Hexit Watch™: Herald Sports Scribes Steal Away

Latest in what’s become an ongoing (outgoing?) series

The exodus from the Boston Herald since its sale to Digital First Media (slogan: “Where Newspapers Go to Die”) hasn’t yet reached Biblical proportions, but it does seem to be picking up.

From New England Patriots beat reporter Jeff Howe’s Twitter feed yesterday:

Crosstown at the Boston Globe, sports media columnist Chad Finn has a piece today about “The Athletic sports website . . . filling out its Boston roster.”

Among those who will be writing for The Athletic Boston are Fluto Shinzawa, who is leaving the Globe to become the site’s Bruins writer; Jen McCaffrey (currently MassLive) and Chad Jennings (Boston Herald), who will cover the Red Sox; and Jay King (MassLive), who will be the Celtics reporter. The site’s Patriots hire will be evident in the coming days.

At the time Digital First won the Herald bakeoff and proceeded to lay off about 30% of the staff, one of the most appealing aspects of the scanty local tabloid was its robust and popular sports pages. But now the paper is printed in Rhode Island so home subscribers get yesterday’s scores tomorrow . Combine that with sports page stalwarts like Howe and Jennings leaving Fargo Street, and the Herald’s appeal is basically reduced to the days Howie Carr’s not writing.

Bad news.

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Boston Herald Held Hostage, Day One

Digital First Media (slogan: “Where Newspapers Go to Die”) officially took possession of the Boston Herald yesterday. As the redoubtable Dan Kennedy noted at Media Nation, the takeover was preceded by this memo last week.

Nice, eh?

Now come the reports of the takeover in the local dailies, and the one in the soldy local tabloid sure reads like a press release – and not just because it’s bylined “Herald Staff.”

Digital First Media takes the helm of the Boston Herald

Digital First Media, one of the largest publishers of locally based print and online media in the United States, completed the acquisition of the Boston Herald yesterday.

The Boston Herald’s roots date to 1846, when it was a single two-sided sheet of news published by a group of Boston printers. In more recent times, the media company has been anchored by the 64,500-circulation Herald, known for its eye-catching Page 1 photos and headlines, with a loyal online following at BostonHerald.com.

“DFM is pleased to have the opportunity to be a part of the Boston Herald through the next chapter of its storied history. The Herald is integral to the fabric of the great city of Boston,” said Guy Gilmore, DFM’s chief operating officer.

That last part remains to be seen. The rest of the puff piece is pretty standard boilerplate , except for this ominous note: “[Digital First’s] Adtaxi Digital agency is an in-house, client-centric digital agency that brings scale, precision and sophistication to digital marketing. Adtaxi helps advertisers solve complex marketing challenges with custom, performance-driven solutions.”

Ads in sheep’s clothing, in other words.

Crosstown at the Boston Globe, Jon Chesto has – not surprisingly – a very different take.

Herald in hedge fund firm’s hands

Digital First completes purchase, more cuts feared

 

When Pat Purcell acquired the Boston Herald in 1994, the deal came with the hopes that local ownership would ensure the long-term survival of Boston’s No. 2 daily newspaper.

That survival will now depend on a new owner, a New York hedge fund firm, and not the man who led the Herald for much of his career in the news business.

Digital First Media, which is owned by Alden Global Capital and also does business as MediaNews Group, completed its acquisition of the Herald Monday after beating rival GateHouse Media last month with a nearly $12 million bid in a bankruptcy auction.

Chesto also had a very different number for the Herald’s circulation. “Nearly two-thirds of its roughly 45,000 daily print sales are single-copy purchases as opposed to subscriptions, according to Alliance for Audited Media data.”

That’s a pretty big drop from the 64,500 “in more recent times” the Herald piece claims. Is two or three years ago really “recent”?

Regardless, we wish the Heraldniks all the best, or certainly better than their new brethren at the Denver Post, which Digital First is currently dismantling in slow motion.

If it’s lucky, the shaky local tabloid just might dodge that bullet.

