Herald cuts continue as Digital First outsources design jobs to Colorado

Jack Sullivan of CommonWealth Magazine has the latest on cutbacks at the Boston Herald. Digital First Media, which bought the Herald earlier this year, is centralizing the paper’s advertising design and news layout operations at its headquarters in Boulder, Colorado.

It’s a rare instance of Digital First making cuts that don’t directly affect news coverage, and it’s become standard operating procedure at newspaper chains. For instance, GateHouse Media, which owns more than 100 newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts, outsources much of its design work to a facility it owns in Austin, Texas. Still, it’s terrible for the people who are losing their jobs — estimated at 10 to 15 in news design alone.

Then again, there’s not much in the way of reporting resources at the Herald that Digital First can still cut. Sullivan writes writes that there are now fewer than a dozen reporters at the once-robust tabloid. Wow.

More details in this Twitter thread from Herald sports copy editor Jon Courture. Click here to read the whole thing.

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Media roundup: The EPA’s toxic proposal; getting readers to pay; and Danny Schechter’s activist legacy

John Travolta as the lawyer Jan Schlichtmann in “A Civil Action.”

The overwhelming crush of news emanating from the Trump administration makes it all but impossible to give more than passing attention to some of its worst and most damaging acts.

It can’t be helped. Though you could argue that the media pay too much attention to the president’s sociopathic Twitter feed, you certainly can’t fault journalists for focusing on the childish insults he has directed at Justin Trudeau and his embrace of the murderous dictator Kim Jong Un. To its credit, the press has also managed to provide reasonably comprehensive coverage of the administration’s inhumane treatment of refugee families.

But when you get down to wonkish issues like industry-backed changes in the way that the Environmental Protection Agency regulates toxic substances, well, good luck finding the sort of coverage that truly commands attention and sparks outrage.

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A new study measures the cost of corruption when the local newspaper dies

Illustration by Thomas Nast.

As local newspapers shrink or disappear, opportunities increase for politicians and public employees to reach into the cookie jar and help themselves. After all, one of journalism’s most important functions is to act as a watchdog on government. As far back as 2009, the internet scholar Clay Shirky said that he expected to see an explosion of “casual endemic corruption” as more and more small papers shut down.

But how to quantify that? According to a new study, the lack of oversight can be measured by a rise in the cost of government in communities that lose their newspapers. Kriston Capps writes in CityLab that researchers at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Illinois at Chicago found that a municipality’s borrowing costs increase in statistically significant ways in “news deserts” — that is, in places where there is no longer a news outlet that reports on important local issues.

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Hilary Sargent responds to the Globe’s demand that she produce records

The lawyer for Hilary Sargent, the former top editor of Boston.com who recently accused Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory of sexual harassment in several tweets two weeks ago, has filed documents in Suffolk Superior Court in response to the Globe’s demand that she turn over records about her claim. A judge has scheduled a hearing on the Globe’s case for this Thursday at 2 p.m.

Here is the case laying out her opposition to the Globe’s motion. And here is her affidavit.

I recently wrote a backgrounder for WGBH News that you may find useful.

Friday update

On top of everything else, the Globe announces another round of downsizing

As if there weren’t enough turmoil at The Boston Globe, president Vinay Mehra and editor Brian McGrory earlier today announced another round of budget cuts. Mehra and McGrory say they hope to find the savings they need through buyouts, but they won’t rule out layoffs. No word on how many people they are hoping will exit the building. The memos were obtained from a newsroom source.

In addition, the last vestiges of the Sunday zoned editions for local news are being all but eliminated, as Globe North, Globe South and Globe West are being combined into a Sunday section to be called Globe Local.

Both Mehra and McGrory claim the effect on the Globe’s journalism will be minimal. Obviously, though, this is a perilous route to take at a time when the paper is trying to offset an industry-wide decline in ad revenues with high-priced digital subscriptions. McGrory has previously said the Globe is on track to hit 100,000 digital subscriptions by the end of June, and that the paper may approach sustainability if that number can be doubled during the next few years. It’s encouraging that readers are willing to pay — but it remains to be seen if they will pay more for less.

