New Herald publisher Kevin Corrado is thrilled (again)

On Monday the Boston Herald ran a statement by Kevin Corrado, newly installed by Digital First Media as the paper’s publisher. Here’s what Corrado was quoted as saying:

I am thrilled to join the Boston Herald team. I share the commitment to delivering quality news and information to our readers, advertisers and our communities. I look forward to getting to know the staff and evaluating how we best can meet the needs and expectations of those we serve. I’m committed to producing content that our readers want, in both print and digital, providing them with the best news experience possible. Quality readership will provide for advertising solutions that get results for our advertisers.

Now where we have heard that before? Oh, right. In 2013 Corrado was named president and publisher of Digital First’s New England Newspapers Inc. And here’s what he was quoted saying at the time:

I am thrilled to join the Digital First Media team and to lead the New England operation. I share the commitment of delivering quality news and information to our readers, our advertisers and our communities and I look forward to getting to know these communities more and learning how we can continue to meet the needs and expectations of those we serve.

Can’t buy a thrill.

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Digital First to move Herald printing to GateHouse’s Providence Journal

When printing the Herald was not a problem. 1881 photo via Wikimedia Commons.

A key part of The Boston Globe’s strategy to reposition itself as a sustainable business has been to establish its printing operation as a regional hub for a variety of publications, including The New York Times and USA Today. That strategy has come under question since last summer, when its new Taunton printing plant got off to an exceedingly rocky start.

Now the Globe has suffered a significant blow, as Digital First Media, the incoming owner of the Boston Herald, will take the tabloid’s printing business to the Providence Journal, owned by GateHouse Media — ironically, one of the losers in the recent bidding to buy the Herald out of bankruptcy. Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal has the details.

The Globe’s business relationship with the Herald has been strained last September, when then-Herald owner Pat Purcell published a hotly worded statement in his paper blaming the Globe for the Herald’s printing woes. “We talk with the Globe on a regular basis but unfortunately the remedies they put forth to solve the production problems have failed miserably,” the Herald said at that time.

Although the Globe’s printing woes have by most accounts eased considerably (even if they have not been entirely solved), Digital First clearly wasn’t going to stick around. The Providence facility is well-regarded, and it was widely believed that GateHouse would move the Herald’s printing there if it won the bidding. Ironically, GateHouse will end up making money from the Herald even though its bid fell short. In a statement to the BBJ, Globe president Vinay Mehra said:

At present, we are unable to offer a competitive bid for that business. What this move affords us is the opportunity to continue to bring our production costs and efficiencies in line, take advantage of added capabilities for The Globe product, and deliver to our readers the best quality news product in the market.

I’m hearing reports from inside the Herald that the switch will require deadlines so early that evening sports stories may not make the print edition. Mehra, meanwhile, sounds like he’s just as happy to be rid of the Herald — something that would surely not be the case if everything was running smoothly.

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Digital First to close on Herald sale Monday; Shelly Cohen bids adieu

Digital First’s acquisition of the Boston Herald closes on Monday. I’m told that even inside the Herald, there is very little known about who’s staying and who’s going. But the memo below explains what is happening to those who are losing their jobs.

One who has confirmed that she’s leaving is editorial-page editor Rachelle Cohen, who signs off today with a classy farewell. She writes:

As an institution in this community it will live on; it will continue to vigorously compete in the marketplace of journalism because the people who have labored here — and those who will continue to do so — actually don’t know how to operate any other way.

Here’s the memo.

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Digital First COO hails acquisition strategy after winning Herald auction

Last Wednesday, the day after Digital First Media outbid two other prospective buyers for the right to purchase the Boston Herald, chief operating officer Guy Gilmore sent an email to Digital First employees, which a source forwarded to me. The sale was approved by a bankruptcy judge on Friday. No closing date has been set.

If you’re wondering what Gilmore’s message portends for the Herald, well, you won’t find much here. But it may be of some interest.

I am writing to announce that DFM has won the right to acquire the Boston Herald by submitting the highest bid in an auction held yesterday in Boston. The Herald is a significant newspaper — a local institution that is also widely recognized across the entire country.

This acquisition is important in a number of ways. Most obviously it expands our footprint in the New England region where we already own and operate two dailies nearby. It is a vote of confidence by our Board of Directors that our team has the skill to successfully operate this well known metro newspaper. And it is a clear indication that our leadership is interested in expanding its newspaper holdings when the right opportunity presents itself.

Not long ago, DFM acquired The Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise. The integration of those newspapers into DFM’s existing cluster of Southern California newspapers has been extraordinarily successful. Adding the Boston Herald to our existing group of papers in the Northeast is another such opportunity. Clearly​,​ DFM is a buyer, and a buyer of strong brands.