Hexit Watch™: Shelly Cohen’s Long Goodbye

Latest in what we expect will be an endless stream

The redoubtable Rachelle Cohen – longtime Boston Herald journalist, most recently as Editorial Page Editor – sang her swan song in yesterday’s edition, marking yet another milestone for the feisty local tabloid.

The Boston Herald I knew, whose death has been prematurely reported for decades, and on whose masthead my name has appeared for the last several of those decades, will sometime Monday be under new ownership. That is, in its own way, a good thing.

As an institution in this community it will live on; it will continue to vigorously compete in the marketplace of journalism because the people who have labored here — and those who will continue to do so — actually don’t know how to operate any other way.

Owners and editors have come and gone, but the abiding spirit of this place has always been a little different — and more than a little quirky.

(Amen to that – we hope. Then again, there’s that wrecking ball new Herald owner Digital First Media has just taken to the Denver Post, which we noted yesterday.)

As is fitting and proper, Shelly also received an admiring tweetoff on the interwebs.

All best wherever you land next, Shelly. They’ll be lucky to have you.

‘Digital Worst Media’ a Herald of Bad News

New slogan for the Boston Herald: Cave emptoris.

Beware of the buyer.

The shaky local tabloid’s future must be flashing before its eyes thanks to the slow-motion dismantling of the Denver Post by owner Digital First Media, which is in the closing days of its Herald purchase.

From the Post’s own story:

Thirty jobs will be cut from the newsroom of The Denver Post in the coming months, Editor Lee Ann Colacioppo told her staff on Wednesday.

“These job losses are painful, and we know meaningful work will not get done because talented journalists have left the organization,” she said in a memo sent following a newsroom meeting. “I’m sure some commenters will cheer what they believe is the eventual demise of the mainstream media, but there is nothing to celebrate when a city has fewer journalists working in it.”

The Post newsroom currently has about 100 journalists . . .

Do we detect a note of bitterness there? Well, that’s nothing compared to how pissed off they are at News Matters, “a news guild project for Digital First Media workers.”

Denver Post newsroom slashed by 1/3 as hedge fund continues eviscerating Digital First Media papers

“A legal looting of the public trust.”

Nearly a third of the Denver Post’s newsroom will be laid off, management told staff Wednesday as the paper’s hedge fund owners continue slashing jobs to maintain high profit levels.

“The Denver Post had its heart ripped out Wednesday when the company announced layoffs of 30 Newsroom employees – 25 workers and five managers,” the Denver Newspaper Guild said in a statement.

“The layoffs are driven by owner Alden Global’s greed and its desperate attempt to recoup more than $130 million in investment losses from the Fred’s Pharmacy fiasco,” the statement said.

For more on Alden Global’s lack of investment proficiency, see here. Pete Vernon at Columbia Journalism Review’s The Media Today has more on the hedge fund’s “pattern of gutting newsrooms and selling off valuable office space to squeeze profit from the industry.”

From the looks of it, anyone searching for office space on Fargo Street should call Digital First first.

Hexit Watch™: Matt Stout Jumps to Boston Globe

Second in what we expect will be a long-running series

Well that was quick.

When we last saw Boston Herald State House reporter Matt Stout, which was less than a week ago, he was chronicling the very entertaining Massachusetts Senate president throwdown.

That piece ran on the Herald website the same day this Stout piece ran in the shaky local tabloid’s print edition under the banner headline “Patrick May Now Have 2020 Vision.”

So imagine our surprise when this piece appeared on the Boston Globe’s website two days later (tip o’ the pixel to Jay Fitzgerald at MASSterList).

For the byline impaired: Matt Stout, Globe Staff.

(Oddly enough, the Patrick story in the Globe’s print edition that day was written by Michael Levenson. But whatever.)

Regardless of those twists and turns, Matt Stout is now firmly ensconced at the Boston Globe, yet another Herald journalist who’s put new owner Digital First Media in his rear-view mirror.

Maybe they should call it Digital Frost Media, yeah?

American Prospect: Boston Herald Prospects Dim

Since last month’s announcement that Digital First Media had won the Boston Herald auction bakeoff, there’s been a steady drumbeat of prebituaries for the shaky local tabloid.

