a true competitor — ad-wise, anyway — to the Globe. But I doubt they’ll go all in — those Alabama teachers have got to be somewhat conservative about how their pension fund will be invested.

  10. Rick from Dorchester

    Dan I nominate you to run the media world. You seem to know what is right for everyone… and the name calling is classy.

  11. Anonymous

    Dan, you may “love Alterman’s take”, I consider him an arrogant, whining hypocrite. His claim that the Journal’s TV show “failed to find an audience” is disingenuous in the extreme. (Talk about blaming the victim! Big surprise that right wingers were not nurtured at PBS, eh?) He claims that Rupert’s papers are not “real news” but “propaganda”, (saying that is his right, of course, but he sounds like Brent Bozell). To then imply that only left-leaning papers deserve the industry’s constitutional and tax treatment is intellectually dishonest (and frightening). He has a shtick, just like Rupert. Wonder how he would do running a hedge fund, like a certain “loon” who used to be the EIC of the Harvard Crimson?

  12. Larz

    What’s jumping off the front page in 288-point type is that nobody’s speculating on how Murdoch will improve the WSJ. I’m sure that after spending a wad like that, he’ll try to enhance it. But can he? Will his improvements be on the electronic vehicles, at the expense of the paper?Your comments about Purcell wanting to dump the “crumbling Herald plant” show the passage of time. When the old Herald-Traveller went down (after losing the Channel 5 broadcast license), Hearst bought the Harrison Ave. plant and the nameplate, simply to get out of the ancient Winthrop Square plant where the Record-American had been for decades. The combined paper, the Herald-American, was a bomb, trying to appeal to both the old Herald-Traveller readers and the Record-American crowd in one paper.Printing the Herald in Chicopee is a possibility, but remember, it’s at the other end of the state. Betcha very few people would even know the WSJ is actually published in Mass.

  13. DJS

    I wonder if Murdoch sees value in ending the pay-for-content model at the Journal to grow its online readership in the hope of generating a better return than subscription fees provide. I read last weekend that the NYT may eliminate its paid Times Select service and start selling ads against its top-tier columnists.

  14. Anonymous

    Dan,It may be worth noting that Ezra Klein made the same point Alterman did (about the lessening influence of the crazed WSJ ed page) and he did so first.

  15. Peter Porcupine

    Would the NY Post – founded by my friend Alexander HAmilton – still exist if not for Murdoch?Would The Times (when you’re the original, in London, you don’t HAVE to say anything else!) stil be a viable entity, turning a profit for the first time in 25 years?Who else is investing in the industry, demonstrating the ultimate in committment by putting his money where his mouth (or keening and lamentations, in some quarters) is?I have subscribed to at least one newspaper every day of my life; anybody who keeps ’em comin’ is OK by me.

  16. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    1. The Purcell/Herald deal was always about the Wingo Square real estate but if the paper can be printed without the need for in an in-city press, Purcell will realize the value of the property without needing to suspend publication to do it. The nearly extinguished place of newspapers for coverage of breaking news means the production timetables for printing at the D-J plant won’t be the detriment it once would have been. However the Herald pressmen’s union will not go quietly into the night. 2. What are we to make of the Eagle Tribune newspapers, owned and operated by a pension fund, running a series on the runaway costs to the public treasury of … pension funds? (BTW ask from E-T employees who voted against unionizing what they think of their rather miserly union-owners)3. Larz rightly gives Hearst its due, for better or for worse, for the miserable attempt to combine tabloid with the Republican paper of record. After all it was the “Boston Herald Traveler and Record American” in the morning and “Boston Record American and Herald-Traveler” in the afternoons for at least a few months in 1972. Complete with something called the “Cavalcade of Sports Columns” and teh region’s first gossip page anchored by Harold Banks.

  17. Cape Anner

    Re bullet point No. 4 in “Darkness Falls,” noting the incestuous new management merry-go-round in Eastern Massachusetts – also note that Al Getler, uber-publisher at the Eagle Tribune (Lawrence, Salem, Gloucester and Newburyport) used to work for Community Newspapers (now Gatehouse). By the way, Gatehouse’s attempt to launch a weekly on Cape Ann (the Beacon), seems to be off to a wobbly start, with many, many homes not yet getting what was to be a 100% free circulation paper.

  18. Anonymous

    DanIs there a particular reason why you a media expert and so many others insist that the Eagle-Tribune is in Lawrence? I believe it left Lawrence more than 20 years ago…sigh

  19. Dave Ledger

    I worked for the Patriot Ledger for 24 years till Gatehouse came to the plate and decided to screw things up. I guess, because I don’t wear a suit and was just a blue collar worker putting out the paper each and everyday, I didn’t understand why a company like Gatehouse would continue buying up all these newspapers that were losing money and circulation. It was one big ego trip that came crashing down on them in the end after they outsourced my job and 130 others at The Patriot Ledger and another 150 or so jobs at The Brockton Enterprise to the Boston Globe. None of our layoffs were ever really written about in our papers. The papers would write about other companys laying off workers, but their own workers, god forbid. To the publisher that told me and everyone else in the room that day that we were losing our jobs after dedicating 20 plus years in a company. ” I told you so ” I told you that you should have invested in what you already had, which was our papers instead of buying up more papers that were losing money. You claimed that you sold stock off to buy them, I told you that you would devalue the stock and where did we go from that day $18 a share down to about what 8 cents a share. Where are you now? Delisted from the NYSE and worthless in my mind. If you invested in us like I said, you would have had alot of employees that had already given their papers 20 plus years, they would have given another 25 years. So all in all when the Patriot Ledger was outsourced to The Boston Globe, The city of Quincy lost roughly 130 workers and Brockton roughly the same on the day the presses stopped running for the last day at the printing plants in Quincy and Brockton. This is dedicated to all the employees at both plants that lost their jobs and and the many friends and workers that I had met after working 24 years at both papers.

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