With Alden destroying the Hartford Courant, Hearst goes statewide and digital

The Connecticut Statehouse in Hartford. Photo (cc) 2009 by Dan Kennedy.

Chain ownership is almost never a good thing. But some chains are better than others — and Hearst is among the very best. No doubt its status as a privately owned company whose family is involved in management has a lot to do with that. The legendary mogul William Randolph Hearst would be proud.

Among other things, the Hearst-owned Times Union of Albany, New York, did some of the crucial early reporting about sexual assault allegations against Gov. Andrew Cuomo — accusations that have brought him to the brink of resignation or removal.

Hearst has been making some interesting moves in Connecticut for quite some time. Now, with the hedge fund Alden Global Capital tearing apart what’s left of the Hartford Courant, Hearst is positioning itself as a digital rival for statewide coverage. Rick Edmonds of Poynter reports that the company has launched a new website, CTInsider.com, that features coverage from its 160 journalists at eight dailies and 14 weeklies and websites in the state.

CTInsider.com offers a combination of free and paid content. Subscribers pay $3.99 a week after an initial discount.

The Hearst paper I’m most familiar with is the New Haven Register, a daily paper that figured heavily in my 2013 book about hyperlocal news projects, “The Wired City.” The project I was profiling, the New Haven Independent, a digital nonprofit founded in 2005, was providing deep coverage of the city, filling a gap left by the dramatic downsizing of the Register.

It was an interesting time for the Register. Under the ownership of the reviled Journal Register chain, the Register had lurched into bankruptcy. Journal Register then morphed into Digital First Media, headed by a visionary chief executive named John Paton who, about a dozen years ago, provided a jolt of optimism. Soon, though, Alden moved in, merging Digital First with its Denver-based chain, MediaNews Group, and, well, you know the rest. But then Hearst bought the New Haven Register a few years ago, and the paper has since undergone something of a revival.

The Hartford Courant had thrived for many decades as Connecticut’s sole statewide paper. But under Tribune Publishing’s chaotic ownership, it had been shrinking for many years. During the years that I was reporting “The Wired City,” a pair of vibrant websites devoted to covering state politics and policy had popped up — the for-profit CTNewsJunkie.com and the nonprofit Connecticut Mirror, both of which are still going strong.

Things went from bad to worse at the Courant earlier this year when Alden added Tribune to its holdings despite efforts by the staff to find a local buyer.

It’s great to see Hearst now upping its game in Connecticut as well.

Matt DeRienzo is out as Hearst’s chief news executive in Connecticut

Matt DeRienzo (via LinkedIn)

Note: Now updated with email from Mike DeLuca, president and publisher of Hearst Connecticut Media Group.

Holy cow. Matt DeRienzo is out as chief news executive for Hearst’s Connecticut newspapers, anchored by the New Haven Register. I hear he’ll be replaced by Canadian journalist Wendy Metcalfe.

I first met DeRienzo in 2011 when I was wrapping up my book on the nonprofit New Haven Independent, “The Wired City,” and he had just been named editor of the Register. At the time, DeRienzo was a rising star within the forward-thinking Digital First chain being built by John Paton. After Digital First became part of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, everything went south, and DeRienzo eventually quit in protest.

At Hearst, DeRienzo championed the case of Tara O’Neill, a Hearst reporter who was arrested and handcuffed while covering a Black Lives Matter protest in Bridgeport. O’Neill’s case was the subject of a WGBH News New England Muzzle Award earlier this year.

About a month ago, Hearst’s Connecticut Post became the first major daily newspaper to call upon President Trump to resign.

What follows is an internal email sent to the staff from Mike DeLuca, president and publisher of the Hearst Connecticut Media Group, which I obtained a short time ago.

Colleagues,

Coming up on five months leading HCMG [Hearst Connecticut Media Group], I have been impressed with much of what has been done and the strides we have made across the organization. There is no doubt, we are the best equipped media company in all of Connecticut to provide high-quality news and information that matters to our customers.

In an era when our industry is facing significant headwinds, I take great comfort in being a part of Hearst, whose commitment to journalism is unsurpassed and unwavering.

While much of what is happening everyday here should be applauded, it is my job to ensure we have the right vision and leadership to continuously improve.

After thoughtful consideration, it is my pleasure to welcome Wendy Metcalfe as our new Vice President of Content and Editor in Chief. Wendy will be charged with the responsibility of upgrading the quality of our enterprise reporting across all of our newsrooms while working with our consumer marketing teams to deepen the engagement we have with our readers. Wendy comes to us from the Brunswick News Inc. where she oversaw Editorial, Marketing, Circulation and Customer Services. Under her leadership, Wendy’s teams have been recognized nationally for some of the most important enterprise news reporting that has had a direct impact on the quality of life in the communities served. Most notably, the Telegraph-Journal received the 2018 Michener Award which is the highest honor in Canadian journalism and often called the Canadian Pulitzer Prize, with only one awarded across Canada each year.

Additionally, Wendy has extensive experience in executive positions at national, regional and local media companies. Key roles include Assistant Managing Editor at Canada’s biggest newspaper — the Toronto Star, Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Sun, Regional Content Director for 19 Sun Media publications and a lead role at the Daily Record — one of the U.K.’s largest dailies.

She was also recently named one of the top 10 leading women to watch in media across North America by Editor & Publisher.

Wendy will arrive to CT with her husband and two children in mid-November and I am thrilled to welcome her.

In a related move, Matt DeRienzo will be leaving HCMG to pursue other opportunities and I thank him for his contributions and wish him the best.

We will be meeting with the various newsroom teams throughout the rest of today and tomorrow to communicate interim reporting structures.

Thank you all for everything you are doing and I am looking forward to speaking with you over the next few days.

Mike

MIKE DELUCA

HEARST | President & Publisher, Hearst CT Media Group | CEO, LocalEdge

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Why Rupert Murdoch probably won’t buy the Herald

Published earlier at WGBHNews.org.

Here’s the answer to today’s Newspaper Jeopardy question: “Maybe, if there’s a willing buyer and seller.”

Now for the question: “With Rupert Murdoch getting out of the Boston television market, is there any chance that he would have another go with the Boston Herald?”

Following Tuesday’s announcement that Cox Media Group would acquire WFXT-TV (Channel 25) from Murdoch’s Fox Television Stations as part of a Boston-San Francisco station swap, there has been speculation as to whether Murdoch would re-enter the Boston newspaper market. Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin raises the issue here; the Boston Business Journal’s Eric Convey, a former Herald staff member, addresses it as well. I’ve also heard from several people on Facebook.

First, the obvious: There would be no legal obstacles if Murdoch wants to buy the Herald. The FCC’s cross-ownership prohibition against a single owner controlling a TV station and a daily newspaper in the same market would no longer apply.

Now for some analysis. Murdoch is 83 years old, and though he seems remarkably active for an octogenarian, I have it on good authority that he, like all of us, is not going to live forever. Moreover, in 2013 his business interests were split, and his newspapers — which include The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and the New York Post — are now in a separate division of the Murdoch-controlled News Corp. No longer can his lucrative broadcasting and entertainment properties be used to enhance his newspapers’ balance sheets.

Various accounts portray Murdoch as the last romantic — the only News Corp. executive who still has a soft spot for newspapers. The Herald would not be a good investment because newspapers in general are not good investments, and because it is the number-two daily in a mid-size market. Moreover, the guilty verdict handed down to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson in the British phone-hacking scandal Tuesday suggests that Murdoch may be preoccupied with other matters.

On the other hand, who knows? Herald owner Pat Purcell is a longtime friend and former lieutenant of Murdoch’s, and if Rupe wants to stage a Boston comeback, maybe Purcell could be persuaded to let it happen. Even while owning the Herald, Purcell continued to work for Murdoch, running what were once the Ottaway community papers — including the Cape Cod Times and The Standard-Times of New Bedford — from 2008 until they were sold to an affiliate of GateHouse Media last fall.

There is a storied history involving Murdoch and the Herald. Hearst’s Herald American was on the verge of collapse in 1982 when Murdoch swooped in, rescued the tabloid and infused it with new energy. Murdoch added to his Boston holdings in the late 1980s, acquiring Channel 25 and seeking a waiver from the FCC so that he could continue to own both.

One day as that story was unfolding, then-senator Ted Kennedy was making a campaign swing through suburban Burlington. As a reporter for the local daily, I was following him from stop to stop. Kennedy had just snuck an amendment into a bill to deny Rupert Murdoch the regulatory waiver he was seeking that would allow him to own both the Herald and Channel 25 (Kennedy’s amendment prohibited a similar arrangement in New York). At every stop, Herald reporter Wayne Woodlief would ask him, “Senator, why are you trying to kill the Herald?”

The episode also led Kennedy’s most caustic critic at the Herald, columnist Howie Carr, to write a particularly memorable lede: “Was it something I said, Fat Boy?” Years later, Carr remained bitter, telling me, “Ted was trying to kill the paper in order to deliver the monopoly to his friends” at The Boston Globe.

Murdoch sold Channel 25, but in the early 1990s he bought it back — and sold the Herald to Purcell, who’d been publisher of the paper, reporting to Murdoch, for much of the ’80s. It would certainly be a fascinating twist on this 30-year-plus newspaper tale if Murdoch and Purcell were to change positions once again.

A Globe-Herald spat, 31 years down the line

Jimmy Carter in 1980

Former Boston Herald (and Boston Phoenix) political reporter Peter Lucas checks in with an account of his exclusive Herald interview with then-President Jimmy Carter during Carter’s 1980 re-election campaign against Ted Kennedy.

Lucas’ stroll down memory lane was prompted by a Jessica Heslam piece in the Friday Herald — part of the paper’s multi-day package on its White House snub — recounting past instances of journalists and presidents not getting along. Heslam wrote:

Veteran White House reporter Curtis Wilkie, who covered former President Jimmy Carter’s administration for the Boston Globe, said that Democratic commander in chief “so disliked” the Hub broadsheet that he gave the conservative Herald an interview rather than the Globe, because the administration felt the Globe had been unfair to Carter.

“He didn’t care for the Globe. It didn’t matter to me,” said Wilkie, who teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi. “Nothing wrong with being in an adversarial position with the White House. Better to be adversarial than too cozy.”

Wilkie’s recollections prompted an email from Lucas to Heslam. Lucas, now a columnist for the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Enterprise & Sentinel, sent along a copy to Media Nation and gave me permission to post it. I’ve broken it into a few paragraphs for readability:

Jessica: Curtis Wilkie doesn’t know what he’s talking about regarding the Herald’s interview with Jimmy Carter. I got that interview and by no means was it “given” to me. Wilkie is in need of a memory transplant when he says it did not matter to the Globe at the time. The Globe absolutely panicked and whined to the White Housse for weeks.

Not to bore you with an old war story but here it is. Ted Kennedy was challenging Carter for the presidency in 1980. The Globe was in the tank to Kennedy, (what else is new?) and Kennedy was not talking to the Herald. I told Jody Powell, Carter’s press secretary, that the Globe would kill him in the primaries but that the Herald would give him a fair shake.

All I wanted out of it was an exclusive interview with the president who at the time was in his Rose Garden strategy because of the Iranian hostage situtaion and not talking to any reporters. The primary coverage was important because you had the Iowa caucus coming up and this was to be followed by the caucus in Maine and then the really important New Hampshire primary.

Powell was skeptical and wary. He did not want to anger the Globe. I persisted. So Carter beats Kennedy in Iowa and the Globe gives the headline to Kennedy. The same happens the following week in Maine. I go to Jody Powell and say I told you so. I hound him (as only a Herald reporter can do) in the days before the New Hampshire primary and Carter finally relents. I get to interview Carter alone in the Oval Office and the story leads the paper Feb. 15, 1980. It is a huge deal and makes the national news. (I still have it hung up in my garage.)

Days later Carter beats Kennedy in his own backyard of New Hampshire and it is all over for Kennedy, although he staggers around through the convention. The story was a clean exclusive and it embarassed the Globe to no end, including my friend Wilkie. The Globe had a huge Washington Bureau at the time and we had nobody down there, and here comes a Herald reporter out of nowhere and beats the hell out of them, It was great. Joe Sciacca will remember.

Keep up the good work. Cheers, Peter Lucas.

Highly entertaining stuff. I would, of course, love to post a response from Wilkie. And just to keep the historical record straight, Lucas in 1980 was working for the Hearst-owned Herald American. The modern Herald came into existence two years later, when Rupert Murdoch saved it from being shut down.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.