Three tales of woe from GateHouseLand

Steve DeCosta (via Twitter)
Steve DeCosta (via Twitter)

The nice thing about missing out on bad news from GateHouse Media* is that you only have to wait a few days for fresh material. Thus we learn today that The Standard-Times of New Bedford is getting rid of three newsroom jobs. Here’s the internal email from editor Beth Perdue:

Colleagues,

Today we eliminated three editorial positions in an effort to align our staffing levels to expected revenues in 2015 and levels at similar sized media companies.

These are always tough decisions and my heart goes out to those who departed. Their loss will be felt by all of us.

Please know that these changes represent the full extent of planned reductions in the newsroom.  While changes like this are very difficult, we can now focus fully on pursuing a variety of opportunities that will help us move forward.

— Beth

I hear that among those departing is veteran reporter Steve DeCosta, a respected figure in the newsroom since  the late 1970s. I also understand that Simón Rios is leaving the paper for WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). The cuts, I’m told, will shrink the reporting staff to five, compared to nine just two years ago. (I’m asking for details on the third job that’s been eliminated and will update if I hear anything.)

You may recall that Perdue’s predecessor as editor, Bob Unger, resigned in December rather than implement GateHouse-ordered cuts. Boston Globe reporter (and GateHouse alumnus) Jon Chesto wrote at the time that Unger was “hoping his sacrifice will save two or three lower-paying jobs.” If you scroll to the bottom of Chesto’s story, you’ll see what I told him: Don’t count on it.

• T&G reporter quits over shrinking pay. In a departure that has gotten national buzz, Thomas Caywood, an investigative reporter for the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, quit after management refused to give him a 3 percent raise — which, he said, would have offset only a fraction of the reduction in income he’s been subjected to over the years. Here is part of what Caywood wrote to T&G publisher James Normandin:

For your background, I have been a reporter at the Telegram & Gazette since September 2007, during which time I have had one small pay raise. The cumulative impact of inflation over the last seven years of my employment has been to reduce the value of my annual earnings by nearly 14 percent. My vacation allotment was reduced from three weeks a year to two weeks by Halifax Media Group. Meanwhile, our benefits cost more and cover less than before the Halifax acquisition….

All I require is a 3 percent raise and restoration of my previous three-weeks-a-year vacation allotment. The meager raise would barely be noticeable to my finances, but it’s vital to me that I see some tangible evidence of this commitment to quality journalism of which you and GateHouse speak.

Caywood told Jim Romenesko: “I didn’t leave the Telegram & Gazette with any hard feelings and my departure was not intended as some kind of provocative ‘fuck you’ gesture…. But I just couldn’t avoid any longer the unwelcome truth that I valued the job more highly than the company valued me.”

If you’re having a hard time following the bouncing chains, Globe owner John Henry sold the T&G to Halifax Media Group of Florida in 2014. Halifax turned around a few months later and sold out in its entirety to GateHouse, which is based in suburban Rochester, New York. Here is the analysis I wrote for WGBHNews.org in November.

• Cape Cod Times to close printing plant. The Cape Cod Times and its affiliated weeklies will shut down their printing press in Hyannis and move production to the Providence Journal.

This move, at least, makes sense, and has been anticipated from the time that GateHouse acquired the Journal last summer. But “an undisclosed number of jobs” will be eliminated, writes Times reporter Bryan Lantz. And here’s more from Jon Chesto.

*For the sake of simplicity, I am referring to the corporate owner of all these papers as GateHouse Media. The chain’s acquisition branch is known as New Media Investment Group.

Update. I’m now hearing that DeCosta and two other newsroom people were let go at The Standard-Times — not counting Rios, who’ll begin his new job at WBUR soon.

 

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.

CommonWealth criticizes Henry over Telegram sale

CommonWealth magazine editor Bruce Mohl has a very tough piece about Boston Globe owner John Henry in the new issue titled “The man who lied to Worcester.” Mohl, a former Globe staff member, criticizes Henry for going back on his promise either to sell the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to local buyers or to keep the paper himself.