“As to what it all means — well, a lot,” McGrory writes. “It means there was an unanticipated revenue shortfall heading toward the last half of the year and we need to stem it quickly. It means that this business hasn’t gotten any easier…. This does not mean there is a hiring freeze. This does not signal Draconian cuts. It gives us the most options, in the most humane way possible. We are absolutely hiring for key jobs, with a couple of offers out there as I write.”

What follows is the top of Mehra’s memo, minus a detailed explanation of how employees can apply for the buyout.

Every day The Boston Globe produces the best news report in the region and one of the best regional reports in the country. But as the news business changes, and more subscribers seek to read us on digital, our cost structure remains out of line with the realities of the industry.

While we have built a large and growing digital business, we still have an organization built on the profit margins and specific needs of the print era, where the economics continue to be challenging as advertising has shrunk across the sector. We’ve done much to change; we still have more to do. We can’t afford to slow down in our efforts to build The Boston Globe of the future, one in which subscribers play an increasingly central role in our revenue model.

So we are now announcing a buyout primarily designed for people in our newsroom, advertising, and marketing departments. We will use any savings to address the current economic realities and invest in our core strength — great journalism, with an eye toward our digital offerings.

We are optimistic that the buyout, the first in two years, will result in the savings we need to create a sustainable Globe. If we do not get enough takers, we’ll have to consider all other options, including layoffs.

We know the last few years have been a time of dramatic change, and that it has placed tremendous pressure on everyone in the organization. And we know that this latest buyout — like previous ones — will mean saying goodbye to cherished colleagues. But this is a good moment to take stock of how much we have already accomplished in growing our digital audience and telling stories in different ways. We must take this next step – so we can invest in our growth and enhance our stature as a news organization.

And here is the full text of McGrory’s memo.

No doubt that many of you have questions about the buyout, what it means generally, what it specifically means to those interested. I’d like to be helpful, and Jen [managing editor Jennifer Peter] can be as well.

Briefly, I’ll say that we haven’t done one of these in a couple of years, and I would advise against going into it assuming there will be another any time soon. This one, as you’ve likely noted, will differ in a few key ways from past practice. First, people will get two weeks for every year of service, but the total package will be capped at six months. Second, the company is asking that you declare your intentions within the first two weeks of the offer. Third, you won’t get personalized packages sent to your homes; rather, if you’re interested, you’re encouraged to make an appointment with human resources straightaway for a direct discussion.

As to what it all means — well, a lot. It means there was an unanticipated revenue shortfall heading toward the last half of the year and we need to stem it quickly. It means that this business hasn’t gotten any easier. It means that the company has agreed to take the most flexible approach to the newsroom and a couple of other departments. This does not mean there is a hiring freeze. This does not signal Draconian cuts. It gives us the most options, in the most humane way possible. We are absolutely hiring for key jobs, with a couple of offers out there as I write. The success of this organization is going to rise in no small part on the success of this room.

Will it lead to newsroom layoffs? I’m optimistic that it won’t, but can’t make guarantees. I don’t believe it would be a significant number under any circumstance. We need to see who puts in for it. I’ll be as open as possible about the need and our plans.

Cuts are being made elsewhere in the newsroom — and across the organization. We’re making some page reductions that we hope will have no major impact on our readers. These trims will give us cost savings from materials and freelance spending, and free up editing resources that can be devoted to other places. One change worth noting is to our regional editions — Globe North, Globe South, and Globe West. Our editors do great work putting out high quality sections week after week, but revenue-wise, they are on the verge of going under water. We are planning to create one edition that will run across all zones, called Globe Local, and zone the advertising, so that businesses still have a lower cost, more targeted option. In other words, if you’re a bank on the South Shore, you can advertise in the Globe Local edition that only goes to the South Shore, but the journalism in it will come from all over.

Again, feel free to come see me or Jen, individually, in small groups, or however you want. I am truly hopeful that this buyout will work well for a good number of people, and that the faster process will allow us to not lose sight of our vital work.

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What we know so far about the Boston Globe sexual-harassment story

Many readers of The Boston Globe may not have heard that editor Brian McGrory had been accused of sexual harassment until they picked up today’s paper and cast their eyes to the bottom of page one. In fact, the story has been building since Sunday, when Hilary Sargent, a former top editor at the Globe’s free website, Boston.com, tweeted a text exchange she said she had with McGrory in which he asked what she wears when she writes. Sargent’s tweet was the most explosive development in a situation that extends back to December.

