Mass. hyperlocal comings and goings

Two hyperlocal notes for Massachusetts:

  • Dave Copeland has been publishing an independent news site called Andover News since June. Copeland is the regional manager for Patch, but this is unaffiliated. The News competes with the Andover Townsman, owned by the Alabama-based CNHI chain.
  • Jenn Lord Paluzzi, who’s been named editor-in-chief of the fledgling Concord Bridge, is giving up Grafton Common. Fortunately, the weekly Grafton News and three other Central Massachusetts papers were just acquired by CherryRoad Media, a New Jersey-based chain that seems committed to local news.

Not every newspaper chain is as bad as Gannett or Alden. Here’s a Mass. list.

Updated on April 6.

Recently I put together a crowdsourced spreadsheet of independent local news outlets in Massachusetts in order to show that community journalism hasn’t been entirely swallowed up by corporate chain journalism. If a paper is owned by an out-of-state group, it didn’t make the cut.

But not every chain is as bad as Gannett or Alden Global Capital’s MediaNews Group. Alden, as you may know, owns The Sun of Lowell, the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg and the Boston Herald, all of which have been slashed to the bone — and beyond. Gannett is closing and merging our venerable weekly newspapers and reassigning local reporters to regional beats.

There aren’t too many other chain newspapers in Massachusetts, but there are a few — and all of them are doing a better job of serving their communities than Alden or Gannett. Here are the ones that come to mind:

CNHI, Montgomery, Alabama

  • Eagle-Tribune of North Andover (daily)
  • Daily News of Newburyport (daily)
  • Salem News (daily)
  • Gloucester Daily Times (daily)
  • Haverhill Gazette (weekly)
  • Andover Townsman (weekly)

Steven Malkowich of Vancouver, British Columbia*

  • Sun Chronicle of Attleboro (daily)
  • Foxboro Reporter (weekly)

Advance Publications of New York

  • Republican of Springfield (daily)
  • MassLive (digital)
  • Reminder (weeklies in multiple communities in the Greater Springfield area; click here for a list)

Newspapers of New England, Concord, New Hampshire

  • Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton
  • Athol Daily News
  • Greenfield Recorder (daily)
  • Amherst Bulletin (weekly)
  • Valley Advocate of Northampton (alt-weekly)

I think this is the complete list, but if you know of any more, just drop me a line at dan dot kennedy at northeastern dot edu.

*Malkowich’s holdings are … complicated. Here is a Los Angeles Times story that offers a little bit of background. I do know that he earns generally high marks for the way that he’s presided over The Sun Chronicle.

WHAV Radio takes note of the 200th anniversary of The Haverhill Gazette

The Haverhill Gazette in the early 1900s. Photo via WHAV.

The Haverhill Gazette marked its 200th anniversary in 2021, and WHAV Radio has taken note of the occasion in a lengthy tribute. The Gazette, an independently owned daily for most of its existence, launched WHAV in 1947 under the auspices of a publisher who was distantly related to the Taylor family, which then owned The Boston Globe. The station was revived about 15 years ago and converted to a nonprofit, low-power FM station (it also streams) by local advertising executive Tim Coco, who continues to run it as an independent source of news.

Coco and David Goudsward trace the Gazette from its founding in 1821 to the present day. I had no idea that Haverhill’s favorite son, the poet John Greenleaf Whittier, was the editor for a brief period in the 1830s.

A long series of events that led to the shrinkage of the Gazette began in 1957, when William Loeb, the notorious right-wing publisher of the Manchester Union Leader (now the New Hampshire Union Leader), took advantage of a strike at the Gazette by starting a competing paper, the Haverhill Journal. Coco and Goudsward write that the Gazette was sold to a consortium comprising The Eagle-Tribune, then of Lawrence, now of North Andover; The Sun of Lowell; and Vermont’s Burlington Free Press.

John Greenleaf Whittier. Image via the National Portrait Gallery.

