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

GateHouse woes show that local doesn’t scale

I’m late to this, and apologies to my informants who tried to tip me off earlier in the week. But Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal reports that GateHouse Media has announced it will close down the two “page production hubs” it opened just last year — one in Framingham, the other in Rockford, Ill.

The closures will result in the loss of “dozens of jobs,” Chesto writes, though at some point the two facilities will be replaced by a new “Center for News and Design.”

GateHouse, a national chain based in Fairport, N.Y., owns about 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts — mostly weeklies, but also midsize dailies such as The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, The Enterprise of Brockton and The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham.

Staggering under $1.2 billion in debt and flirting with bankruptcy, as The Wall Street Journal reports, GateHouse is a poster child for what’s wrong with corporate chain ownership of local news organizations.

There are a lot of fine journalists at GateHouse’s Massachusetts papers, doing a good job under difficult circumstances. But local doesn’t scale. Producing pages for some 300 papers nationwide out of one (or two) central facilities is fundamentally a bad idea, and it only matters a little bit whether it’s done competently or not.

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  1. I make my living as a freelance business reporter, having previously spent two decades at the Boston Herald and other local publications. GateHouse is clearly a complete mess right now. But I wonder if we are getting things mixed up here. Yes, the clumsy attempts to centralize design and production are hardly inspiring. Yet the bigger problem is the debt and the mission, which is sucking any and all available cash. I could care less where the paper is designed and produced as long as reporters and editors were paid fairly and there was reasonable reinvestment in the papers and their websites. But that is clearly not happening here and any savings achieved through greater operational efficiencies are clearly just going down the rate hole. It’s a downward spiral and Gate House is hardly the only one caught up in it.

  2. It’s fascinating that as of this morning (May 20) they’ve still got ads for copyeditor/page designers running on Monster.

  3. Peter Sullivan

    I think Scott is right, it is a function of debt. Newspapers that took on a lot of debt just before the bubble are having the toughest time of it. GateHouse happened to buy the CNC papers from Pat Purcell at exactly the wrong time, and are struggling to stay afloat. The technology is there to produce the papers anywhere on the planet efficiently, and probably not a bad idea to trim costs and try and keep the doors open.

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