For those of you who haven’t been following the story closely, or who are only learning about it now, I’ve put together a list of some of the key moments thus far. But, as they say, stay tuned.

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McGrory responds in memo to staff

I’m doing this on my phone, so forgive the formatting. Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory send this to the staff a little while ago, and several sources provided it to me.

To the newsroom,

Hilary Sargent is someone I have known for a long time, been fond of personally, and respected professionally. To say the least, I was not anticipating the situation this week.

Hilary released on Monday what she said was an exchange between us. I have no recollection of it, which, admittedly, is embarrassing to me. I have asked Hilary to provide the date and a more complete version of the exchange. She has not addressed my request. I have told the Globe’s owners that the company should feel free to retrieve our text messages by whatever means possible, and I am trying myself.

Absent that information, I do think some context is needed.

First, Hilary and I dated many years ago. We did not work together at the time, and we’ve remained friendly over the years.

Second, when Hilary came to boston.com in 2014, I had no role, no say whatsoever, in her hire. She did not report to me, even indirectly. The site had a separate editor answering directly to the front office. We were on mutually friendly terms, and I do not believe I ever wrote, spoke, or acted in a disrespectful way to her.

Third, months after Hilary left boston.com, we would sometimes exchange text messages that included the kind of personal banter of two people very familiar with each other. I regret that very much for reasons that go far beyond the Globe.

I can’t believe I have to write these words, but I have never harassed Hilary Sargent or any other women at the Globe or anywhere else – ever. I don’t believe I have ever acted inappropriately with anyone at this company. I have been a manager two different times over my 29 years with this organization – from 2007 to 2009 as the Metro editor, and from 2013 to now as the editor. I cannot think of a time, not one, when I treated any female colleague with anything but respect. I have never faced any sort of complaint, formal or informal, whether as a manager or not. I have consistently put women in leadership positions, such that newsroom management is split equally by gender, with talented women holding many of the most pivotal jobs – managing editor, news editor, innovations editor, Spotlight editor, just to name a few. I devoted myself to the issue of gender pay equity from the first months that I took this position, and I’m proud to say that in key categories in the newsroom, we have achieved it. Tough decisions that have affected women and men have been made during my tenure, inevitable in an industry that is losing revenue each year. But I have always tried to address these challenges with a basic sense of decency.

I have no desire to argue with Hilary Sargent, publicly or privately. In fact, I very much respect her abilities as a journalist. But I do think that it’s important to have the broader context known.

Finally, I fully realize the toll this has taken on the newsroom, the distraction it has caused and the questions it has understandably raised. My one request is that everyone remains focused on the vital work of the Globe each and every day.

Brian

Globe executives address sexual-harassment accusation against Brian McGrory

Two top Boston Globe executives, managing director Linda Pizzuti Henry and president Vinay Mehra, sent this out to the staff earlier this afternoon. A source passed it on a little while ago. As you’ll see, the message concerns a charge by Hilary Sargent, a former top editor at Boston.com, that she was sexually harassed by Globe editor Brian McGrory in a text message, which she posted on Twitter this past Monday.

Emily Rooney, Adam Reilly and I discussed the situation Tuesday evening on “Greater Boston.”

The full text of Henry and Mehra’s message (except for an internal link for reporting employee concerns) follows.

As you may be aware, a former employee has publicly suggested that there was an inappropriate text exchange between Brian McGrory and her. As we discussed last fall and at the last newsroom Town Hall, we are deeply committed to creating a safe, comfortable, welcoming working environment for all employees. We have multiple avenues for employees to use to escalate concerns and will work to expeditiously address any issues raised going forward or looking back.

This issue is no exception. When we first learned about the social media discussion mentioned above, we began investigating to gather as much relevant information as we could. We discussed the issue with Brian in an attempt to understand both the nature of any exchanges between the two parties and also whether or not these exchanges occurred during her employment. We also reached out to Ms. Sargent, the former employee, to ascertain the timing and context of the text in question. At this time it is still unclear when these exchanges took place.