Although the arrangement somehow managed to pass antitrust muster, I’m old enough to recall stories that The Eagle-Tribune and The Sun weren’t going to let the Gazette get too good. The Gazette changed hands several more times and in 1998 was sold to The Eagle-Tribune. Today, the Gazette is a weekly. Both the Gazette and The Eagle-Tribune, which remains a daily, are owned by CNHI, a corporate newspaper chain based in Montgomery, Alabama. As Coco and Goudsward write of the Gazette:

It is better off than the thousands of newspapers that have succumbed in recent years, but still a shadow of its former self — the victim, first of consolidation that reduced it from a robust daily to a weekly, and then of the loss of its advertising base to electronic media.

For several years, I followed news coverage in Haverhill quite closely, as it was the first community chosen by the Banyan Project in which to launch a cooperatively owned news organization, to be known as Haverhill Matters. The idea never came to fruition despite years of planning. During those same years, Coco was building WHAV into a vital source of local news and information, both over the air and online.

David Joyner leaves as executive editor the North of Boston newspapers

David Joyner is leaving his position as executive editor of the North of Boston Media Group newspapers, which comprise four dailies — The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, The Daily News of Newburyport, The Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times — as well as some affiliated publications. His announcement to the staff, which I obtained from a trusted source earlier today, is as follows:

Good morning,

I hope this note gets ahead of the rumor mill but it may only serve to confirm it. I want to let you all know that I will be moving on from my role as executive editor of the North of Boston Media Group, effective Oct. 1. John Celestino, our publisher, will announce plans as to my successor in the near future.

I want to take this opportunity to tell you all what a privilege it’s been to work with you. The work we do is important. When news breaks or we land a big story, it’s super-energizing. But the most rewarding part of this job is — always has been — working with you.

I’m not certain of next steps, apart from taking a few days to finish a couple of books and go to hockey practice and the bus stop. But we’re not planning to leave Andover. So, if I don’t get a chance to see you in the next couple of weeks, please don’t be a stranger.

My best to all of you,

David

The North of Boston papers are owned by the CNHI chain of Montgomery, Alabama.

How public pension funds are helping to finance the destruction of local news

This is Cerebrus, not Cerberus. Photo (cc) 2006 by Andrew Becraft

Public employee pension funds are investing — perhaps unwittingly — in the destruction of local news.

That’s the most important takeaway in a recent report by Julie Reynolds for the Nieman Journalism Lab. Reynolds writes that Alden Global Capital, the hedge fund that has destroyed newspapers across the country, has financed a number of its deals with the help of Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm. That includes Alden’s acquisition earlier this year of Tribune Publishing, which owns major-market papers such as the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and, in New England, the Hartford Courant.

Cerberus’ top investor is the California Public Employees Retirement System, followed by the Public School Employees’ Retirement System of Pennsylvania. Eight of Cerberus’ top 10 investors are public employee pension funds. “Perhaps it’s time to demand that public pensions divest from shadow banks that aid and abet the aggressive dismantling of the free press,” Reynolds writes.

Cerberus turns out to have quite a track record, and it extends well beyond its role in helping Alden destroy local news. As Reynolds reports:

The firm has been accused of profiting from the Sandy Hook school massacre, because it promised to unload its ownership in gun manufacturers but then didn’t — at least not until its company Remington Arms went bankrupt in 2018. And Cerberus is the owner and founder of Tier 1 Group, the company that trained four members of the Tiger Squad that assassinated and dismembered Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The role of public pension funds in newspapers isn’t new. CNHI, based in Montgomery, Alabama, owns 89 local news outlets in 21 states, including The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover and its affiliated papers north of Boston. CNHI, in turn, is owned by the Retirement Systems of Alabama.

But though CNHI has cut deeply over the years, its track record isn’t nearly as grim as that of Alden. At least in Massachusetts, its newspapers remain well-staffed enough to do a reasonably good job of covering their communities.

In the trade magazine Editor & Publisher, Gretchen A. Peck reports that Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-CWA, wonders if Alden’s purpose in buying up newspapers is to exert political influence aimed at staving off regulation:

Schleuss speculated whether there might be political play behind these newspaper acquisitions. The NewsGuild president also opined about legislative remedies that Congress might enact to force hedge funds like Alden to be “radically transparent” about their investors. That would allow the public to discern if investors are earnest and market-minded or if they’re bad actors attempting to hold sway over the press.