Meanwhile, on a more general note, let me reassure you that your company continues to outperform its peers in virtually every category. To quote my predecessor, “our company is fortunate to have a deeply talented and dedicated team committed to building a strong and sustainable business that will allow us to continue fulfilling our mission and serving our communities for years to come. Your contributions are greatly appreciated.”

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What will GateHouse Media do with the Boston Herald?

There is so much local media news breaking today that it’s hard to keep it all straight. Late this afternoon came the huge announcement that Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell, who bought the tabloid from his mentor Rupert Murdoch in 1994, was taking the paper into bankruptcy with the intention of selling it to GateHouse Media.

I’ve posted the clip of us talking about the deal on “Beat the Press.” Here is the Herald’s coverage. And here is The Boston Globe’s. The Boston Business Journal has some interesting details as well, including the bankruptcy filing. I talked with Jenna Fisher of Patch about what’s next.

At this point, we all have far more questions than answers. A friend suggested something to me a little while ago that is worth pondering: Can we be sure that GateHouse will end up with the Herald? Once a business goes into bankruptcy, it’s up for grabs. As I note in my forthcoming book, “The Return of the Moguls,” the executives who were running California’s Orange County Register took that paper into bankruptcy several years ago with the goal of buying it themselves. They lost out, and today the Register is part of the Digital First Media empire.

Other questions: Although cuts have already been announced, will the diminished Herald be its old recognizable blend of local news, good photography and sports coverage, and feisty tabloidism? Or will it be something else entirely? Will GateHouse keep Herald Radio up and running? Will it honor its printing contract with the Globe, or will it move operations to a GateHouse facility? We’ll learn the answers to all these questions in the weeks and months to come.

Interestingly, for a few years Purcell owned around 100 community papers in Eastern Massachusetts in addition to the Herald, selling all but the Herald to GateHouse about 15 years ago. Now things have come full circle.

No one wants to see hard-working journalists lose their jobs. We all hope GateHouse will keep the pain to a minimum, and that the Herald will be with us for many years to come.

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GateHouse, Digital First union employees to stage ‘day of action’ over contract talks

Union employees at newspapers owned by Digital First Media and GateHouse Media will celebrate World Press Freedom Day by “a joint day of action … as part of a national campaign to protest the corporate-led assault on quality journalism.” A statement from the NewsGuild (below) charges that Digital First and GateHouse are responsible for “draconian cuts in their newsrooms and other departments.”

GateHouse owns more than 100 weekly and daily newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Among the union papers taking part in the action are the Providence Journal, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, The Herald News of Fall River, The Enterprise of Brockton and The Patriot Ledger of Quincy.

None of Digital First’s Massachusetts papers is listed as taking part, but the company owns The Sun of Lowell, the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg and several smaller publications.

“Workers at GateHouse and Digital First Media have endured some of the most vicious staff reductions in the news business,” according to the union statement. The “day of action” — which “will include the display of pro-journalism literature at desks and other work stations, and appeals for public support in local communities and online” — is timed to coincide with contract negotiations. The full statement follows.

GUILD WORKERS AT DIGITAL FIRST MEDIA AND GATEHOUSE MEDIA STAND TOGETHER AGAINST PROFITEERING OWNERS ON WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY MAY 3

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 28, 2017) — A broad coalition of 1,500 unionized news workers will conduct a joint day of action on May 3 — World Press Freedom Day — as part of a national campaign to protest the corporate-led assault on quality journalism.

The coordinated effort by NewsGuild members will span 29 newspapers owned by GateHouse Media and Digital First Media.  It will support the fight for quality journalism at those papers and highlight the damage wrought by draconian cuts in their newsrooms and other departments.

Now, union leaders say the focus on profits threatens journalism at a critical time of politicized attacks on the news media.

“Reliable information is the foundation of our democracy,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of The NewsGuild-CWA, based in Washington, D.C. “Corporate owners have a duty to invest in the essential work done by newspaper workers and not to simply strip-mine newspapers for profits.”

The joint effort by GateHouse and Digital First Media workers marks an unprecedented NewsGuild campaign to demand that corporate owners invest in quality jobs and fair contracts after years of layoffs, furloughs, pay freezes and benefit cuts. Contract negotiations are under way or expected to resume soon at both companies, but managements have shown little interest in changing course.

Workers at GateHouse and Digital First Media have endured some of the most vicious staff reductions in the news business.

Alden Global Capital, a secretive New York hedge fund, owns DFM and has slashed staffing levels by more than twice the national average during the past five years, while pocketing millions by selling off the company’s real estate assets.

GateHouse owns and/or manages 564 community print publications, including more than 130 daily newspapers, under the New Media Investment Group umbrella. New Media is a publicly traded company, externally managed by Fortress Investment Group.

