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.

Alabama chain whacks local papers — again

The Alabama state employees’ pension fund is taking the axe to its newspapers on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley — again.

CNHI, the Birmingham, Ala.-based chain that owns four daily newspapers and four weeklies north of Boston, has eliminated 36 full- and part-time jobs. The dailies affected by the layoffs are the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times. The chain whacked 52 jobs in 2008.

“We have done our best to weather economic difficulties, but like many companies we must take further steps to sustain the long-term success of the company by reducing staffing levels again,” a CNHI publisher, Al Getler, said in a statement posted online.

But it’s not all bad news for CNHI — if you’re fortunate enough to be near the seat of power. The company recently announced that it would move to Alabama’s state capital, Montgomery, and take up residence in a 12-story building being constructed by its chief investor, Retirement Systems of Alabama. The move is expected to take place in 2012.

We subscribe to the Salem News, and we continue to be impressed with the good job done by the reporters, photographers and editors every day. (Disclosure: Mrs. Media Nation was a Salem News photographer until eight years ago.)

But working conditions have been pretty difficult. For the past several years, most employees have had to take roughly a week of unpaid furlough every quarter. And now things have gotten considerably worse.

No doubt management is having a difficult time of it. The Salem News is pretty light on ads most days. But hollowing out the product year by year is a recipe for eventual closure, not revival. If there is a vision beyond continued cutting, it’s certainly not apparent to readers — or to the journalists who still work there.

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery.