Tag Archives: Wicked Local

GateHouse New England shrinks, prepares for reorg

Photo (cc) 2012 by Dyana. Some rights reserved.

Photo (cc) 2012 by Dyana. Some rights reserved.

Update: I have been told that the new term for “reporter” will be “multimedia journalist.” That’s a perfectly respectable title, so I withdraw the anticipatory snark you’ll find below.

GateHouse Media New England, which owns more than 100 daily and weekly newspapers in Greater Boston and its environs, is shedding about 40 positions through buyouts and layoffs, according to Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal.

The full picture is not entirely clear. Seiffert reports that the buyout was offered to GateHouse’s non-union employees. But Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio recently wrote that employees at GateHouse”s Providence Journal, a union paper, were also offered a buyout.

GateHouse, headquartered in the suburbs of Rochester, New York, owns more than 600 newspapers and other media properties nationwide. Its New England holdings include many dozens of community weeklies, as well as high-profile dailies such as the Journal, the Quincy Patriot Ledger, the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and the Cape Cod Times.

GateHouse papers have shrunk so much that concerns have been raised over whether they are going to have to pursue a fundamentally different way of doing things that would involve covering less and less community news. Further cuts could also give rise to more independent local news projects in GateHouse communities, such as the Bedford Citizen and the Worcester Sun, which I wrote about for the Nieman Journal Lab last fall. (Disclosure: I was recently asked to serve as an unpaid adviser to the Sun.)

One thing is for sure: The turmoil hasn’t ended. On Tuesday, Lisa Strattan, who is in charge of GateHouse Media New England’s recently redesigned Wicked Local websites, announced a relaunch that will be unveiled around mid-September. In a memo I obtained, she wrote:

We plan to reorganize into several teams, some serving the whole of Wicked Local and some focused along already established unit lines, to better leverage talent across our entire footprint.

Our centralized teams include a Print Production team, a Special Sections team, a Photo team and a Digital Specialists team. During a later phase of our reorg, we hope to organize our Sports personnel into a Wicked Local Sports team. Our West, Central, North and South units will also divide journalists into teams within each unit, covering given geographic areas.

She added: “Accompanying our reorg will be new job titles (and descriptions!) that better describe the role of a multimedia journalist or editor in 2016. For instance, reporters use a burgeoning bag of tools to create multi-layered multimedia stories. Although ‘reporter’ is tried and true, it’s important to signal our dramatic shift in newsgathering, both to our internal and external audiences.” Let me say that I cannot wait to see what new title GateHouse comes up with for “reporter.” (You can read the full memo here.)

Given that Strattan specifically includes print under her bailiwick, it sounds to me like the papers may be moving away from their traditional community-by-community orientation, with journalists assigned to stories within regions as needed. If that’s what she intends, then I’d be shocked if it doesn’t translate into less local coverage.

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Globe cuts Your Town staffing in half

Just catching up with this. Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal reports that The Boston Globe’s Your Town sites are being trimmed by six correspondents — approximately half the staff. Your Town, part of the Globe’s free Boston.com website, provides hyperlocal coverage of the suburbs as well as of several Boston neighborhoods.

Screen Shot 2013-09-16 at 8.38.56 AMGlobe regional editor David Dahl tells Chesto that there will be no site closures. But it seems inevitable that there will be cuts in coverage, even though Globe staff reporters and freelancers will continue to contribute. There are more than 100 Your Town sites and about 15 related Your Campus websites covering colleges and universities in Greater Boston.

Your Town got off to a shaky start in 2008, as GateHouse Media — which operates Wicked Local sites in virtually all of the same communities targeted by Your Town — sued the New York Times Co. (the Globe’s owner, at least for a few more weeks) for copyright infringement, arguing that the Your Town sites in some cases aggregated virtually all of GateHouse’s content for a given community without offering much else.

The two sides reached an out-of-court settlement in early 2009, as I reported for The Guardian. Your Town eventually grew into a valuable resource in many communities. But it looks like the sites, which carry little advertising, got to be too expensive to operate.

Chesto writes that the cuts call hyperlocal coverage into question as a business strategy, noting that AOL’s Patch sites are in the midst of deep cuts as well. But though hyperlocal may well be a loser at the corporate chain level, there are a number of successful independent sites operating across the country. You could read a book about such sites, hint, hint. The real issue is that hyperlocal is best understood as a grassroots phenomenon.

Did Globe executives reach this decision on their own? Or was incoming owner John Henry involved? And if he was, what does that say about his priorities for the Globe?

(Disclosure: Journalism students at Northeastern as well as several other Boston colleges and universities contribute to the Your Town and Your Campus sites.)

A few more thoughts on Patch.com

My Thursday posting of an e-mail from a Patch.com local editor who considers herself overworked and underappreciated brought an unusually strong reaction from Media Nation readers — many of them, no doubt, people who work for Patch or who are thinking about it. I received nearly 4,400 page views on Thursday, well over double the usual amount of traffic.

I received several e-mails from current and former Patch folks, also insisting on anonymity, and wary about whether they wanted their words posted at all. I am not normally in the habit of publishing anonymous e-mails, and I’d just as soon Media Nation not turn into a forum for anonymous pro- and anti-Patch missives. But I can say that a few folks agreed with the anonymous e-mail and a few disputed it. One even asked that I pressure my source into giving up her identity so that other local editors will not be suspected. (Uh, no.)

What’s beyond dispute is that community journalism is hard work, and has never been particularly lucrative. In Greater Boston, what’s shaping up is a three-way battle involving Patch, GateHouse Media’s Wicked Local sites and the Boston Globe’s Your Town sites. Here’s what I’m hearing from folks who’ve been in touch with me:

  • Though no one is getting rich working for Patch, it offers better pay and benefits than its competitors. But that comes with an unusually heavy load of responsibilities, as outlined by my anonymous e-mailer. Local editors must manage every aspect of the site.
  • Many GateHouse journalists earn less than Patch editors. But though they also put in dauntingly long hours, editors and reporters don’t have as many non-journalistic responsibilities.
  • Correspondents for the Globe’s Your Town sites are freelancers, and receive no benefits at all.

I should note that nearly all Wicked Local content is repurposed from GateHouse’s newspapers, most of them weeklies. The Your Town sites combine online-only stories, an occasional Globe story and aggregation from other news sources (but not from Wicked Local). Patch is online-only.

I should also note that the Your Town/Wicked Local/Patch combination is far from the only game in community journalism. Medium-size dailies such as the Eagle-Tribune papers north of Boston, GateHouse’s own dailies west and south of Boston, and Rupert Murdoch’s (yes, believe it or not) Standard-Times of New Bedford and Cape Cod Times are among our most important sources of local news. Journalists at those papers tend to be more experienced and better paid, too.

There are two pieces of good news in all of this: there’s a lot of competition for local news in Greater Boston, and competition is good for readers; and, a year after the news business seemed to be collapsing, news outlets are hiring young reporters at a healthy clip in order to staff new hyperlocal sites.

Hard times working the Patch

Boston Globe reporter Johnny Diaz today writes about Patch.com, the AOL-owned network of hyperlocal news sites that is (excuse me) sprouting up around the country.

As I noted earlier, Diaz writes that Patch is up against considerable competition in Greater Boston, principally from GateHouse Media’s Wicked Local websites and the Boston Globe’s Your Town sites — both of which, unlike Patch, are tied to established newspapers.

There are already 13 Patch sites in Massachusetts, with more to come.

After I posted my earlier Patch item, I heard from a Patch local editor (LE, in Patch-speak) who described working conditions that sound pretty challenging. Granted, community journalists in general work very hard for not much money. But the LE who wrote to me suggested that Patch takes it to another level.

The LE who contacted me asked that her name not be used, but gave me permission to publish her e-mail. I have verified that she is who she says she is. I don’t consider this to be the last word, and I would welcome a response from Patch. The e-mail:

The working conditions for local editors at Patch sites raise the question of whether this model is sustainable or about whether this is the reality for journalists working in this new media age.

Basically, the job is 24/7 with so far little support in getting any kind of time off — nights, weekends, vacation days guaranteed under our AOL contract. (Some regional editors do try to help; others don’t.) This time-off issue has become a major concern among local editors. You might hear about the 70-hour work weeks. Yes, 70 hours and more. It’s a start-up and all that, and I knew it would be hard work going in. But what is becoming distressing is this sense that I can’t get a break. I’ve worked in journalism for more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter, online editor, magazine editor, and I’ve never worked so much in my life.

Patch has a policy that it the local editor’s responsibility to find our nights/weekend/vacation replacements. And we must pay that person out of our freelance budgets. I’m just three months into this job, and I’ve heard from LEs around the country that this task of finding your replacement can be daunting, because it is hard to find qualified journalists who have that sort of time to do a vacation fill-in — who who will do it for what Patch pays its freelancers. I’ve been hearing that LEs who have been around longer, up to a year, are starting to question whether the job is worth it.

And, it’s not just being a reporter, but it’s also being a city editor/assignment editor/managing editor/copy editor, and it’s handling freelance payments (and freelance payment troubleshooting), doing videos, monitoring calender and event listings, doing some of our own marketing, and even HR. It seems the business model of this organization is to add tasks, traditionally handled by others in other organizations, to the plate of the local editors. More recently, I’ve been wondering if it would be possible, time-wise, to do the kind of enterprise journalism I would like.

Maybe I should be grateful I have a job and stop griping.

Follow-up: “A few more thoughts on Patch.com.”

Patching in to AOL’s Patch (II)

Old friend Mark Leccese, blogging at Boston.com, offers further thoughts on the competition among Patch, GateHouse Media’s Wicked Local sites and Boston.com’s Your Town initiative.

Let me repeat: The most interesting local online journalism is taking place at the grassroots. And no one in Greater Boston does a better job of aggregating it than Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub. If you didn’t know that already, well, now you do.

(Disclosure: Media Nation is part of Gaffin’s Boston Blogs advertising network.)

Earlier item.

Patching in to AOL’s Patch

AOL’s local-news initiative, Patch, has been ramping up in Massachusetts in recent months. The effort deserves a full post, so consider this a placeholder. Universal Hub has been all over Patch, chronicling the departure of several GateHouse Media employees who’ve signed on as Patch editors.

My tendency is not to get too excited when a national corporation with no roots in journalism decides to take on hyperlocal news. There have simply been too many instances of the suits deciding that journalism isn’t as lucrative as they had hoped and then pulling the plug a year or two down the line.

Based on Arlington Patch, the sites seem attractive and easy to navigate, with a strong emphasis on community participation. But I don’t know that I see anything that would make me choose it over GateHouse’s Wicked Local Arlington site, or Boston.com’s Your Town page for Arlington.

Besides, I think online local news works best when it grows from the ground up. Local blogs vary wildly in quality. But I’d rather check in on Bob Sprague’s Your Arlington blog than to spend my time with the progeny of Steve Case.

That said, it’s early. Maybe Patch will represent some sort of breakthrough. We’ll see.