GateHouse Media parts company with Greg Reibman

Greg Reibman

Some truly shocking news out of GateHouse Media: Greg Reibman, publisher of the company’s Metro papers, is out in what Rick Daniels, president and CEO of GateHouse Media New England describes as part of an attempt to “streamline our operations.”

Daniels, in a memo to the Metro Unit staff, says that Reibman’s is one of two publisher’s positions to be eliminated. A trusted source tells me that the other position is held by Mark Skala, who runs GateHouse’s Cape Cod papers.

Reibman, as Daniels notes, has been a stalwart at GateHouse for a long time — a leader in the company’s social-media efforts as well as a key player in the company’s linking lawsuit against the Boston Globe a few years ago.

GateHouse, based in the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y., owns about 100 community papers in Eastern Massachusetts. The Metro Unit that Reibman headed includes papers such as the Cambridge Chronicle, the Newton Tab and the Somerville Journal.

This strikes me as an incredibly shortsighted move. But GateHouse has been staggering under a mountain of debt for years. Combined with recent layoffs I’ve heard about at CNHI’s papers, which in Massachusetts include the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times, and it’s clear that the community-newspaper crisis is far from over, even if it’s not as acute as it was in, say, 2009.

The full text of Daniels’ memo follows.

TO: All Metro Unit Employees

FROM: Rick Daniels

DATE: November 9, 2011

I want to update all members of the Metro unit on a reorganization we are announcing today, November 9th. After reviewing alternatives to streamline our operations here in New England, we have decided to reduce the number of group publisher positions. Regrettably, this will result in the elimination of two publisher roles, one of which is currently held by Greg Reibman.

Simply put, the continued changes in the business model – for virtually all media companies — have forced us to re-assess every role and position, both in senior management and throughout the company. Greg has been a valued colleague to us all; like many of you, I will miss his expertise and passion. He plans to transition his responsibilities and complete his time with the company by the first week of December.

We are fortunate to have two experienced and capable leaders who will assume Greg’s responsibilities: Chuck Goodrich will add the duties of publisher of the Metro titles to his existing titles in three other regions. Additionally, West editor-in-chief Richard Lodge will take on the responsibility for overseeing the news operations with the existing editors. Cris Warren will continue to lead the sales effort, coordinating her work closely with Sean McDonnell, Chief Revenue Officer, and Chuck.

Saying good-bye to a colleague is never easy or pleasant. Greg has worked hard with the Metro staff to produce excellent print and digital publications while his advertising team has exceeded or met revenue expectations for 24 consecutive months, a significant achievement in any economy.

As you know, Greg also wore a second hat here, as Vice President of Content Development and Partnerships for GHMNE. He led the way in our successful legal challenge against the Boston Globe in 2009 and has also been a trailblazer in dealing with social media and establishing both new and old partners in community journalism, including with WCVB-TV and, more recently, WGBH and ArtsBoston. Perhaps most important, he has assembled a team of very skilled and inspired Metro staffers. I’m sure everyone in the unit will extend their own best wishes to Greg, and will honor him by working with Chuck and Richard to build on his accomplishments in the future.


Barry Crimmins to be roasted tonight

Wish I could make this: local comedy legend (and friend of Media Nation) Barry Crimmins is back in town, and will be roasted by the Boston Comedy Festival tonight at 8:30 p.m. at the Charles Playhouse Lounge. Details here. From the festival website:

The Boston Comedy Festival is cooking up a welcome back roast and toast for Barry Crimmins, the comic and producer whose hard work, vision and terrific sense of humor helped bring the Boston Comedy scene into the modern era. Crimmins founded the fabled Ding Ho Comedy Club in Cambridge and then later was pivotal in starting Stitches in Boston. These clubs were where Steven Wright, Paula Poundstone, Bobcat Goldthwait, Kevin Meaney, Jimmy Tingle and many, many others cut their comedicteeth. Crimmins has gone on to make a name for himself as an internationally renowned political satirist. He is the author of “Never Shake Hands with a War Criminal” (7 Stories Press).