The Boston Globe’s Jon Chesto and Andy Rosen predicted a rolling thunder of staff reductions, while Nieman Journalism Lab director Joshua Benton said flat-out “to be owned by Digital First is to be gutted.”

Now comes this piece (tip o’ the pixel to MASSterList) in The American Prospect by Hildy Zenger, which is the pen name (Hildy for Hildy Johnson, Zenger for John Peter Zenger) of “a writer who works for a newspaper owned by a private equity firm”).

Hello Digital First, Goodbye Boston Herald

Just before Robert Kuttner and I filed our American Prospect article on the rape of the newspaper industry by private equity predators in December (“Saving the Free Press from Private Equity”), the prime nemesis of our story, GateHouse Media, bid $4.5 million to buy the 171-year-old Boston Herald, which declared bankruptcy the same day. The deal was conditioned on voiding union contracts and deep-sixing legacy pension, health, and other obligations. “Major layoffs in the newspaper’s 120-person newsroom are a certainty,” we wrote, in the context of GateHouse’s dismal record of gutting editorial staffs at its 770 daily and weekly newspapers.

But GateHouse was then elbowed aside by Digital First Media, whose $11.9 million bid won the February 13 bankruptcy auction in Boston, indicating that the DFM bean-counters have calculated a more profitable but probably even bloodier endgame for the venerable Herald, whose days are now surely numbered, according to industry observers.

The estimable newspaper analyst Ken Doctor “predicted that DFM would get its money out of the deal within three years at most, then declare bankruptcy and sell off the emaciated remains of the business for whatever they can get for it.”

So now the Herald’s plight has gone national. Not a good sign, people. Not a good sign at all.

Also . . .

From our newly minted Hexit Watch™

The inevitable exodus from Fargo Street has mostly proceeded under the radar, but here’s a significant departure: Former Deputy Managing Editor for News and Multimedia Zuri Berry has hied himself to Charlotte, NC. From his Twitter feed:

Best of luck in the Tar Heel State, Zuri.

Digital First’s Boston Herald Rx: Apply Internally

When last we met, the sadreading staff noted two ominous takes on the future of the Boston Herald under the new ownership of Digital First Media.

First, the Boston Globe’s Jon Chesto and Andy Rosen made this prediction: “[I]ndustry experts and former employees said that if [Digital First] sticks to the playbook it uses at many of its other newspapers around the country, the Herald should brace for more cost-cutting beyond the 60 or so positions that are expected to be eliminated when the sale closes later this spring.”

On the Globe’s op-ed page, Nieman Journalism Lab director Joshua Benton was even more bleak, citing the dismal track record of Digital First’s parent company, Alden Global Capital.

Alden’s methods fall under the rubric of what some call vulture capitalism: Buy up papers, sell off whatever assets you can (like their offices downtown), and cut costs to the bone. The end game is to be sold off, or just shut down. To be owned by Digital First is to be gutted.

Ouch.

Especially considering this full-page ad in today’s edition of the shaky local tabloid.

Despite its best efforts, that ad looks an awful lot like ave atque vale. Because who knows how many of those “wonderful people” will be around a month from now.

From Greg Ryan at the Boston Business Journal:

Herald’s new owner to begin making job offers next week

The soon-to-be owner of the Boston Herald will start making job offers to current Herald employees next week, according to a letter sent to workers on Thursday, with the newspaper’s staff expected to be cut by more than 25 percent from its levels at the end of 2017.

Denver-based Digital First Media won a bankruptcy auction on Feb. 13 to acquire the Herald’s parent company from Pat Purcell for just under $12 million, beating out GateHouse Media and Florida private equity firm Revolution Capital Group.

Digital First has committed to offering jobs to 175 current Herald staffers . . .  Employees have been interviewing to keep their jobs since last week.

But here’s the kicker: “At this point, it is not known whether those employees who are hired will receive their current salary.” Never mind sick time, vacation time, and healthcare plans, all of which are still undetermined.

And pensions? From all the evidence, that’s another ave atque vale.

Double ouch.