We expect to have resolution on this matter soon but did not want to wait another day to connect with you directly. We want to reiterate how important your work is, how important your contributions are to us and how seriously we take assertions of improper conduct.

If there is anything you would like to discuss related to this matter or any others, please do not hesitate to reach out to us or any member of the management or human resources team….

Thank you.

Linda & Vinay

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Trump’s Amazon-Post vendetta reflects his corrupting sense of victimization

If you care to read one more example of President Trump’s fundamentally corrupt way of looking at the world, I recommend Jon Lee Anderson’s profile of the former ambassador to Panama, John Feeley, which appears in the current New Yorker. Anderson begins with a shocking anecdote — or, rather, an anecdote that would be shocking if we had not long since gone numb. Feeley was sitting outside the Oval Office in June 2017, waiting for a meeting with Trump. He heard the president drop an F-bomb in the midst of a tirade, then was led in. Vice President Mike Pence and future chief of staff John Kelly were with the president. Anderson continues:

As he took a seat, Trump asked, “So tell me — what do we get from Panama? What’s in it for us?” Feeley presented a litany of benefits: help with counter-narcotics work and migration control, commercial efforts linked to the Panama Canal, a close relationship with the current President, Juan Carlos Varela. When he finished, Trump chuckled and said, “Who knew?” He then turned the conversation to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in Panama City. “How about the hotel?” he said. “We still have the tallest building on the skyline down there?”

I offer this to illuminate a different story — one that was nearly overlooked last weekend amid an unusually weird and disturbing outburst of Trumpian mishegas.

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No, the Digital First approach to newspaper ownership is not defensible

Politico media columnist Jack Shafer has written, if you can believe it, a semi-defense of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital and its principal, Randall Smith, who are in the midst of running their newspapers into the ground. Alden owns the Digital First Media chain, whose Denver Post is the locus of an insurrection against hedge-fund ownership. The 100-paper chain also owns three Massachusetts properties: the Boston Herald, The Sun of Lowell and the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg.

Shafer’s argument is a simple one: the end is at hand for the newspaper business, no one has figured out how to reverse its shrinking fortunes, and so therefore Smith can’t be blamed for squeezing out the last few drops of profit before the industry collapses. “Smith may be a rapacious fellow,” Shafer writes, “but his primary crime is recognizing that print is approaching its expiration date and is acting on the fact that more value can be extracted by sucking the marrow than by investing deeper or selling.”

Now, it’s possible that Shafer is right. But I’m considerably more optimistic about the future of newspapers than he is. Let me offer a few countervailing examples.

1. I certainly don’t want to sound naive about GateHouse Media, a chain of several hundred papers controlled by yet another hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group. GateHouse, which dominates Eastern Massachusetts, runs its papers on the cheap, too, and I’ve got a lot of problems with its barebones coverage of the communities it serves.

But GateHouse, unlike Digital First, is committed to newspapers. That’s why both insiders and outsiders were hoping GateHouse would buy the Herald. I genuinely think the folks at GateHouse are trying to crack the code on how to do community journalism at a profit for some years to come — and yes, its journalists are underpaid, and yes, I don’t like the fact that some editing operations have been centralized in Austin, Texas. But it could be worse, as Digital First demonstrates. For some insight into the GateHouse strategy, see this NPR story.

2. Smaller independently owned daily papers without debt can do well. The Berkshire Eagle is in the midst of a revival following its sale by Digital First to local business interests several years ago. In Maine, a printer named Reade Brower has built an in-state chain centered around the Portland Press Herald that by all accounts is doing well.

3. Large regional papers like The Denver Post are the most endangered. Transforming The Washington Post into a profitable national news organization, as Jeff Bezos has done, was a piece of cake compared to saving metros. As I describe in “The Return of the Moguls,” billionaire owner John Henry of The Boston Globe is pursuing a strategy that could result in a return to profitability: charging as much as the market will bear for print delivery (now up to more than $1,000 a year) and digital subscriptions ($30 a month). Globe executives say the paper is on track to pass the 100,000 mark for digital subscriptions in the first half of this year, and that the business model will start to look sustainable if it can reach 200,000.

In other words, reinventing the newspaper business is not a hopeless task. Randall Smith and Alden Global Capital have taken the easy, cynical route — but not the only route. There are better ways.

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