This tribute will be hosted by Boston comedy legend Tony V. The dais will be jammed with noted wits rarely seen on the same stage, including: Jimmy Tingle, Steve Sweeney, Mike McDonald, Randy Credico, Boston Globe cartoonist Dan Wasserman, The Steamy Bohemians — Niki Luparelli, Lainey Schulbaum and John Ennis (Mr Show, Studio 60). This lineup of all-star talent is sure to fricassee your funny bone so expect great laughs, celebrity surprises, topped off words from the wizened and hilarious forefather of our Boston comedy scene.

Barry also says on his Facebook profile that he’ll be at Occupy Boston today at 4 p.m.

Remembering Andy Rooney

One day maybe eight or 10 years ago, I was sitting at my desk at the Boston Phoenix when the phone rang. “This is Andy Rooney,” the caller said in what seemed like an exaggerated attempt at imitating the legendary “60 Minutes” commentator. “Yeah, right,” I responded, wondering who was really on the other end of the line.

It was Rooney. While we were taping “Beat the Press” one Friday afternoon, his daughter Emily, the host, mentioned the name of someone who had been bugging her father over some perceived offense. It turned out that I had heard from the same person a few times as well. She told her father, and he decided to give me a call. I can’t remember what I told him — it was all I could do to recover from my inauspicious opening. Now that Rooney has died, I wish I could recall exactly what he said that day.

Andy Rooney was rooted firmly in CBS News’ golden era. He was friends with Walter Cronkite, he wrote for Harry Reasoner and it was “60 Minutes” creator Don Hewitt who came up with the idea of having Rooney deliver a monologue at the end of each episode. It was a master stroke, as Rooney’s essay quickly became the most popular part of the program.

Rooney’s death follows his retirement by such a short stretch that “60 Minutes” last night simply recycled the Morley Safer piece (above) that first aired in early October. That’s all right. It was really good and worth seeing again. CBS has posted other Rooney material as well, including video of some of his classic commentaries.

As is well known, Rooney considered himself a writer first, and indeed he rarely found himself in front of a camera until near the end of his career. He wrote for Stars and Stripes, for Arthur Godfrey and for Reasoner before he ever wrote for himself. Yet his curmudgeonly commentaries worked as well as they did not only because they were written by a craftsman, but because he was a first-rate performer as well.

By all accounts, his crankiness was not an act. That he was able to take that crankiness and use it to inform and entertain millions was his gift to us. Andy Rooney was such a skillful writer that he would have been able to find a way to avoid ending with a cliché such as “he’ll be missed.” I lack his skill, and I don’t want to close without acknowledging the obvious.

Violence, art and the media’s responsibilities

Journalists from a number of Boston news organizations will gather this Thursday evening for a panel discussion about the media’s role and responsibilities in covering urban violence.

Part of the exhibit “Anonymous Boston,” which documents the lives of young murder victims and how the media covered their deaths, the discussion will be held at the Fourth Wall Project, near Kenmore Square, at 132 Brookline Ave. The panel is titled “If It Bleeds, It Leads: The Role of Media in Urban Violence.” I will have the honor of moderating.

The exhibit is the subject of this week’s cover story in the Boston Phoenix by Chris Faraone. As you will see, the families of murder victims say the loss of their children is often compounded by sensational, inaccurate media coverage and by hateful online comments.

The Boston Herald is singled out by several people as a particularly egregious offender. Morever, Joanna Marinova-Jones, the community activist who has overseen the exhibit, is in the midst of a libel suit against the Herald. Despite those facts (or maybe because of them), I’m hoping the Herald will accept our invitation for what is intended as a substantive, civil conversation.

Participants who have already confirmed include Boston Globe city editor Steve Smith, Bay State Banner executive editor Howard Manly, WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) senior investigative reporter Phillip Martin, El Planeta managing editor Marcela Garcia, pioneering African-American television reporter Sarah Ann Shaw and Faraone.

The event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., and is free and open to the public.

An entertaining look at the New York Times

David Carr torments a flack at Tribune Co.

At long last, I got to see “Page One: Inside the New York Times” at a screening last night at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center. It’s a terrifically entertaining look at the culture inside the Times newsroom, focusing on the media desk’s coverage of the newspaper meltdown of 2009 and ’10. I brought a couple of students with me, and they were pretty enthusiastic about it as we were driving back to Northeastern.

As you have no doubt heard, the stars are columnist David Carr and reporter Brian Stelter, two people whose talents, though formidable, pale in comparison to their inhuman productivity. Carr easily slips into the role of Carr, a late-middle-aged reformed drug addict who genially F-bombs his way through interviews and public appearances, building up to his monumental takedown of Tribune Co. and its abusive owner, Sam Zell. Stelter, young and earnest, is the perfect counterpoint. (I know both of them slightly, Carr better than Stelter.)

Director Andrew Rossi and Shorenstein Center director Alex Jones kicked it around afterwards.

An obsessive media junkie probably won’t learn much, but I really enjoyed being immersed in Timesland for 90 minutes. Quibbles? As a friend observed, the documentary was heavily tilted toward men, which seems odd given that before it ends, we see the executive editor’s baton being passed from Bill Keller to Jill Abramson.

And though it was unavoidable, the sense of panic that pervaded the business when the film was being shot has abated to at least some degree. We’re hardly out of the woods. It seems that every day, we hear about cost-cutting and layoffs. But the notion that was prevalent a year or two ago, that the entire newspaper business was in its death throes, now appears to have been exaggerated. If “Page One” were shot today, I suspect it would be more optimistic.

At GlobeLab, hacking their way toward the future

Did you know that the Boston Globe employs someone whose business card reads “Creative Technologist”?  The holder of that card is Chris Marstall, who hosted a meeting of Hacks/Hackers Boston at the paper’s GlobeLab space Tuesday evening.

Several dozen of us gathered to watch demos of projects that GlobeLab is working on — among them a mash-up that displays geotagged Instagram photos on a huge, six-screen map of Boston, the Big Picture photo blog repurposed for the new version of Google TV, and a tool that makes it easy for folks to see what a page of will look like on various devices.

To me, the most intriguing experiment involved a smartphone app that automatically calls up the online version of a story when you take a picture of a headline in the print edition. From there you can email it, tweet it or whatever. I’m not sure whom it will appeal to — if you’re reading a print newspaper, you’ve already made certain decisions about the place of technology in your life. But it was fun to watch.

I also think it’s pretty interesting that the Globe has committed itself to thinking about the future in ways that might not pay off immediately, but could yield something useful down the line.

Bob Brown of Network World has written a more thorough account of the evening.

Sunday morning coming down (but not by as much)

Stories about declining newspaper circulation have become so routine that they’re hardly worth commenting on unless some deeper meaning can be found. So I’m looking closely at the latest figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which show smaller losses for the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald on Sundays than on weekdays — especially in the case of the Globe.

The Globe’s weekday circulation for the six-month period that ended on Sept. 30 was 205,939, a drop of 7.5 percent. On Sundays, it was 360,186, down just 2 percent.

At the Herald, weekday circulation is now 113,798, a decline of 8.7 percent. On Sundays, it’s 85,828, down 4.8 percent.

Significantly, the period in question precedes the Globe’s new print-and-digital strategy. The Globe charges less to take home delivery of the Sunday paper and receive for free than it does to subscribe to seven days a week. At the Globe, as at most newspapers, the Sunday edition is by far the most profitable, and the idea is to preserve Sunday print no matter what.

It will be interesting to see what effect this strategy has on print circulation when the next figures are released in the spring of 2012. Needless to say, the real threat to the Globe is the possibility that readers will content themselves with the paper’s other website — the still-free — and not pay for anything online.

The numbers also suggest that the Herald needs a better digital strategy of its own. Although the tabloid has a nice iPhone app (my preferred method for reading the Herald), its website is in serious need of an upgrade. For those who want to read the entire paper electronically, the Herald’s only offering is a hard-to-navigate electronic edition that’s basically a PDF of every page.

If the Herald were to offer an easy-on-the-eyes, reasonably priced digital option, I would pay for it. So, I suspect, would a lot of other people.