Update: I was so excited to get a copy of Sheehan’s announcement in my inbox that I didn’t check to see whether the Globe had the story. They did. Here it is.
The Boston Globe has found a buyer for its headquarters at 135 Morrissey Blvd. The announcement was made in an email to the staff Friday night from Mike Sheehan, chief executive of Boston Globe Media Partners. (Thanks, source! You are a prince or princess among men or women.) Here’s Sheehan:
Just wanted you to know that BGMP has entered into an agreement to sell our headquarters at 135 Morrissey Boulevard. We have also entered into a confidentiality agreement with the buyer, so I can offer no details about the transaction at this time. This is just the beginning of the process; I’ll keep you updated as it proceeds.
Have a great weekend.
I tweeted out the news a little while ago, but it’s raised more questions than answers among people who don’t follow this stuff obsessively. So here’s a bit of background.
1. The Globe‘s editorial and business operations are moving downtown, into rented office space at 53 State St. The target date for the move is January 1, but I’m guessing that will prove to be ambitious.
4. In 2013 John Henry bought the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and the Morrissey Boulevard headquarters from the New York Times Company for a total of $70 million. He later sold the T&G for an undisclosed amount that has been estimated at somewhere between $7 million and $19 million. In 2014, the Globe reported that the Morrissey Boulevard property might be worth somewhere between $50 million and $70 million. So it is likely that Henry will have ended up getting the Globe for free. On the other hand, he’s losing money—or, as Globe editor Brian McGrory put it recently in a memo announcing buyouts, “The Globe’s numbers aren’t as good as our words (or photos, videos, and graphics).”
5. As Sheehan wrote, the identity of the new owner of the Morrissey Boulevard property and his intentions are not being announced at this time. So here’s some speculation from me and some sharp observations from Bill Forry, editor of the Dorchester Reporter.
Just a reminder: The @BostonGlobe is moving downtown next year. Finding a buyer for 135 Morrissey Blvd. is good news.
Mark Henderson is certainly not the first person to launch a hyperlocal website in the shadow of the daily newspaper that used to employ him. Nevertheless, his ideas about how to build the site into a sustainable business are unorthodox enough to merit attention.
Henderson, a former executive with the 150-year-old Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, Mass., unveiled the Worcester Sun in August. From the start, the Sun’s content has been protected behind a hard paywall of $2 a week. There are no discounts; if you want to subscribe for a year, it will cost you $104.
Once the Sun has attracted a critical mass of paid digital subscribers (Henderson won’t reveal the magic number except to say that it’s well short of 1,000), he’ll add a Sunday paper for $1 a week, perhaps as soon as next spring. Print matters, Henderson says, because that’s still where most of the advertising is.
“If you’re going to start something new, monetizing digital is tough,” says Henderson. “And you can’t look at print as a medium without understanding that there is a ton of money still to be made there. Especially in Sunday print. We could use Sunday print to boost us into the stratosphere, to get us into a stable orbit where we can launch other things.”
Bootstrapping paid digital to break into paid print? Matt DeRienzo, interim executive director of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers, says he’s skeptical but intrigued. “Sunday print is going against the grain. There’s a lot of reasons the cards are stacked against them,” says DeRienzo, the former editor of Digital First Media’s Connecticut publications, which include the New Haven Register. But he adds: “The best ideas are going to come from people who live in and care about their community and who are closest to the problem. Who’s to say it’s not going to work?”
With a population of 183,000 — the second-largest city in New England after Boston — and a median household income of about $46,000, more than $20,000 below the state average, Worcester is a city facing economic challenges. It’s precisely the sort of community that could benefit most from independent media projects such as the Sun, says Catherine Tumber, a scholar with the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University.
Last week, I met Henderson and his business partner (and cousin) Fred Hurlbrink Jr. in a brightly lit coworking space on the first floor of the Innovation Center of Worcester — formerly the Franklin Street headquarters of the Telegram & Gazette, the daily newspaper where Henderson worked for nearly 25 years. Across the street is City Hall and the Worcester Common. On the other side of the common looms the mid-sized tower that is the current home of the T&G.
Henderson, 49, rose from the paper’s sports department to deputy managing editor for technology and, starting in 2009, online director. He left on June 2, 2014, the day that John Henry, who had purchased The Boston Globe and the T&G from the New York Times Company, sold the T&G to Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida, after previously saying he intended to sell to a local group. Halifax cut about 20 journalistsfrom the full-time newsroom staff of about 80. Further cuts came a few months later when Halifax turned around and sold the paper to New Media Investment Group, an affiliate of GateHouse Media, based in the suburbs of Rochester, New York.
Hurlbrink, 38, had two stints with GateHouse — first as a copy editor at The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham and later at the Design House, run out of the Framingham plant, which handled design and some copyediting tasks for multiple GateHouse papers. In August 2014, GateHouse announced that the operation would be closed and moved to Austin, Texas.
Even with a shrunken Telegram & Gazette, Henderson and Hurlbrink find themselves in the midst of a highly competitive media environment. In addition to the T&G, Worcester is covered by MassLive.com, part of Advance Digital; GoLocalWorcester, which has sister sites in Providence, Rhode Island, and Portland, Oregon; and Worcester Magazine, whose parent company, Holden Landmark Corporation, is controlled by GateHouse Media chief executive Kirk Davis but is not part of GateHouse.
In the face of such competition, Henderson and Hurlbrink say their plan is to steer clear of breaking news and offer depth and analysis instead. “We’re never going to cover breaking news,” Henderson says. “Will we cover the opiate epidemic rather than three people who OD’d in the last 24 hours? Yeah, we’ll take a look at that. But we’ll devote the resources to do it and give people an insight that they didn’t have before.”
“I think there’s a niche,” says Timothy McGourthy, executive director of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau. “I think it provides kind of a thoughtful human-interest approach to Worcester. It’s a generally positive approach to the city. I think the challenge is going to be getting the word out in the marketplace.”
The Sun’s paywall — as well as that of the T&G — is based on technology provided by Clickshare, whose website touts the software as a “flexible system” that allows for different types of paid access, billing and payment processing, and various options for e-commerce. Bill Densmore, who founded Clickshare in the mid-1990s, believes that print and digital serve two different types of audiences — and that Henderson and Hurlbrink are smart to try to serve both.
“A lean-back experience once a week makes a lot of sense to me,” says Densmore, a research fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute. “It’s an experiment, really, and an important one, both for the existing industry and for people starting on the digital side and wondering where that leads. I think the marriage of print and digital makes a lot of sense, particularly if you’re not trying to put out a daily paper, which increasingly seems anachronistic to me and to people in the digital world.”
Starting and maintaining a community news site is a hard way to make a living, but the allure is undeniable. LION counts about 130 member sites, and of course there many more that are not LION members. New ones pop up regularly. Just this week, The Boston Globe reported on a project called The Spark, cofounded by a former photographer for the GateHouse-owned Enterprise of Brockton.
It’s the same allure that has kept Henderson and Hurlbrink going despite setbacks — including a $150,000 Kickstarter campaign that fell well short of the mark. So far, they say, they’ve invested $200,000 in money and time. Soon they hope to unveil the first in a line of ebooks. And they’ve got plans to launch online verticals in areas such as education and local sports. “I think there are places we can go where we can be effective,” says Hurlbrink.
If all goes according to plan, they foresee a staff of 20 full- and part-time journalists. The key, adds Henderson, is to fill a niche — and not worry about what the competition is doing.
“We’ve never said we’re here to take the T&G out,” says Henderson. “Other people have. We don’t agree with that. Our stated goal is to serve our audience, the city of Worcester, the best we can. And if we have an opportunity to grow our audience, all the better.”
Looks like the GateHouse Media-owned Telegram & Gazette of Worcester is getting some competition. Mark Henderson, the T&G’s former online director, is starting a news organization called the Worcester Sun, an online-mostly project with a paid Sunday paper.
The Sun has a $150,000 Kickstarter campaign, a website, and a presence on Facebook and Twitter, all of which are linked in the press release below. Go Local Worcester posted a story about the Sun on Saturday.
Best of luck to Henderson and cofounder/managing editor/creative director Fred Hurlbrink Jr., like Henderson a former GateHouse journalist.