It’s a real concern, though to date I haven’t seen any signs that Alden has an agenda other than cutting its papers to the bone and squeezing out whatever profits remain.

Peck’s article is also accompanied by a “publisher’s note” that is interesting mainly because it represents one of the few occasions when Alden has deigned to address the way it’s running its newspapers:

Publisher’s Note: E&P reached out to Heath Freeman of Alden Global Capital, welcoming his comment and contribution. The company’s crisis manager responded, post-deadline, with the following remark he attributed to MediaNews Group’s COO, Guy Gilmore: “A subscription-driven revenue model, long overdue payments from tech behemoths including Google and Facebook for the use of our content and the modernization of non-editorial operations are some of the keys to ensuring local newspapers can thrive over the long term and serve the local communities that depend on them.”

Four dailies north of Boston sold to Alabama retirement fund

The CNHI newspapers have been sold to Retirement Systems of Alabama. CNHI’s holdings in Massachusetts include four daily newspapers — The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, The Daily News of Newburyport, The Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times — as well as several non-daily publications.

This is good news, with reservations. CNHI’s ownership has long been complicated; the Alabama buyer has been involved for years, so this doesn’t seem like much of a change. CNHI has run the papers on the cheap, but the quality remains good. I know that staff members were concerned that the papers might be sold to Digital First Media or GateHouse Media, hedge-fund-owned chains that slash their properties to the bone. So it could have been worse.

Earlier: “Eagle-Tribune and affiliated papers north of Boston put up for sale” (June 25, 2018).

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Eagle-Tribune and affiliated papers north of Boston put up for sale

The CNHI newspaper chain is up for sale. The company, with newspapers in 22 states, owns several properties in Massachusetts, including The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, The Daily News of Newburyport, The Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times. CNHI merged with Raycom Media last September. What prompts the sale, apparently, is that Raycom is being acquired by a television company that wants to be rid of its newspapers.

CNHI, based in Montgomery, Alabama, is owned by public employee pension funds in that state. Its papers have been operated on the cheap, with staff members being subjected to unpaid furloughs over the years. But we are now in an era of defining deviancy down with respect to chain newspaper owners, which means that the pending sale is nothing to celebrate. The alternatives are likely to be bad or worse.

The logical buyers would be either of two national chains: GateHouse Media, which owns more than 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts, or Digital First Media, which owns the Boston Herald, The Sun of Lowell and the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg. GateHouse, at least, has been getting some favorable attention lately. Not so much for Digital First.

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GateHouse parent buys T&G — and its parent chain

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 5.26.17 PMA huge newspaper deal was announced late this afternoon. The parent company of GateHouse Media of Fairport, New York, which has been on the march since emerging from bankruptcy last year, is buying out Halifax Media Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Locally, the acquisition greatly expands GateHouse’s footprint in the central part of the state: earlier this year Boston Globe owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to Halifax.

Jim Romenesko has the memo from GateHouse chief executive Kirk Davis.

GateHouse now owns almost every significant newspaper property in Eastern Massachusetts (and beyond) other than the Globe and the Boston Herald. The Digital First papers, which include the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Enterprise & Sentinel, are for sale. Will GateHouse scoop them up? What about the CNHI papers, which include The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover and three other dailies in that region? How long can they hold out?

Even before its latest acquisition spree, GateHouse owned about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts — mostly weeklies, but also mid-size dailies such as the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, The Enterprise of Brockton and The Patriot Ledger of Quincy. In the past year GateHouse has added the Cape Cod Times, The Standard-Times of New Bedford, The Providence Journal and — in a little-noticed move just last week — Foster’s Daily Democrat of Dover, New Hampshire, a small but legendary community daily.

GateHouse has a well-earned reputation for cutting staff and compensation, although that hardly makes it unique. The larger story is that its executives clearly believe it can be the last local-newspaper chain standing by centralizing every part of its operations that aren’t strictly tied to local news.

A considerable amount of copy editing is being moved to a facility in Austin, Texas. The ProJo has a nice new press, and no doubt it will soon be printing as many GateHouse papers as it can accommodate — possibly cutting into the Globe’s printing business. GateHouse also owns what Davis calls a “digital services agency” called Propel Marketing.

At a time when few business executives want to mess with the newspaper business, GateHouse has gone all in. How it will end is anyone’s guess. But GateHouse has been down this road before, and it ended in bankruptcy. If Kirk Davis and company have a better idea this time, we should soon find out.

More: “Copy editing” at daily newspapers traditionally refers to editing stories for grammar and style, writing headlines and laying out pages. I am told that the Austin facility’s mission is limited to page design, though some copy editors at the ProJo are losing their jobs.

Boston-area publisher honored by E&P

The trade magazine Editor & Publisher has named Karen Andreas, regional publisher of four daily newspapers and several affiliated publications north of Boston, as its Publisher of the Year. The dailies: The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, The Daily News of Newburyport, The Salem News and The Gloucester Daily Times.

The papers, known collectively as the North of Boston Media Group, are owned by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. (CNHI) of Montgomery, Alabama.

Assessing Haverhill’s media (III): Public access

Darlene Beal, executive director of Haverhill Community Television
Darlene Beal, executive director of Haverhill Community Television

Later this year the Banyan Project is scheduled to roll out its first cooperatively owned news site in the city of Haverhill, to be called Haverhill Matters. Banyan founder Tom Stites’ vision is to serve what he calls “news deserts” — low- and moderate-income communities, mainly urban, that are underserved by traditional media. What follows is the third of several blog posts in which I will attempt to assess the media landscape in Haverhill as it exists today.

“Eyes Wide Open” may be a travelogue, but it’s not the sort of spritely fare you’re likely to see on the Travel Channel. There are no sun-dappled beaches or cocktail-fueled soirées. Rather, it’s a film with a civic purpose — to get Haverhill residents to take a close look at their downtown and the waterfront along the Merrimack River.

“As we look at each one of these slides, we want you to think about three very simple concepts,” says Haverhill architect Celeste Hynick at the beginning of the film. “What are the positive features? What needs to be improved? And what opportunities exist?” For the next 20 minutes, she and designer Mike Valvo consider the good, the bad and the ugly as picture after picture scrolls by.

The film recapitulates a presentation made last year to a city planning committee appointed by Mayor James Fiorentini. And it is the type of program that helps define Haverhill Community Television (HCTV), which cablecast the film earlier this summer and now hosts it on its YouTube channel.

“Our mission is to empower the community to make television programs,” said HCTV executive director Darlene Beal when I interviewed her last week. “To tell their story to the community. In that sense, we feel like we mirror the community.”

Beal and I met in a conference room at her station’s headquarters, a large converted auto-repair shop in a residential neighborhood just north of the downtown. A 51-year-old Haverhill native and Boston University graduate, Beal has worked as HCTV’s executive director for most of her career. The operation is currently marking its 25th year as an independent nonprofit organization following several years as an appendage of the local cable company.

Haverhill, of course, is not unusual in having a community television station. Virtually every city or town has one, funded by law with a share of the license fees paid by the local cable franchise-holder. Here, for instance, is a list of such operations in Massachusetts.

Why bigger is better

But because franchise-holders generally pay fees on a per-household basis, larger cities and towns tend to have superior community stations. Boston, Cambridge and Somerville, for instance, all offer quite a bit in terms of both quality and quantity. Likewise Haverhill, with a population of about 60,000, including 24,000 households that subscribe to cable, is able to do more than many smaller communities.

HCTV has an annual budget of $750,000 to $800,000, Beal told me, and employs seven people, four of them full-time. There are about 600 members, she said, with about 20 percent to 25 percent involved in some aspect of production. Its Facebook page has attracted 468 “likes” as of this writing.