Under New Media’s business model, the company buys newspapers, strips them down to maximize cash flow, and uses that money to pay dividends, pay bonuses to corporate officers and fund more acquisitions.

As the company gets bigger, Fortress collects larger management fees — roughly $54 million the previous two years alone.

The 13 Digital First bargaining units represent workers at 12 newspapers, including the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and suburban publications in the Bay Area, Philadelphia, and Detroit markets. Last week, DFM announced that it would lay off more than 20 percent of the Guild-covered newsroom staff at the East Bay Times, just one week after it was awarded journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize, for breaking news coverage of the deadly “Ghost Ship” warehouse fire in December.

The 15 GateHouse bargaining units represent 580 workers at 17 newspapers, including the Providence (RI) Journal, Worcester (MA) Telegram and Gazette, Erie (PA) Times-News, Peoria (IL) Journal Star, Springfield (IL) State Journal-Register, Rockford (IL) Register Star, Utica (NY) Observer Dispatch, The Herald News (Fall River, MA), The Enterprise (Brockton, MA), The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA), Lakeland (FL) Ledger, and the Sarasota (FL) Herald-Tribune. The staff of the Herald-Tribune, a newly organized Guild unit, shared the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting with the Tampa Bay Times for their five-part series “Insane. Invisible. In Danger.” That collaborative project detailed horrific conditions in Florida’s mental hospitals.

In the new campaign, the Guild is pushing back nationwide before media profiteers cause further wreckage to the communities they are supposed to serve.

The May 3 World Press Freedom Day action will include the display of pro-journalism literature at desks and other work stations, and appeals for public support in local communities and online. The theme: “Democracy Depends on Journalism” and “Invest in Us.”

The action will mark the first coordinated effort by news workers at the two companies to demonstrate solidarity in the workplace and remind the public that quality journalism matters.

NewsGuild members are reaching out to allies, including journalists working for other employers — both union and non-union — as well as community advocates concerned about the corporate gutting of newsrooms across the United States.

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Sunday night memo dump II: Berkshire Eagle’s latest moves

OK, this isn’t really a memo—it’s a press release that was posted at the Berkshire Eagle Friday afternoon. And it’s an encouraging sign from the local ownership group that acquired the Pittsfield-based daily and its three sister papers in Vermont (the Brattleboro Reformer, the Bennington Banner, and the Manchester Journal) from the Digital First Media chain earlier this year.

Hans Morris, chairman of the board of New England Newspapers Inc., has announced the formation of The Berkshire Eagle advisory board.

Don MacGillis, a former Eagle executive editor, has agreed to serve as chairman of this newspaper’s first-of-its-kind group of advisers. [MacGillis is also a former editor on the Boston Globe’s editorial pages.]

“Don MacGillis has agreed to chair the advisory board, and I believe he is uniquely qualified to do so,” said Morris. “He is a newspaperman through and through, and he knows and cares about the Berkshires and The Berkshire Eagle. Plus, he has the time and desire to get involved.”

“The new owners of The Eagle and I look to the advisory board as a way to make sure the paper is connected to, and responsive to, as many corners of the Berkshire County community as possible,” MacGillis said.

To that end, 18 Berkshire-based board members will bring to bear their experience in community affairs and/or journalism as The Eagle strives to become the best local newspaper in the United States.

They also will be charged with helping improve The Eagle’s editing, reporting and writing; making suggestions about news coverage and story ideas; and increasing the number of contributors to the news and opinion pages.

The board, which met for the first time on Thursday, includes education and arts advocate Megan Whilden, former Time magazine editor Donald Morrison, journalist and author Simon Winchester, journalist Linda Greenhouse, editor and author Richard Lipez, Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson, museum director Barbara Palmer, health care expert Charles “Chip” Joffe-Halpern, journalist Bill Densmore, attorney Wendy Linscott, consultant and educator Shirley Edgerton, author Jennifer Trainer Thompson, musician Yo-Yo Ma, journalist Daniel Lippman, retired educator Will Singleton, public policy researcher Oren Cass, multicultural advocate Eleanore Velez, journalist and professor Elizabeth Kolbert, and photographer Gregory Crewdson.

The Eagle’s local ownership group includes Morris, Robert G. Wilmers and Fredric D. Rutberg, president of New England Newspapers. Also this week, Judi Lipsey, wife of the late Eagle co-owner Stanford Lipsey, was appointed to the board of New England Newspapers Inc.

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Rob Curley out, jobs eliminated at Orange County Register

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy
Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy

Digital news pioneer Rob Curley is out as editor of the Orange County Register, whose acquisition by Digital First Media was completed earlier today. The story was broken by the Orange County Business Journal.