WORCESTER, Massachusetts — Worcester Media Partners is proud to announce the launch of the Worcester Sun, an impact community journalism enterprise comprising a unique combination of best-in-class digital offering with a paid Sunday print product.
These products will be supported by an intuitive business model that puts quality journalism, and more importantly the folks who produce and consume it, at the forefront by leveraging the modern media world’s best efficiencies in a sustainable package.
In order to build the type of journalism enterprise Worcester deserves, Worcester Media Partners recognizes the necessity of ambition. We have set our sights high, and we look forward to the continued support of our community. Please visit our Kickstarter page to learn more about the project and how folks can pledge their support to the future of local journalism in and around the Seven Hills.
Worcester Sun was conceived by Mark Henderson, a 30-year veteran of Worcester-area journalism, who most recently spent several years as the online director of the Telegram & Gazette. There, he marshalled a number of innovations that propelled telegram.com to rank in the top 10 nationally in 2013 in audience growth and subscriber volume.
“We believe that when the number of former journalists exceeds the number of working journalists there is an opportunity and a need for a new approach,” Henderson said.
“The Sun will be the first news startup in the nation to launch with a paid Sunday newspaper. We recognize that this is a huge undertaking, but we believe the community is ready for this approach. In addition, over the long run we believe this model could work in as many as 100 cities nationwide.”
Henderson is joined by co-founder Fred Hurlbrink Jr., managing editor/creative director. The group is working with no less than a dozen advisors, many among the leaders in their field in New England, who have logged more than 200 years of community journalism experience.
Under the leadership of this impressive cadre of innovative, experienced journalism pros, and with the support of the area’s brightest reporters, photographers, designers and new media professionals, Worcester Sun intends to provide the community with impactful, civic-minded journalism that promotes intelligent conversations and positive change.
Worcester Sun will shine a light into the deepest corners of the topics and events that matter most to the city and its residents. We will cover stories with candor and perspective. We will never pander or underestimate our readers. We will hold public officials accountable. We will hold ourselves accountable doubly so.
Worcester Sun will change journalism in Worcester. It is, indeed, a new day.
The nice thing about missing out on bad news from GateHouse Media* is that you only have to wait a few days for fresh material. Thus we learn today that The Standard-Times of New Bedford is getting rid of three newsroom jobs. Here’s the internal email from editor Beth Perdue:
Today we eliminated three editorial positions in an effort to align our staffing levels to expected revenues in 2015 and levels at similar sized media companies.
These are always tough decisions and my heart goes out to those who departed. Their loss will be felt by all of us.
Please know that these changes represent the full extent of planned reductions in the newsroom. While changes like this are very difficult, we can now focus fully on pursuing a variety of opportunities that will help us move forward.
I hear that among those departing is veteran reporter Steve DeCosta, a respected figure in the newsroom since the late 1970s. I also understand that Simón Rios is leaving the paper for WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). The cuts, I’m told, will shrink the reporting staff to five, compared to nine just two years ago. (I’m asking for details on the third job that’s been eliminated and will update if I hear anything.)
You may recall that Perdue’s predecessor as editor, Bob Unger, resigned in December rather than implement GateHouse-ordered cuts. Boston Globe reporter (and GateHouse alumnus) Jon Chesto wrote at the time that Unger was “hoping his sacrifice will save two or three lower-paying jobs.” If you scroll to the bottom of Chesto’s story, you’ll see what I told him: Don’t count on it.
• T&G reporter quits over shrinking pay. In a departure that has gotten national buzz, Thomas Caywood, an investigative reporter for the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, quit after management refused to give him a 3 percent raise — which, he said, would have offset only a fraction of the reduction in income he’s been subjected to over the years. Here is part of what Caywood wrote to T&G publisher James Normandin:
For your background, I have been a reporter at the Telegram & Gazette since September 2007, during which time I have had one small pay raise. The cumulative impact of inflation over the last seven years of my employment has been to reduce the value of my annual earnings by nearly 14 percent. My vacation allotment was reduced from three weeks a year to two weeks by Halifax Media Group. Meanwhile, our benefits cost more and cover less than before the Halifax acquisition….
All I require is a 3 percent raise and restoration of my previous three-weeks-a-year vacation allotment. The meager raise would barely be noticeable to my finances, but it’s vital to me that I see some tangible evidence of this commitment to quality journalism of which you and GateHouse speak.
Caywood told Jim Romenesko: “I didn’t leave the Telegram & Gazette with any hard feelings and my departure was not intended as some kind of provocative ‘fuck you’ gesture…. But I just couldn’t avoid any longer the unwelcome truth that I valued the job more highly than the company valued me.”
If you’re having a hard time following the bouncing chains, Globe owner John Henry sold the T&G to Halifax Media Group of Florida in 2014. Halifax turned around a few months later and sold out in its entirety to GateHouse, which is based in suburban Rochester, New York. Here is the analysis I wrote for WGBHNews.org in November.
• Cape Cod Times to close printing plant. The Cape Cod Times and its affiliated weeklies will shut down their printing press in Hyannis and move production to the Providence Journal.
This move, at least, makes sense, and has been anticipated from the time that GateHouse acquired the Journal last summer. But “an undisclosed number of jobs” will be eliminated, writes Times reporter Bryan Lantz. And here’s more from Jon Chesto.
*For the sake of simplicity, I am referring to the corporate owner of all these papers as GateHouse Media. The chain’s acquisition branch is known as New Media Investment Group.
Update. I’m now hearing that DeCosta and two other newsroom people were let go at The Standard-Times — not counting Rios, who’ll begin his new job at WBUR soon.
A huge newspaper deal was announced late this afternoon. The parent company of GateHouse Media of Fairport, New York, which has been on the march since emerging from bankruptcy last year, is buying out Halifax Media Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Locally, the acquisition greatly expands GateHouse’s footprint in the central part of the state: earlier this year Boston Globe owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to Halifax.
Jim Romenesko has the memo from GateHouse chief executive Kirk Davis.
GateHouse now owns almost every significant newspaper property in Eastern Massachusetts (and beyond) other than the Globe and the Boston Herald. The Digital First papers, which include the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Enterprise & Sentinel, are for sale. Will GateHouse scoop them up? What about the CNHI papers, which include The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover and three other dailies in that region? How long can they hold out?
Even before its latest acquisition spree, GateHouse owned about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts — mostly weeklies, but also mid-size dailies such as the MetroWest Daily News of Framingham, The Enterprise of Brockton and The Patriot Ledger of Quincy. In the past year GateHouse has added the Cape Cod Times, The Standard-Times of New Bedford, The Providence Journal and — in a little-noticed move just last week — Foster’s Daily Democrat of Dover, New Hampshire, a small but legendary community daily.
GateHouse has a well-earned reputation for cutting staff and compensation, although that hardly makes it unique. The larger story is that its executives clearly believe it can be the last local-newspaper chain standing by centralizing every part of its operations that aren’t strictly tied to local news.
A considerable amount of copy editing is being moved to a facility in Austin, Texas. The ProJo has a nice new press, and no doubt it will soon be printing as many GateHouse papers as it can accommodate — possibly cutting into the Globe’s printing business. GateHouse also owns what Davis calls a “digital services agency” called Propel Marketing.
At a time when few business executives want to mess with the newspaper business, GateHouse has gone all in. How it will end is anyone’s guess. But GateHouse has been down this road before, and it ended in bankruptcy. If Kirk Davis and company have a better idea this time, we should soon find out.
More: “Copy editing” at daily newspapers traditionally refers to editing stories for grammar and style, writing headlines and laying out pages. I am told that the Austin facility’s mission is limited to page design, though some copy editors at the ProJo are losing their jobs.
GoLocalProv is reporting that GateHouse Media is on the verge of buying The Providence Journal for an estimated $50 million to $60 million. John Henry only paid $51 million for The Boston Globe if a GoLocalWorcester report that he sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester for $19 million is accurate (Henry paid $70 million for the Globe, the T&G and some smaller related properties).
This story is still developing. But GoLocalProv offers some insight as to why the price might be so high: lucrative printing contracts and a highly desirable downtown headquarters that could be sold and leased back.
Correction: I initially misreported the purchase price of the Globe. Apologies to Matt Drudge for the siren.