Gannett has pulled the plug on the Melrose Free Press. The weekly published its final edition on Thursday, July 29, and employees were told it was all over on Thursday morning of this week, according to sources.
As best as I can tell, the Free Press had no dedicated staff members, and I haven’t heard of any layoffs. This was a move aimed at saving printing costs. Gannett’s Wicked Local website for Melrose will live on, though, as you’ll see, most of it consists of news from other communities, as is Gannett’s practice. For those who really want a print edition, the guessing is that they will receive the Observer Advocate, which currently serves the neighboring communities of Reading, Wakefield and Malden.
Melrose is served by a Patch site and by the Melrose Weekly News, a family-owned chain whose papers also cover Wakefield, North Reading and Lynnfield. Mike Carraggi, Patch’s regional editor for Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine, tweeted that he’ll “continue making sure Melrose has as much independent reporting as possible via Patch.”
The Free Press’ paid circulation was 639 as of March, according to the Alliance for Audited Media — a paltry figure given that U.S. Census data show Melrose is a city of about 28,000, with 11,329 households. Carraggi also tweeted that the paper hadn’t had a full-time reporter in several years.
The Melrose Free Press was founded in 1901, according to the Melrose Historical Commission. Unlike its two competitors at the time, Melrose did not charge — hence its name. (At the time of its demise, the Free Press was a paid product.) The paper was sold to Fidelity’s Community Newspaper Co. in 1991, which put it in the hands of a corporate chain. Cutting continued through various iterations of the chain, culminating in ownership by GateHouse Media, which merged with Gannett in 2020.
“In recent years,” the historical commission said, “the paper has weathered the decimation of advertising revenue that accompanied the rise of the Internet, and an ever-shrinking staff.”
Gannett always seems to be in retrenchment mode, but it’s been especially severe recently, with the chain shutting down its weeklies in Marlborough and Hudson and cutting back on print distribution in Newton.