Mohl quotes the T&G’s coverage of a meeting that Henry held with the staff last fall at which Henry said, “This is not a forced sale. If we don’t find the right owner, you’re stuck with me.”

I’ve written about Henry’s broken promise on several occasions, including last April for WGBHNews.org. But Henry has never explained what happened, and he did not respond to Mohl’s request for comment. Now the T&G is owned by Halifax Media Group, a Florida-based chain.

Sale of ProJo a lost opportunity for local ownership

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The online news site GoLocalProv is taking a well-deserved victory lap now that it’s been announced that GateHouse Media will acquire The Providence Journal from A.H. Belo of Dallas for $46 million. GoLocalProv reported on June 13 that the sale was imminent. But there the matter stood until Tuesday, when we learned that the Journal had been sold to GateHouse’s parent, New Media Investment Group.

As I told Ted Nesi of WPRI.com, I think it’s a shame that some way couldn’t be found for the Journal to return to local ownership — a lost opportunity, just as it was when John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida, earlier this year. There is no substitute for a newspaper that is fully invested in the community. I have no doubt that cuts will follow, just as they did when New Media/GateHouse last year purchased Rupert Murdoch’s Dow Jones community papers, including the Cape Cod Times and The Standard-Times of New Bedford.

Still, any incoming chain would make cuts, and I think the new, post-bankruptcy GateHouse, based in Fairport, New York, deserves a chance to prove it will be good steward of the Journal. Despite reductions at the Cape Cod and New Bedford papers, journalists there continue to do a good job of serving their communities. On the other hand, the more than 100 community papers GateHouse already owns in Eastern Massachusetts are strictly barebones operations.

In a full-page ad in today’s Journal aimed at reassuring his new employees, customers and the community of the company’s good intentions, GateHouse chief executive officer Kirk Davis concludes:

We know The Providence Journal plays an indispensable role in helping you live your life in and around Rhode Island. We look to uphold these great traditions and make the investments needed to thrive in the new multimedia world. The purchase is expected to close later this summer. We are looking forward to welcoming the readers, advertisers and employees of The Providence Journal to our family.

At $46 million, New Media/GateHouse paid a surprisingly high price for the Journal. Although Belo is keeping the pension liabilities, it’s also keeping the downtown property. By way of comparison, John Henry paid $70 million for the Globe, the Telegram & Gazette and all associated properties — then turned around and sold the T&G for $17.5 million, according to a source involved in the sale. One possible explanation is that the New York Times Co. sold the Globe and the T&G to the low bidder, as one of the spurned suitors, “Papa Doug” Manchester, complained at the time. New Media/GateHouse, by contrast, was presumably the high bidder for the Journal.

Another possible explanation is that the Journal is worth more to GateHouse than to other buyers because it gives the company new territory for its Propel Marketing subsidiary. According to a perceptive analysis of the deal by Jon Chesto in the Boston Business Journal, Propel is seen by GateHouse executives as “the primary engine for growth at the company.”

Yet another wrinkle: The Globe has developed a nice side business printing other newspapers, including the Boston Herald and GateHouse properties such as The Patriot Ledger of Quincy and The Enterprise of Brockton. At a time when Henry is getting ready to sell the Globe’s Dorchester plant and move printing operations to a former T&G facility in Millbury, the prospect of losing GateHouse’s business has got to be disconcerting.

Layoffs hit Worcester Telegram as Halifax deal closes

Ugly though not expected news coming out of the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester: at least 20 layoffs out of a staff of 81, according to Romenesko. But you won’t find out about it in the T&G’s story on Halifax Media’s takeover. GoLocalWorcester, citing former staffer Mark Henderson’s Twitter feed, puts the number at 28.

John Henry sells Worcester Telegram to Florida chain

Cross-posted at WGBH News.

As a number of observers had predicted, John Henry has sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Cuts loom. T&G reporter Shaun Sutner has the details. More here from the Globe’s Beth Healy.

I hope Henry will address the promise he made to staff members last fall that he would either sell the paper to local buyers or, if none could be found, continue to operate the paper himself.

Henry is keeping the T&G’s printing plant in Millbury, which suggests that he’s eyeing it for The Boston Globe once he sells the paper’s Morrissey Boulevard headquarters.

From the comments: Former T&G editor Harry Whitin, who headed a group that was hoping to buy the paper, writes: “I can say from personal experience that John Henry had absolutely no interest in finding a local buyer, unless the local buyer was willing to overpay for a company that he stripped of all its assets. Watch for layoffs of at least 20 percent of the news staff before the transfer of ownership, based on the experience at other papers Halifax has purchased. A tough day for my former colleagues.”

Would John Henry sell the T&G to an out-of-state chain?

Worcester skyline. The Telegram & Gazette headquarters is the larger building on the left.
Worcester skyline. The Telegram & Gazette headquarters is the larger building on the left.

This article was previously published at WGBH News.

John Henry has some explaining to do to the people of Central Massachusetts. According to the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, a paper that Henry acquired along with The Boston Globe last year, Henry may be preparing to sell the T&G to Halifax Media Group, a chain based in Daytona Beach, Fla. Halifax owns 35 daily papers, mainly in the Southeast.

Rick Edmonds, who analyzes the news business for the Poynter Institute, writes, “Halifax’s way of operating remains mysterious but appears typically to involve newsroom layoffs and a booster-ish editorial tone.” Edmonds’ article is recommended reading, as it has a lot of details about Halifax and its competitors in the community-newspaper business — including GateHouse Media, which owns about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts.

The idea that Henry might sell the T&G to an out-of-state chain with a penchant for cost-cutting is alarming. But would he really do it? Back in November, he met with the T&G staff and said his preference was to sell to local owners — and that if such owners didn’t materialize, he might keep the paper. Here’s some of what T&G reporter Lisa Eckelbecker reported on Nov. 26 about Henry’s visit:

“I think it’s important for the Telegram & Gazette to be under local ownership,” he [Henry] told a gathering of the newspaper’s staff in the newsroom Tuesday afternoon. “I have been talking to local people who have expressed an interest. There’s absolutely nothing imminent.”

Mr. Henry told the newspaper’s employees that a potential sale would not happen until 2014 and that it would only be to the “right buyer.”

“I think you need a local owner,” he said. “A local owner can sit down with advertisers, readers and community leaders and ask for their support. I’m looking for someone with tremendous energy and a passion for this newspaper.”

Mr. Henry also said that if he cannot find the right owner, he would keep the T&G.

“This is not a forced sale,” he said. “If we don’t find the right owner, you’re stuck with me.”

In March, the T&G’s Shaun Sutner reported that the chances of a sale to local ownership had all but evaporated, as a group led by retired T&G editor Harry Whitin and Polar Beverages chief executive Ralph Crowley had taken itself out of the running. But Henry, rather than reasserting his love for Worcester and its environs, has apparently been quietly pushing ahead with a possible sale.

Now, a couple of caveats. First, just because Halifax executives are nosing around the T&Gdoesn’t mean that Henry would sell to them. Let’s not forget that the New York Times Co. let the truly alarming “Papa Doug” Manchester of U-T San Diego kick the tires on the Globe, but in the end handcrafted a deal that allowed Henry to take charge. Perhaps Henry will do something similar now that the situation has been reversed.

In addition, even if Halifax did acquire the T&G, we don’t really know what kind of a steward it would be. Virtually all newspaper companies lay people off when they acquire a new property. The real issue is whether they cut so deeply that their papers are no longer able to fulfill their journalistic mission. According to Edmonds, Halifax’s papers still engage in investigative journalism; its largest paper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, won a Pulitzer in 2011 (although that predated the paper’s 2012 acquisition by Halifax).

Still, there’s little question that the Telegram & Gazette would be better off in the hands of local owners. Given that the paper’s reported value is just $7 million, it would be nice to think that the local owner might prove to be John Henry himself.

Photo (cc) by Terageorge and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.