The news from Las Vegas gets weirder and weirder

Huge, huge news from Las Vegas:

Just over a month before Sheldon Adelson’s family was revealed as the new owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, three reporters at the newspaper received an unusual assignment passed down from the newspaper’s corporate management: Drop everything and spend two weeks monitoring all activity of three Clark County judges.

Read the whole thing. And try to wrap your mind around the utter contempt for journalism demonstrated by GateHouse Media chief executive Michael Reed, who has run the newspaper company for years. GateHouse will continue to manage the Review-Journal under Adelson’s ownership.

“I don’t know why you’re trying to create a story where there isn’t one,” Reed is quoted as telling his own employee. “I would be focusing on the positive, not the negative.”

My earlier posts are here and here.

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Murdoch sells local papers to GateHouse investor

MA_CCTRupert Murdoch is selling The Middleboro Gazette, the weekly that covers the Southeastern Massachusetts town where I grew up. I’m not sure Murdoch ever knew he owned it in the first place. It’s just something that was thrown in when his News Corporation bought The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones in 2007.

Earlier today, Dow Jones’ chain of local newspapers — formerly the Ottaway group — was acquired by an affiliate of Fortress Investments, the majority owner of GateHouse Media, which will manage the papers. I’m not sure why GateHouse itself isn’t buying the papers, but perhaps we’ll learn more in the days ahead. Jim Romenesko has more.

Dow Jones’ regional properties include some high-quality, well-known dailies such as The Standard-Times of New Bedford, the Cape Cod Times and the Portsmouth Herald of New Hampshire.

Two questions spring to mind:

  • In general, the Ottaway papers have been spared some of the cuts that the financially struggling GateHouse chain has implemented. Will downsizing now commence? Or will the Ottaway papers’ odd status as non-GateHouse papers spare them?
  • What happens to Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell, who’s been running the Ottaway papers for Murdoch since 2008? Will he content himself with running the Herald? Or will Murdoch come up with a new assignment for him?

The deal includes 33 publications, eight of them daily papers. Romenesko reports that financial terms were not disclosed. But given that The Boston Globe recently went for $70 million — not much more than the value of its land — I can’t imagine that a significant amount of money is changing hands.

Update: From Wednesday’s New York Times:

The details of the transaction were not released, but the money involved was evidently relatively small, because if it had been bigger (or, in financial terms, material to the company) News Corporation would have had to disclose more financial information.

Ouch.

Update II: Shows you what I know. Fortress paid $87 million for the Dow Jones papers, which may be a fraction of what they were worth a few years ago, but is more than I had imagined.

According to Tiffany Kary of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, an enormously complicated reorganization is now under way. The long-in-the-making bankruptcy of GateHouse Media is now a reality, and the company will be absorbed into a new company to be created by Fortress called New Media.

Update III: Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal has posted a must-read analysis of what’s going on. Talk about failing up. GateHouse is going bankrupt and will become part of something bigger. And it looks like GateHouse chief executive Mike Reed isn’t going anywhere.

A rant for the ages against the corporate media

James Craven

Following the most recent round of layoffs at GateHouse Media, one newly unemployed journalist decided he’d had enough. James Craven, who worked for GateHouse’s Norwich Bulletin in Connecticut, wrote a blog post headlined “Goodbye Norwich” in which he ripped into GateHouse management for deciding “to cannibalize the newspaper.”

You will not be surprised to learn that Craven’s post has been taken down. But thanks to the glories of Google’s cache feature, you can still read it here for what I’m sure will be a limited time. So click while it’s hot. (The Google cache version is now gone, but I’ve posted it as a PDF.)

Among other things, Craven writes that it’s his understanding the Bulletin is profitable, yet GateHouse laid off seven members of the newsroom staff. He continues:

[T]he most recently ordered layoffs will sap The Bulletin of nearly 20 percent of its newsroom staff. That will, of course, allow the president of Gatehouse Media to follow up on his $750,000 bonus to himself with an equally staggering and incongruous gratuity this year. Merry Christmas Mr. President.

Craven is referring to GateHouse chief executive Michael Reed, who did indeed receive a bonus of $750,000 last year. GateHouse president Kirk Davis got “only” $275,000. One other mistake: Craven prematurely offs Philip Meyer, who can now invoke Mark Twain.

Craven also writes:

The thing about reduced community coverage is that you do not notice it while it is happening. It is, if I may be so bold, like a cancer. It works below the surface, until one day when suddenly it becomes all too apparent. There will be referendums that may not be covered as fully. Some school functions — that first grade play that in the past featured your son or daughter — will be bypassed. On holidays, like Veterans Day, decisions will be made to forfeit coverage in some communities because there just is not an extra reporter.

According to Craven’s Twitter feed, he is “an award winning journalist but due to a corporate layoff is now job hunting.”

Craven has written a rant for the ages. And he raises an important point. We all know that the newspaper business (like most businesses) is struggling. What is less well-known is that many of these papers are making money, but are being ravaged by their corporate owners, which are staggering under the debt they took on to build their empires and whose executives remain addicted to paying themselves bonuses.

Craven comes across as a journalist who really cares, and I wish him well. I have no idea if he could make a go of it financially. But how great would it be if he started a Norwich community news site to compete with the Bulletin?

At GateHouse, as elsewhere, the rich get richer

Kirk Davis

Seems like it’s been ages since I last wrote about GateHouse Media, the financially challenged Fairport, N.Y.-based company that owns about 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts.

Things may be more quiet than they were a year ago, but rumblings of dissension persist. Several anonymous employees sent this along, detailing some mighty nice bonuses top GateHouse officials paid themselves to publish understaffed newspapers run by overworked, low-paid journalists.

Leading the parade is chief executive Michael Reed, who got $500,000. Taking the silver, with $250,000, was president and chief operating officer Kirk Davis, a top GateHouse official in Massachusetts before decamping for upstate New York last year.

It’s an old story. Ordinary people work hard for short money while the folks at the top reward themselves. Reed and Davis are managing a difficult situation, and it may well be that they deserve to be compensated handsomely just for keeping GateHouse alive. Then, too, their situation is hardly unique.

Just a few days ago we learned that Joseph Lodovic IV, president of Dean Singleton’s MediaNews chain, was receiving a $500,000 bonus for the bang-up job he did putting together a structured-bankruptcy plan. That may be the way of the world. But such tidbits can be pretty hard to swallow for those who actually cover late-night meetings and give up their weekends to photograph local events.

In other GateHouse news, here is a weird story involving a reporter for the company’s Dodge City Daily Globe, in Kansas, who was fired in the midst of a legal dispute over whether she should testify about her confidential source in a murder case.

I’m going to have to side with management on this one. The reason: Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, tells the Topeka Capital-Journal that the reporter, Claire O’Brien, refused to show up in court to answer the subpoena she’d received.

“What she did was really stick a thumb in the judge’s eye today,” Dalglish is quoted as saying. “Even if you’re not going to answer questions, you still have to go to court.”

Media Nation Rule No. 57: If Lucy Dalglish doesn’t stand up for you on a freedom-of-the-press issue, then you’re wrong.

Tuesday evening update: Dalglish takes a rather different stance on the RCFP Web site, saying she finds O’Brien’s termination “unusual” and “quite disturbing.” An Associated Press account of what happened is worth reading, too.