HCTV operates three channels — an educational channel, with a studio at Haverhill High School; a governmental channel, with equipment at City Hall to carry city council meetings and the like; and a public access channel, with two studios and a classroom based at HCTV’s headquarters. The educational and public access channels are live-streamed on HCTV’s website, which also archives many but not all past programs.

Beal has no way of knowing how many people watch HCTV on television. But according to Google Analytics data Beal shared with me, the website received 127 visits during the last week of July, with 104 coming from Massachusetts — presumably most from Haverhill. The public access channel carries programming from about 6 to 10 p.m. each weekday, and is repeated so that it’s on for 16 to 20 hours a day. Weekends are devoted to programming provided by local religious institutions.

As is the case with public access operations in general, HCTV does not produce its own programming. Rather, it helps volunteers by offering training and loaning them equipment, then cablecasting the finished product. Public access programs in Haverhill include politically oriented talk shows; “Keeping the Peace,” produced by the Haverhill Community Violence Prevention Coalition; “I Get Around,” which highlights community events and organizations; “Law to Talk About,” a legal show; health, and the arts. During election season, the channel runs lengthy sit-down interviews with local candidates.

What you won’t see on HCTV is a newscast. That’s fairly typical. Although Boston viewers can watch “Neighborhood Network News” every evening, most public access systems, oriented as they are toward DIY media, simply don’t have the capacity for such an undertaking. (In 2007 I wrote about “Neighborhood Network News” for CommonWealth Magazine.)

Beal said she would like to see HCTV offer a newscast, but added that past efforts have been spotty because of the limited time volunteers have and their lack of training in newsgathering. If she were to head down that road again, she said she’d need money to hire someone to offer instruction in the basics of journalism.

Beal added that, in her view, the Haverhill edition of the local daily newspaper, The Eagle-Tribune, and The Haverhill Gazette, a weekly, fail to cover the city in the depth that it deserves, creating a “void.” (I wrote about the two papers in the first part of this series. The papers are owned by a chain, CNHI, based in Montgomery, Ala. Al White, the editor of The Eagle-Tribune and the Gazette, recently declined my request for an interview.)

“I do think they’re missing out on a lot, for whatever reason,” Beal said. “Maybe they don’t have the capacity because of the cutbacks. I don’t want to criticize the local papers, but there’s more news out there than they’re able to get into the paper.”

HCTV and Haverhill Matters

Like Tim Coco, the founder of the city’s online-mostly radio station, WHAV, whom I profiled in the second part of this series, Beal is a member of the planning committee for Haverhill Matters, a cooperatively owned news site that is scheduled to be launched by the end of 2013 under the auspices of the Banyan Project.

Haverhill Matters, envisioned as an online news organization combining paid and volunteer journalism, would be an additional outlet for the video journalism produced by HCTV members, Beal said — and is ideal for, say, a four- to six-minute story that doesn’t fit into any of the station’s regular programming, which tends to run in half-hour increments.

Beal would like to see the HCTV and Haverhill Matters websites tied together in some way. She also sees Haverhill Matters as an additional outlet for news about HCTV, such as awards it has won from the Alliance for Community Media for public service announcements about violence prevention.

Her overarching theme, though, was what might be described as the need for more well-rounded coverage of the community — something beyond the breaking-news coverage of police activity and fires that she sees as being typical of what the local papers offer.

“I would like to see Haverhill Matters covering more of the schools,” she said. “The ins and outs of the community. The vibrancy of the community. It’s not so much what I want to see covered — it’s probably the tone of which I’d like to see it covered.”

We also talked about the length of time it’s taken for Haverhill Matters to get off the ground. When I first started writing about the project, it was scheduled to launch in 2012, but that date got delayed for a variety of reasons. Recently Mike LaBonte, co-chair of the planning committee, told me by email that he was reasonably confident that the launch would take place before the end of 2013 — but maybe not much before. For Beal, that moment can’t come too soon.

“For Haverhill Matters to succeed,” Beal said, “I think we’re at the point that we have to splash into the community. We have to get people talking about what they’re missing, or else they don’t know what they’re missing. It’s time to either do it or don’t do it.”

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy.