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

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.

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  1. What is a public pension fund doing investing in a newspaper chain, anyway? I can’t imagine many pension fund advisors saying, “we recommend you invest heavily in the newspaper business.”

  2. Laurence Glavin

    The Eagle Tribune of, did you say “North Andover”?; its masthead says Lawrence, is a partner in an operation that owns four AM radio stations in Eastern Massachusetts. One of them is planning to boost its power to 50,000 watts sunrise-to-sunset. The electricity bill alone is probably outrageous. Will they ever try to divest themselves of these outlets in an era when AM radio has so little value?

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Laurence: They can say whatever they like on the masthead. The headquarters has been in North Andover for decades, and there is no satellite office in Lawrence.

      • I was, for a brief time, engaged to the granddaughter of Irving Rogers, the founder of LET. Oh well…

  3. The masthead hasn’t included Lawrence for the better part of 25 years.

  4. Lou Gawab

    Dan (and others)….Just how bad is the shape of CNHI and the Eagle-Tribune?

    Are they under water?

  5. Len Stuart

    @Lou Gawaab: No way of really telling, since CNHI chain doesn’t break out results by property. But one figure being bandied about on some other boards I hit says January numbers for the chain were down 60% year-to-year.

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