Gannett’s Mass. weeklies to replace much of their local news with regional coverage

A slidedeck explaining the new regional beats for Gannett’s local reporters. Click here or on image to view the deck in its entirety.

Gannett is poised to take a major step back from its coverage of Massachusetts communities as it prepares to replace local news in its weekly papers with regional stories about topics such as public safety, education, racial justice and the environment.

This post is based on communications I had with several sources who insisted on anonymity as well as internal documents that were provided to me. There are a number of details I don’t know. For instance: Is this part of a nationwide initiative? Will the dailies be affected? Will there be any coverage of such important matters as city council, select board and school committee meetings? How will local elections be handled?

Also, I hear that several — perhaps three — Massachusetts weeklies will not be affected by the move, including the Cambridge Chronicle. I don’t know which of the other papers will be left more or less alone.

Emails to Gannett corporate headquarters in McLean, Virginia, and to Gannett New England went unanswered. The company is the largest newspaper chain in the U.S., with more than 100 dailies and around 1,000 other media properties.

The Massachusetts papers are known collectively as Wicked Local. The changes will take effect within the next week or two. According to a message to employees from Len LaCara, content strategy analyst at Gannett’s USA Today Network, the change is being made in an attempt to bolster paid digital circulation and offset shrinking print readership. According to a screen shot of his message that was sent to me, he wrote:

There is ample evidence that people will not subscribe to read a lot of the content currently being produced for the newspapers. We see this in the low subscription numbers and the lack of traffic to the stories. But we have seen in community after community that the topics Lisa outlines for you are valued by your potential audience. [This is a reference to Lisa Strattan, vice president of news for Gannett New England.] They can and do generate loyal digital readers who will return to your site and renew their subscriptions.

Well, I want to know what’s going on at City Hall, and if my local Gannett weekly isn’t going to tell me, I’m stuck. In our community we have a Gannett weekly with a capable full-time reporter, who is apparently going to be reassigned to cover regional news. Other than that, we have Patch, Facebook and Nextdoor. Big opportunity for Patch, but I can’t imagine they’re going to staff up.

I’m told that Gannett journalists have been asked to apply for new regional jobs covering their preferred beats. Click on the slidedeck above for more details. Although Gannett has closed a number of weekly papers over the past year and has gone through round after round of job cuts, I hear that no one is losing their jobs as a result of this reorganization.

As for the appeal of regional news — isn’t that why we have The Boston Globe, public radio and television, and TV newscasts? I want local news from my local paper. I understand that circulation at Gannett’s weeklies is shrinking, but I think it’s more likely because there isn’t enough local news rather than too much. This does not strike me as a smart move, to say the least.

Update: I’m hearing that a few of the weekly reporters will be assigned to Gannett’s dailies rather than to one of the new regional beats.

19 thoughts on “Gannett’s Mass. weeklies to replace much of their local news with regional coverage

  1. Stephen R Nelson

    The Metrowest News is very close to this now, and they are a daily. Very sparse local coverage. What they have are often feature stories and high school sports. When Marlborough had its local election last November there was one article. One really has to wonder about the future of this chain. They do have local obituaries.

    1. Matt Kurz

      Well, yeah, obituaries generate revenue. They will be the last to go. I’ve seen small-town papers that are basically 25% news, 25% obituaries and 50% ads.

  2. The Cambridge Chronicle has been adding more of the regional material to its weekly content, but that has been mainly a good move. Even the Peoples Republic of Cambridge is not an island.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Bob, is the Chronicle providing thorough, complete coverage of Cambridge? Do you say, “Ah, I’m really satisified with how they’re covering the city, and now I can take a look at the regional stories they’re publishing as well?”

      1. The Chronicle has been doing reasonably well, but there is still the same limitation on staff that hinders its coverage. Amy Saltzman was great and new editor Will Dowd is becoming more and more familiar with Cambridge every week. I would love to see more inclusion of “community partners” in enhancing its content, and I’m hopeful that will become more the case as time goes on. Frankly, nobody is providing “complete coverage” of Cambridge right now. Much of what we have is a function of the personal preferences of those who add to the mix, including me.

  3. Michael N. Alexander

    From where my family and I stand, the Gannett geniuses simply don’t get it. We cancelled our subscription to the Lexington Minuteman because their Town news coverage finally sank below water – only one reporter for a very active community of ~33,000 – and sketchy billing practices.

    More “regional” coverage will only make Gannett publications a shadow of the Boston Globe.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Mark, from what I hear, the answer is yes. What I’ve heard is that the Cambridge Chronicle won’t be affected, and there are two more that will be left alone. I’m going to guess that the Somerville Journal is one. But I did specifically hear that the Marblehead Reporter will not be one of the three. I understand that people are going at it on a Marblehead Facebook group, but I couldn’t take a look because it’s private.

      1. I wonder how this will affect the Gardner News, my hometown’s daily in north central Massachusetts. It’s outside of Boston suburbia, though still in the purview of the Worcester Telegram, which is also part of the Gannett monster. Any insight?

        Signed,
        Patricia Daukantas (I don’t know how else to attach my name to this)

      2. Ex-scribe

        Dan, don’t be surprised at this. Gannett did the same at a daily paper I worked at more than 20 years in suburban Philadelphia. Once reporters weren’t allowed out of the circulation area — defined as maybe 10 towns — and now they are expected to range over 3 states. Formerly an ample reporting staff, now only a few. This started in 2017.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Patricia, I don’t know. Gannett seems more committed to its dailies than its weeklies, but how much is it committed to anything?

  5. Brian R. Merrick

    Even the local dailies carry a reduced amount of local news. I’m a snowbird and get e-paper versions of the Cape Cod Times and the Fort Myers News-Press. The bulk of the papers are identical, occasionally even the front pages.

  6. Hal Shubin

    I was just discussing this problem with some friends. Here in Belmont, the Citizen-Herald provides no coverage of local government meetings at all. I searched for “Select Board”, “Library Board”, “Planning Board” and “Council on Aging” and got nothing about meetings or agendas.

    There’s an independent online news outlet (Belmontonian.com), but it’s just one person, and he doesn’t cover a lot. There is BelmontMedia.org, which runs the local cable station (etc), and has some video news, but that’s not the same as a newspaper.

    You say “…the change is being made in an attempt to bolster paid digital circulation”. Are they going to get rid of the printed paper? And how will they get *more* subscribers with less coverage?

    What’s a democracy to do?

    1. Patricia Daukantas

      As someone who was the last editor of the Belmont Herald and was present at the creation of the Citizen-Herald AND who spent innumerable hours at meetings of the selectmen and School Committee, this really chaps MY hide. I spent so many hours sitting in those selectmen and school committee meetings so that Belmont parents could stay at home with their kids….

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