Gustavo Arellano, the editor of OC Weekly, adds that some 50 to 70 employees are losing their jobs at the Register and its sister paper, the Riverside Press-Enterprise. These are “mostly on the sales, circulation, and marketing side,” Arellano writes, a sign that Digital First—which also owns several other papers in Southern California—is consolidating its business operations.

A little more than a year ago I spent a good chunk of a day at the Register as part of my book project. Curley, who made his bones as an early digital guy at the Lawrence Journal-World a dozen years ago, followed by stops at the Washington Post and the Las Vegas Sun (among other places), allowed me to spend a considerable amount of time with him and answered all questions. However, it was completely off the record, so I can’t share with you anything I learned. I can tell you it wasn’t all that eventful.

The next day, Kushner—who had tried to purchase the Boston Globe and Maine’s Portland Press Herald before leading a group that bought the Register in 2012—stepped down a day before I was to interview him. Kushner’s emphasis on print, and his head-turning moves to hire staff and buy and launch newspapers (including a short-lived daily in Los Angeles), earned him national recognition. Unfortunately, a shortage of funds led him to dismantle what he had built in very short order.

Digital First bought the Register and the Press-Enterprise for $49.8 million after the US Department of Justice convinced a federal judge that a higher bid by Tribune Publishing, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union Tribune, should be rejected because it would reduce competition.

It struck a number of observers, including me, that the government was engaged in outdated thinking that no longer applied to the shrinking, money-losing newspaper business. Tribune has gone through numerous gyrations over the years, but the LA Times has remained an excellent newspaper. It almost certainly would have been a better steward of the Register and the Press-Enterprise than Digital First.

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With GateHouse’s Lens, you’ll pay whether you want to or not

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Click on image for a larger view.

I was alerted to this by an Arlington Advocate subscriber a few weeks ago, and now it has shown up in the Medford Transcript: Lens, a 36-page “premium” magazine that is apparently intended as an advertising vehicle, published by the weeklies’ parent company, GateHouse Media.

Nothing wrong with developing a new source of ad revenue—although the only two non-house ads I could find were quarter-pagers for a livery company and a liquor store. Even though Lens was included with our Transcript for free—or, rather, for “free”—it carries a cover price of $3.95.

If you look at the fine print on page 3, though, you’ll see that you’re being charged for Lens whether you like it or not in the form of a truncated subscription to your community paper. With 12 premium editions a year, does that mean our subscription to the Transcript will be shortened by 12 weeks?

Has anyone else seen this? Have you tried to do anything about it?

We are already having a lively discussion about this at Facebook, where I learned from commenters that Digital First Media and Gannett have pulled similar stunts. If you’d like to weigh in, I suggest you do so there.

Your Saturday media round-up

No, not the debut of a new feature. But there’s a lot going on today. So let’s get to it.

• Jason Rezaian is coming home. Rezaian, who’s a Washington Post reporter, is being released by Iran along with three other prisoners as part of a swap. Meanwhile, Iran is moving closer to compliance with the nuclear deal, and, as we know, it returned without incident a group of American sailors who had drifted into its territorial waters even as the Republican presidential candidates were calling for war or something.

What President Obama’s critics refuse to acknowledge is that Iran is complicated, factionalized, and slowly lurching toward better (not good) behavior. Obama has invested a considerable amount of his moral authority into trying to nudge along a less dangerous Iran, and his efforts are paying off.

And kudos to Post executive editor Marty Baron, who has kept the spotlight on Rezaian’s unjust imprisonment for the past year and a half.

• The routes are at the root. Boston Globe reporter Mark Arsenault today has the most thorough examination yet of what went wrong with the Globe‘s home-delivery system when it switched vendors at the end of December. Arsenault takes a tough look at the decisions made by the paper’s business executives, who clearly did not do enough vetting of the plans put together by the new vendor, ACI Media Group. And he opens with Globe publisher John Henry amid thousands of undelivered papers at the Newton distribution center, sending a message that, yes, the owner is engaged.

As has been reported previously, but not in as much detail as Arsenault offers, ACI’s routes just didn’t make sense. And what looked like a mere glitch at the end of day one turned into a catastrophe as drivers walked off the job once they realized there was no way they could make their appointed rounds.

It’s the Globe itself that has to take primary responsibility, of course. But based on Arsenault’s report, ACI officials—who did not speak to him—clearly sold the Globe a bill of goods. If ACI has a different perspective on what happened, we’d like to hear it soon.

• Digital First workers revolt. Employees at Digital First Media are fighting for their first raise in seven to 10 years, according to an announcement by workers represented by the Newspaper Guild. These folks have been abused for years by bad ownership as hedge funds have sought to cash in.

The effort covers some 1,000 Guild members. It’s unclear whether employees at non-Guild papers—including the Lowell Sun and the New Haven Register—would be helped.