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Hudak’s new venture hits an amusing snag

Blast from the past: the Hudakmobile, circa 2009

Far-right Republican politico William Hudak’s recent announcement that he was abandoning a congressional race in order to get involved in a multi-level marketing operation was amusing enough. But the comedy factor increased exponentially Tuesday when Julie Manganis reported in the Salem News that Hudak’s new business partner had pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution.

Albert Muir and his then-wife, Manganis writes, ran a “health spa” in Branford, Conn., called Marlow’s, which was shut down by authorities in late 2009. Muir, who is also described as a professional poker player, is serving a five-year suspended sentence. He told the News that he pleaded guilty because he was afraid his then-wife, who was seeking a divorce, would send him up the river.

Here is Marcia Chambers’ Branford Eagle account of the police raid of Dec. 2, 2009, which came about in part because Marlow’s openly advertised its services on Craigslist. Chambers reported that police considered the spa to be “a full-scale prostitution ring.” Muir’s then-wife, Jazmin Benavides, is named in the article, but Muir is not, although Mark Zaretsky of the New Haven Register identified Muir as the co-owner. Chambers told me by email yesterday that Muir was arrested and charged in March 2010 after police conducted a follow-up investigation.

Hudak says he didn’t know nothin’ about nothin’. As Manganis notes, Hudak made much of the legal woes facing Democratic congressman John Tierney’s family when he ran against him two years ago. Tierney’s wife, Patrice Tierney, ended up doing time for her role in what federal authorities described as an offshore money-laundering operation run by her brother. But Hudak tells the News that “I think you’re really stretching” when he was asked whether he should have known about his new BFF’s legal woes.

When Hudak ran against Tierney in 2010, he achieved notoriety for putting up posters on his Boxford property comparing then-candidate Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden and for questioning whether Obama was born in the United States — although he denied that he actually believed Obama was not an American citizen.

Hudak also claimed the day after Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in the 2010 U.S. Senate special election that Brown had endorsed him in the Republican primary. Brown’s office denied it, but then endorsed Hudak over Tierney that fall.

Unfortunately for Tierney, he won’t get to run against Hudak again. This time, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination is former state senator Richard Tisei of Wakefield, who was Charlie Baker’s running mate in the gubernatorial election in 2010.

Tisei is a smart, personable moderate. Combined with Tierney’s family issues, the North Shore probably represents the Republicans’ best chance to pick up a congressional seat in Massachusetts this fall.

Laura Crimaldi moves on to the AP

Laura Crimaldi

Congratulations and best wishes to Laura Crimaldi, who left the Boston Herald this week and will soon start a one-year temporary job at the Associated Press’ bureau in Providence, where she’ll focus on law enforcement and the legal system.

I’ve gotten to know Laura through her work with the New England First Amendment Center at Northeastern University, for whom I occasionally contribute blog items. Laura is a director of the center, and has done a great job of re-energizing the blog.

Laura’s married to longtime Herald photographer Mark Garfinkel, who worked with Mrs. Media Nation at the Beverly Times back in the day. (The Times was later subsumed into the Salem News.) I don’t know if it’s a small world, but Greater Boston is definitely a small town.

Alabama chain whacks local papers — again

The Alabama state employees’ pension fund is taking the axe to its newspapers on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley — again.

CNHI, the Birmingham, Ala.-based chain that owns four daily newspapers and four weeklies north of Boston, has eliminated 36 full- and part-time jobs. The dailies affected by the layoffs are the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times. The chain whacked 52 jobs in 2008.

“We have done our best to weather economic difficulties, but like many companies we must take further steps to sustain the long-term success of the company by reducing staffing levels again,” a CNHI publisher, Al Getler, said in a statement posted online.

But it’s not all bad news for CNHI — if you’re fortunate enough to be near the seat of power. The company recently announced that it would move to Alabama’s state capital, Montgomery, and take up residence in a 12-story building being constructed by its chief investor, Retirement Systems of Alabama. The move is expected to take place in 2012.

We subscribe to the Salem News, and we continue to be impressed with the good job done by the reporters, photographers and editors every day. (Disclosure: Mrs. Media Nation was a Salem News photographer until eight years ago.)

But working conditions have been pretty difficult. For the past several years, most employees have had to take roughly a week of unpaid furlough every quarter. And now things have gotten considerably worse.

No doubt management is having a difficult time of it. The Salem News is pretty light on ads most days. But hollowing out the product year by year is a recipe for eventual closure, not revival. If there is a vision beyond continued cutting, it’s certainly not apparent to readers — or to the journalists who still work there.

Make me an angel that flies from Montgomery.

Salem News adopts real-names commenting policy

My local daily, the Salem News, has added itself to the growing list of news organizations that are requiring real names for online comments in order to root out the hateful speech that too often mars such forums. It’s the right move, and one I adopted about a year ago. Editor David Olson explains:

If you write a guest column for the newspaper, you have to use your real name. If you are quoted in a story, we use your real name — no anonymous sources allowed. And if you write a letter to the editor, not only do you have to sign your name, you have to give us an address and phone number so we can check to make sure you are who you say you are.

Online commenters, until now, have had to do none of this.

Like Media Nation, the News will rely on the honor system for the honest majority and intuition (and informants!) for rooting out those who adopt fake names. That’s definitely the way to go. Last July the Sun Chronicle of Attleboro unveiled a real-names policy that required people to turn over their credit-card information if they wanted to comment. If you poke around, you’ll see that the paper’s website has pretty much become a comment-free zone.

This blog post by Howard Owens, editor and publisher of the Batavian, remains the definitive explanation as to why real names should be required.

The center of the news universe

That would be Danvers, world headquarters of Media Nation and now the home of four — count ’em — news organizations battling it out for local eyeballs. The newest is our very own Patch, joining the Salem News, the Danvers Herald and the Boston Globe’s Your Town/Danvers site. Who says the news business is dead?

Hudak freezes out Republican opponent

Extremist North Shore congressional candidate William Hudak, who may/may not be/have been a birther, is refusing to debate Robert McCarthy, his opponent in next Tuesday’s Republican primary, according to Nelson Benton of the Salem News.

As Benton observes, keep that in mind when Hudak — the all-but-certain primary winner — starts demanding that Democratic Congressman John Tierney debate him. (Via David Bernstein.)

A North Shore reporter’s untimely death

Steve Landwehr

Talk about a bittersweet moment.

On Wednesday, the Salem News reported that longtime staff writer Steve Landwehr had died after a brief, intense battle with cancer. Today, the News informs us that the paper has won a major-investigative reporting award recognizing Landwehr’s work.

Landwehr was best-known for a Monday feature called “Lives,” extended obituaries about ordinary and extraordinary people on the North Shore. Characterized by Landwehr’s deep reporting and sensitive but never mawkish writing, the stories were, News publisher Karen Andreas is quoted as saying, “one of the most well-read columns in our paper.” This July 12 piece, on Salem High School football legend Joseph “Pep” Cornacchio, was among the last stories Landwehr wrote.

The investigative-reporting prize — the Thomas K. Brindley Award for public-service journalism — was for work performed mainly by Landwehr and News reporter Chris Cassidy on the Essex Regional Retirement Board and its former executive director, Timothy Bassett. Landwehr and Cassidy exposed corruption involving violations of the open-meeting law, questionable legal fees and cronyism, leading to Bassett’s resignation.

Landwehr was 61 years old. I didn’t know him, but I valued his work. He will be missed.

More: The Salem News’ editorial on Landwehr.

Hard times continue at CNHI

The pain keeps on coming at CNHI, a Birmingham, Ala.-based newspaper chain that owns four Massachusetts dailies: the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times.

On the heels of a holiday furlough several months ago, Yvette Northcutt, the company’s vice president of human resources, is now telling employees they must take five unpaid days off between April 1 and June 30.

CNHI, as you may know, exists mainly to provide Alabama schoolteachers with a comfortable retirement. Those of us who live on the North Shore or the Merrimack Valley can ponder that the next time we wonder why an important local event didn’t get covered.

The full text of Northcutt’s memo follows:

We have chosen to implement reduced work schedules for hourly employees and reduced work schedules and pay reductions for salaried employees in the second quarter of 2010. The details are described below:

  • We will implement a reduced work schedule for hourly employees during the second quarter of 2010. All hourly employees must take five days off without pay between April 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010. It is expected that no work will be done during this time. This applies to full and part-time employees. Part-time employees’ work schedules will be reduced on a prorated basis. These days must be taken during the second quarter, and regular vacation, personal and sick days may not be substituted for these unpaid days.
  • A reduced schedule will also be implemented for salaried employees during the second quarter with a corresponding reduction in pay. Salaried employees already affected by the first-quarter pay reduction will simply see their current base salary roll forward. The second-quarter pay reduction will be applied over all pay dates occurring during the second quarter. In turn, salaried employees must take five days off between April 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010. Under this plan, the days off will not reduce the employees’ existing allotment of regular vacation, personal and sick days. Regular vacation, personal and sick days may not be substituted for these additional days off.
  • We are asking our unions to voluntarily agree to similar arrangements for the employees they represent. If our unions agree, this will help us avoid future layoffs.
  • In order to ensure staffing needs are met, these off days must be planned and approved in advance. Please submit the attached Request for Second Quarter Days Off form to your manager by March 15, 2010.

Thank you again for your hard work, dedication and support. Please contact Human Resources if you have any questions.

Tough times at CNHI’s local newspapers

eagletribune_20091218In reporting on downsizing woes at local newspapers, it sometimes seems as though the Boston Globe and GateHouse Media are the only two players in Eastern Massachusetts. But they’re not alone.

Among the more significant is CNHI, a huge national chain that competes with GateHouse on the North Shore and in the Merrimack Valley, owning the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, the Daily News of Newburyport, the Salem News and the Gloucester Daily Times.

This week, staff members received an e-mail from Al Getler, publisher of the Eagle-Tribune, the Gloucester paper and several smaller publications, announcing some holiday uncheer: a company-wide day off without pay that must be taken by Dec. 26. Media Nation received a copy of Getler’s e-mail earlier today.

“Folks, I know what a tough year it has been and please know how much I appreciate all of your hard work and dedication. I am seeing signs that things are slowly beginning to get better. My hope is that, in the second half of 2010, this is all a distant memory,” Getler wrote.

CNHI, based in Birmingham, Ala., is an investment for the Retired Alabama Teachers Association, whose members presumably are less than concerned about the quality of local news coverage north of Boston.

The Media Nation family subscribes to the Salem News, which does a remarkably good job despite a succession of furloughs and cutbacks. (Disclosure: Mrs. Media Nation is a former Salem News photographer.) This latest cut, though, seems like cruel and unnecessary punishment. The full text of Getler’s holiday message follows.

Dear Team,

Today I received an email from Donna Barrett, CEO of CNHI.

You have often heard me speak about the commitments we have to people that invest in our company. Donna described a critical financial target that is necessary for us to hit before the end of the year.

Unfortunately, hitting this target means we will take one additional day off without pay between today and December 26, 2009.

The requirements are this:

All hourly employees must take off eight hours without pay between now and December 26.  It is expected that no work will be done during this time. This applies to full- and part-time employees. Part-time employees’ work schedules will be reduced on a prorated basis.

A reduced schedule will also be implemented for salaried employees with a corresponding pay reduction.  Salaried employees must take off one day between now and December 26.

The way the North of Boston Media Group management team has decided to do this is as follows:

All newspaper offices will be closed for business on Christmas Eve. This means for many who were scheduled to work, this will become your unpaid day. If you planned to take that day off as a vacation day already, you now have to reschedule that vacation day.

Editorial, production and circulation will work on a minimized schedule for Christmas Eve. The schedule will be announced as soon as possible.

There will be no in bound telephone classified ads processed on Christmas Eve.

There is one less day to process ads as all salespeople are included in this additional day off. Plan accordingly and watch for production deadline changes.

Ads will be produced to announce this change in policy.

Please note that we will not have employee withholdings for benefits on our December 31 paychecks, which will help mitigate the impact on take home pay. This applies to those that have benefits deducted.

Folks, I know what a tough year it has been and please know how much I appreciate all of your hard work and dedication. I am seeing signs that things are slowly beginning to get better. My hope is that, in the second half of 2010, this is all a distant memory.

Please see your supervisor, manager or director with any questions you may have. And as always, feel free to contact me.


Al Getler

A new-media lesson from an old newspaper

I can’t think of a better lesson for journalism students.

Earlier today I was attending an orientation for freshmen and transfer students when word came in on my BlackBerry, via the Salem News’ Twitter feed, that the Danvers Town Hall was on fire. (Media Nation’s world headquarters is located in Danvers.)

By 4:30 p.m., the News had posted a reasonably complete story with a Google map and an 11-photo slideshow.

Ten years ago, needless to say, the News would have been silent until the next day.

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