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

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.

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  1. They should totally start a union! When I did it, I failed royally, was slandered and double-crossed by slimy, lying editors groveling for their CNHI overlords, and then I got demoted for my efforts! It was awesome! And as a result, I quit and got a job outside of journalism. Now I make real money, work a normal 40-hour work week (35 actually!), and I don’t have to deal with the stress of generating two stories a day! Maybe I don’t like what I do as much as writing, but I’ll live a bit longer, and no furloughs! In fact, that disastrous, thwarted effort to unionize was probably the best thing that ever happened to me! So rise up, Tribuners! Power to the people!

  2. Mike Benedict

    Wonder what this will mean for their comment sections. Comments on the E-T are absolutely vile. The Gloucester moderator basically allows the local fishing industry zealots to run roughshod over anyone critical of it. I’m not familiar with Salem’s, except what DK mentioned about it going to a real names policy. The Newburyport Daily News has gotten lax on its oversight; lots of name-calling and baiting in the comments now. (Perhaps that was one of the cuts.)

  3. C.E. Stead

    Wait. Stop. A chain of newspapers is owned by a UNION? Or rather, a conglomorate of unions, while the kvetching about Murdoch and corporate ownership and bias is widespread. I have to wonder about the impartiality of these papers if the impartiality of Murdoch papers is questioned. For example – did any of the MA papers endorse a Republican over a Democrat? What does their coverage of Wisconsin and other public employee bargaining issues look like, seeing as how the main investor IS a public employee bargaining unit?

    @Andy – does the irony of unions actually being the chief investor in these papers that you say need a union startle you?

    Full disclosure – Uncle Rupert writes me a paycheck in a roundabout way. Nobody would be more surprised than him to learn this.

  4. Amy Michaels

    Someone tell the copy desk there’s no E in the word ax. And tell me the irony is obvious.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Amy: Media Nation does not conform 100 percent to AP style. Among other things, I can’t abide spelling “axe” without an “e.”

  5. John F.J. Sullivan

    It was a privilege and an honor to work at The Salem News. I know the extraordinarily talented and hardworking writers, photographers, designers, copy editors and editors still in the newsroom will continue doing what professionals always do: recommitting to the work of informing the public every day, and doing it in the best (and occasionally most oddball) work environment there is.

  6. While I don’t know much about the finances of this company and I don’t read any of their newspapers (although I know folks who do), I find this statement by the publisher fascinating: “Monetizing our content is at the top of our list going forward.” How does one “monetize content” if there is less of it or it doesn’t exist at all? Here’s hoping that all these folks will be able to get jobs soon.

  7. Tim Bresnahan

    It’s fair to assume that C.E. Stead has never read The Eagle-Tribune. It was arguably the state’s most conservative paper before CNHI bought it, and nothing’s changed since then.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Tim: Much as I like the Salem News, its editorial pages have tilted way to the right since Ottaway sold it to the Eagle-Tribune some years back. Although most of the local editorials are still pretty sensible, which I attribute to the good judgment of Nelson Benton.

  8. Davin Wilfrid

    @C.E.: The difference between a union and a union pension fund is the difference between you and whatever banking entity administers your 401(K) (Assuming uncle Rupert hasn’t stripped that benefit from his roundabout employees). The owner of CNHI is a holdings company with only one mandate: to return as much money as possible to its investors. That such a group would invest so heavily in newspaper companies is curious enough. That someone would blame the investment originators is silly.

    Full disclosure: I used to work at the Eagle-Tribune and was one of the brave handful who saw this writing on the wall a long time ago, and tried, alongside Andy, to figure out a way to protect as many of my coworkers as possible. I hope none of my friends were on the firing line, but then most of them were forced out of journalism years ago.

  9. L.K. Collins

    Ax without an “e”…

    I’m reminded of that great New York Times fiasco where they decided that the the savings on the cost of roll upon roll of newsprint were they to drop the second “e” from the word “employee” was worth it.

  10. Laurence Glavin

    We’ll know that Newscorp’s finances are in a parlous condition when they drop the ‘.’ after the masthead’s ‘Wall Street Journal.”; I understand it take barrels and barrels of ink to print that every day.

  11. Mike Rice

    Unions aren’t the answer, a booming economy is. Fat chance in that respect.

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