The 2022 New England Muzzle Awards: Spotlighting 10 who diminish free speech

Illustration by Meryl Brenner / GBH News

A Boston mayor who trampled on a religious group’s right to freedom of expression. A Worcester city manager who trampled on the public’s right to know about police misconduct. A New Hampshire state legislator who trampled on teachers’ rights by demanding that they take a “loyalty oath” promising not to teach their students about racism.

These are just a few of the winners of the 2022 New England Muzzle Awards.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the Muzzles, a Fourth of July roundup of outrages against freedom of speech and of the press in the six New England states.

Read the rest at GBH News.

The Globe’s Rhode Island initiative may be expanded across New England

The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island section could be a model for other verticals devoted to different regions in New England. That’s the main takeaway from this week’s edition of “E&P Reports,” a vodcast produced by the trade publication Editor & Publisher.

The vodcast, hosted by E&P publisher Mike Blinder, featured the Globe’s Rhode Island editor (and my “Beat the Press” crony), Lylah Alphonse; Rhode Island reporter Dan McGowan; and Michelle Micone, the Globe’s vice president for innovation and strategic initiatives.

It was Micone who talked about expanding the Globe’s coverage to other regions. She specifically mentioned New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont but not Connecticut, which was either inadvertent or, more likely, a nod to the Nutmeg State’s very different media and cultural environment. I mean, my God, they root for the Yankees down there.

Alphonse and McGowan were careful not to criticize The Providence Journal, but let’s face it — the Globe’s Rhode Island project was begun in response to Gannett’s evisceration of that once great paper. Blinder said that the Journal’s full-time staff is down to about 14. [Note: The actual number is about 30.] Alphonse told me that Globe Rhode Island now has eight full-time journalists. Of course, the folks who remain at the Journal are doing good work under trying conditions, and Alphonse and McGowan were smart to acknowledge that.

One statistic that really hit me was that McGowan’s daily newsletter, “Rhode Map,” is sent to 80,000 recipients each morning, with an open rate of about 30%. By contrast, the Journal’s combined paid print and digital circulation on weekdays, according to data the paper filed with the Alliance for Audited Media, is a little under 31,000. (About 24,000 of that is print, showing that Gannett’s push on digital subscriptions has a long way to go.)

I also want to highlight the news that staff reporter Alexa Gagosz, one of our great master’s degree alums at Northeastern, is heading up expanded food and dining coverage in Rhode Island, including a weekly newsletter.

Now, to get back to possible expansion in other regions: Rhode Island was an opportunity that may not be entirely replicable elsewhere, thanks not only to the ProJo’s shrinkage but to the state’s unique identity. The state has a range of media options, including good-quality public radio, television newscasts and independent community news outlets. But the ProJo’s decline gave the Globe a chance to slide in and quickly establish itself as one of the players.

Where else does opportunity that exist? Worcester and Central Massachusetts strike me as in serious need of more journalism. The Globe memorably walked away from the region when then-new owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette to a Florida-based chain after leading the staff to believe he was committed to selling to local interests. Soon enough, the T&G became part of Gannett, and it was subjected to the same devastating cuts that the chain has imposed throughout the country. The T&G carried on but is currently in flux, having lost its respected executive editor, Dave Nordman, to Northeastern, where he’s heading up the internal news operation. Could the Henrys return to Worcester? I’ve heard that might be within the range of possibilities.

But where else? New Hampshire and Maine both have good-quality independent newspapers, though New Hampshire’s two leading papers — the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor — have shrunk quite a bit. Vermont is unique, dominated by one of the most respected nonprofit news organizations in the country, VTDigger.

Then there’s the distribution model, which, if they were asking me (they’re not), is too reliant on print. Quite a bit of the Globe’s Rhode Island coverage appears in the Globe’s print edition. But rather than take on the cost of trucking more papers to Rhode Island, why not use digital to expand your reach and drive more digital subscriptions? What the Globe is doing with Rhode Island and print simply wouldn’t work if the paper established bureaus in Central Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The Globe is one of the few major metropolitan dailies in the country that is growing. What it’s doing in Rhode Island is impressive, and I’d love to see it happen elsewhere.

Correction: After this item was published, I learned that the Journal’s full-time newsroom staff is actually around 30 people, supplemented by freelancers.

Several Gannett papers, including the Worcester T&G, won’t print on Labor Day

The Telegram & Gazette of Worcester is taking a day off. According to an announcement in the print edition, the paper won’t publish tomorrow, which is Labor Day.

The 016, which has the story, observes that “the last date the Telegram & Gazette was not printed is not immediately known,” and that the T&G will be joined by some other Gannett papers, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Tallahassee Democrat.

A highly unusual move to say the least.

More: Add the Cape Cod Times to the list. It’s starting to look like this applies to many if not most of Gannett’s dailies.

The Globe adds a R.I. podcast; the union pleads its case in a full-page ad

A couple of yin and yang notes about The Boston Globe this morning.

First, the paper has expanded its Rhode Island coverage by adding a podcast, “Rhode Island Report.” The guest for the debut is former Gov. Gina Raimondo, now the U.S. secretary of commerce.

It’s good to see the Globe doubling down on Rhode Island, which has really been underserved by Gannett’s Providence Journal. But I’ve been noticing more and more Rhode Island coverage making its way into the Globe’s print edition. I thought the idea was to leverage digital. If this continues, I hope there will be some consideration given to replating so that there are separate print editions for Greater Boston and Rhode Island.

I also hope John and Linda Henry are giving some consideration to expanding in Worcester, which is a virtual news desert these days. You may recall that employees at the city’s daily, the Telegram & Gazette, said John Henry promised to sell it to local interests or keep the paper after he acquired it from the New York Times Co. as part of the Globe deal. Instead, he sold it to a Florida chain, and it eventually was passed off to GateHouse Media, now Gannett. (When I asked Henry about it several years ago, he told me he believed he had only promised not to sell to GateHouse.)

Second, the Greater Boston Labor Council, the Greater Boston Building Trades Union and the Communication Workers of America have purchased a full-page ad in today’s Globe in support of the Boston Newspaper Guild’s long quest for a new contract. You can see the ad here.

Worcester T&G photographer resigns, citing GateHouse’s ‘reckless’ cuts

Photo (cc) 2015 by Dan Kennedy

On Saturday I received an email from Christine Hochkeppel, a photographer who had just resigned from the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, part of the GateHouse Media chain. I asked her if it was all right if I sought comment from a T&G executive and then ran her letter of resignation along with the newspaper’s response. She granted permission.

This is, of course, a data point of one. But I think it’s worth sharing because it speaks to the frustrations of working in community journalism in general and for GateHouse in particular. GateHouse, as I’m sure you know, is a national chain based in the suburbs of Rochester, New York, that owns more than 100 daily and weekly papers in Eastern Massachusetts, Southern New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The company is also likely to become the next owner of the Boston Herald.

In a business known for penny-pinching, GateHouse stands out. “It has been incredibly frustrating to have worked the majority of my career for a company that has never given me a raise, despite my excellent work ethic and accolades,” Hochkeppel wrote in her letter of resignation to executive editor Karen Webber. “I cannot dedicate anymore of my professional time to a company that will not invest in my future success or any of my talented colleagues.”

I emailed Webber seeking comment and received the following reply from Paul Provost, the T&G’s publisher:

Thank you for the opportunity to comment however we do not comment on individual personnel matters. It has been reported publicly that we have struck an agreement with the national Guild. That agreement has been ratified in Worcester and is in the process of being ratified in several other newsrooms across the company.

Provost is referring to a recent agreement GateHouse reached with the Newspaper Guild that, according to Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal, “would ensure a 2.75 percent raise over two years for 750 employees at newspapers across the country, including five in New England.” The T&G is among those papers.

Note: I’m an unpaid adviser to the Worcester Sun, a digital-and-print hybrid that competes with the T&G.

The full text of Hochkeppel’s letter follows.

Dear Ms. Webber,

I am writing to notify you of my intention to resign as staff photographer at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. My last day of employment will be Saturday, December 30, 2017.

I appreciate the opportunities I have received during my 3 years here. I have grown and improved as a photojournalist. I appreciate your support and guidance. However, I continue to have deep concerns about the direction GateHouse Media is taking the T&G. It has been incredibly frustrating to have worked the majority of my career for a company that has never given me a raise, despite my excellent work ethic and accolades. I cannot dedicate anymore of my professional time to a company that will not invest in my future success or any of my talented colleagues. After all of the hard work I have done for this company, I am forced to give up a career that I am passionate about so that I can make a better future for myself. GateHouse has been taking advantage of passionate journalists and dismantling quality community journalism with continued staff reductions and lackluster outsourced design. Their solution continues to befuddle us all with its hypocrisy: cut expenses and jobs but acquire more properties and continue to award handsome bonuses to the top executives. These reckless practices underscore the apparent indifference GateHouse feels toward the hard-working people they already employ. It’s disheartening that when our political and economic climate needs journalists so desperately, that this company has turned so many excellent people away from the industry.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share visual stories with the Worcester County community. It has been a gratifying experience sharing pictures and stories with our readers, despite the morale challenges. I am grateful for all the positive interactions and earned experience.

Sincerely,

Christine Hochkeppel

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The Worcester Sun gets ready to take its next step: A weekend print edition

Fred Hurlbrink Jr., left, and Mark Henderson. Photo (cc) 2015 by Dan Kennedy.

New England’s second-largest city is about to get a new print newspaper. A little more than two years ago, the Worcester Sun debuted as a for-profit, online-only news organization. Founded by two GateHouse Media refugees, the site has been behind a hard paywall from the beginning, with subscribers paying $2 a week.

Now Mark Henderson and his business partner (and cousin), Fred Hurlbrink Jr., are ready to take the next step: repurposing their journalism in a Saturday print edition that will be mailed free to paid digital subscribers who live in the Worcester area. If you’re not a subscriber, you’ll be able to buy a copy for $2 at various locations in Central Massachusetts.

Print has been part of Henderson and Hurlbrink’s thinking right from the start. Just after the Sun went live, I wrote about the project for the Nieman Journalism Lab. Though the Sun is clearly a digital-first operation, its founders wanted to capture the value that still exists in print advertising as a way of developing a second revenue stream.

“If you’re going to start something new, monetizing digital is tough,” Henderson told me at the time. “And you can’t look at print as a medium without understanding that there is a ton of money still to be made there.”

(Disclosure: Some months after I interviewed Henderson and Hurlbrink, they asked me to serve on an unpaid board of advisers. The Lab’s Laura Hazard Owen wrote a follow-up on the Sun’s progress several months ago.)

Worcester’s daily paper, the Telegram & Gazette, has shrunk dramatically in recent years. Sold by Boston Globe owner John Henry to a Florida-based chain under disputed circumstances, it later ended up in the hands of GateHouse, of Pittsford, New York, which owns more than 100 daily and weekly papers in Eastern Massachusetts. Henderson is the T&G’s former online director; Hurlbrink worked as a copy editor and in production for GateHouse’s MetroWest Daily News of Framingham and for a design facility in Framingham that later closed, with the jobs being outsourced to Austin, Texas.

Henderson and Hurlbrink have a tough road ahead of them. But they’re still here after two years, and they have the advantage of being local owners who are part of their community. The best-case scenario is that the Sun will be a success and that GateHouse will respond by bolstering the ranks of the T&G. Best of luck to Mark and Fred.

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