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

At GateHouse, as elsewhere, the rich get richer

Kirk Davis

Seems like it’s been ages since I last wrote about GateHouse Media, the financially challenged Fairport, N.Y.-based company that owns about 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts.

Things may be more quiet than they were a year ago, but rumblings of dissension persist. Several anonymous employees sent this along, detailing some mighty nice bonuses top GateHouse officials paid themselves to publish understaffed newspapers run by overworked, low-paid journalists.

Leading the parade is chief executive Michael Reed, who got $500,000. Taking the silver, with $250,000, was president and chief operating officer Kirk Davis, a top GateHouse official in Massachusetts before decamping for upstate New York last year.

It’s an old story. Ordinary people work hard for short money while the folks at the top reward themselves. Reed and Davis are managing a difficult situation, and it may well be that they deserve to be compensated handsomely just for keeping GateHouse alive. Then, too, their situation is hardly unique.

Just a few days ago we learned that Joseph Lodovic IV, president of Dean Singleton’s MediaNews chain, was receiving a $500,000 bonus for the bang-up job he did putting together a structured-bankruptcy plan. That may be the way of the world. But such tidbits can be pretty hard to swallow for those who actually cover late-night meetings and give up their weekends to photograph local events.

In other GateHouse news, here is a weird story involving a reporter for the company’s Dodge City Daily Globe, in Kansas, who was fired in the midst of a legal dispute over whether she should testify about her confidential source in a murder case.

I’m going to have to side with management on this one. The reason: Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, tells the Topeka Capital-Journal that the reporter, Claire O’Brien, refused to show up in court to answer the subpoena she’d received.

“What she did was really stick a thumb in the judge’s eye today,” Dalglish is quoted as saying. “Even if you’re not going to answer questions, you still have to go to court.”

Media Nation Rule No. 57: If Lucy Dalglish doesn’t stand up for you on a freedom-of-the-press issue, then you’re wrong.

Tuesday evening update: Dalglish takes a rather different stance on the RCFP Web site, saying she finds O’Brien’s termination “unusual” and “quite disturbing.” An Associated Press account of what happened is worth reading, too.

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  1. To be fair, the reporter didn’t have a lawyer. GateHouse told her she they would not be paying for an attorney. Without a lawyer, she didn’thave the benefit of advice that this was NOT a good idea. I’m sure to her, it looked like the entire legal system was ganging up on her and that missing the hearing was the only was open to her to avoid going to jail for defending her source and her herself. Turned out she was right.

    GateHouse remains the villain in this drama.

  2. BP Myers

    @Billy said: GateHouse told her [they] would not be paying for an attorney.

    That’s her story.

    But I suppose it raises a larger question. In the midst of these half-million dollar bonuses, are news outlets perhaps skimping on such fundamentals as legal counsel for their reporters?

    But this line did give me a chuckle:

    she was found in contempt for failing to appear at an inquisition

    Don’t care if that’s what Kansas calls a Grand Jury. Not sure I’d show up either!

  3. Michael Pahre

    I think you’re being very deferential and gentle towards the bonus recipients at GateHouse.

    At least for the community newspaper they run in my neighborhood — the Allston Brighton TAB — they have decimated what little staff they used to have and rely mostly on freelancers, who are paid an incredibly low amount per story. (When a reporter told me the pay per story, my jaw literally dropped.) And they cut out some local columns, even though they are paid a similar pittance per article.

    For the more than $1 million in bonuses that GateHouse paid to these top earners this year, they probably — literally! — could have doubled (or more) the salary of all the freelancers, and bring back local columnists, at the smallest dozens and dozens of community newspapers in their portfolio.

    Disclosure: I have had columns published at the Allston Brighton TAB, but I have never been paid for them. I consider it my meager donation to a worthy, dying enterprise: the local, community newspaper.

  4. “That’s her story.”

    A good rule of thumb is that what GateHouse Media bosses and one of their reporters are telling conflicting stories, go with the reporter’s version of events.

    Right up until this happened, GateHouse was using this reporter because she was, presumably, honest. Now that they don’t want to pay a legal bill, she’s suddenly dishonest? It doesn’t pass the smell test.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Billy: I’ve added an update to the item. I am really struck by how differently Dalglish comes off on the RCFP Web site compared to the news story I quoted from earlier.

  5. Yes. Very different indeed. Of course. We don’t now everything that she told the RCFP reporter. That’s a problem with short-form journalism: Reporters and editors pick the quotes that fit the tone of the article they want to write.

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