Globe: New Herald Owner Is a Double Whammy

Today’s Boston Globe has a two-fisted reaction to the result of this week’s Boston Herald bake sale (which, by the way, was rubber-stamped by a Delaware bankruptcy court this morning).

Begin with the piece by Jon Chesto and Andy Rosen in the Globe’s Business section.

Digital First’s playbook suggests more cuts at Herald

Solid profit targets and shareholder returns called key

Digital First Media hasn’t yet made its vision for the Boston Herald public, as it goes before a bankruptcy judge Friday for approval of its $12 million purchase of the struggling tabloid.

But industry experts and former employees said that if the company sticks to the playbook it uses at many of its other newspapers around the country, the Herald should brace for more cost-cutting beyond the 60 or so positions that are expected to be eliminated when the sale closes later this spring.

If that was a jab, Joshua Benton’s op-ed is the haymaker. The Nieman Journalism Lab director went smashmouth on Digital First Media, “the nom de pillage of what used to be known as the Journal Register Co. and MediaNews Group.” Digital First is owned by the hedge fund Alden Capitol Group, which gets a good beatdown by Benton.

Alden’s methods fall under the rubric of what some call vulture capitalism: Buy up papers, sell off whatever assets you can (like their offices downtown), and cut costs to the bone. The end game is to be sold off, or just shut down. To be owned by Digital First is to be gutted.

Read the piece all the way to this end: “[S]hort of setting the place on fire, being bought by Digital First is about the worst outcome possible. It’s less the Herald being saved than the Herald being stripped for parts.”

The death watch begins . . . now.

Three’s a Cloud Over Boston Herald Auction

Part One: New News

Boston Herald stalwart Brian Dowling is out with a report today that Digital First Media, which last week was kicking the tires at Fargo Street, is ready to make an offer.

Third bid’s in for Herald

Bankruptcy auction is Tuesday

Newspaper chain Digital First Media has put in the third bid for the Boston Herald, which will be sold off next week in a court-organized bankruptcy auction.

Lawyers for the Herald confirmed the bid was made by MediaNews Group, the corporate name for Digital First. A representative from the Herald’s bankruptcy law firm Brown Rudnick said the bid is being reviewed to determine whether it qualifies the company for Tuesday’s bankruptcy auction.

No details of the bid are public, but Dowling says that to qualify for the auction, “a new bid must come in at least $600,000 over either of the two existing offers for the paper.”

As our kissing’ cousins at Two-Daily Town previously noted, however, what’s even more crucial than how much is bid, is how the bid has been configured.

Revolution is offering $3 million cash for the company, agreeing to honor $750,000 of paid time off for employees who join the company, and is pledging to pay out $2 million in severance.

Crosstown at the Boston Globe, Jon Chesto reminds us what the deal is with GateHouse.

“GateHouse proposed paying $4.5 million in cash, as well as at least $500,000 in assumed liabilities, including paid time off owed to employees.”

Unless our math skills fail us, that means Herald owner Pat Purcell gets $1.5 million less from a sale to Revolution, while employees at the shaky local tabloid get $2.25 million more.

Let’s see whose pot is sweetest when – if – the details of Digital First’s offer emerge.

Part Two: No News

Dowling also reports today that this week’s auction will be invitation only – and he’s not getting one.

The Herald is refusing to admit one of its reporters to the newspaper’s bankruptcy auction next week, calling the court-organized sale a “private process,” while the paper’s largest union is worried the presence of a reporter could “chill the bidding.”

That rare instance of union-management accord says a lot about what a highwire act this sale has become. Apparently, Dowling now represents the net both sides are willing to work without.

More Monkey Bidness at the Shaky Local Tabloid

For those of you keeping score at home, there’s now another suitor – and potentially more ominous news – for the beleaguered Boston Herald.

Brian Dowling reported in today’s edition that a possible third bidder is kicking the tires on Fargo Street.

Digital First may put bid on paper

Digital First Media is interviewing editors at the Boston Herald in connection with a potential bid to buy the newspaper.

Mike Burbach, an editor at the Pioneer Press in Minnesota, a Digital First publication, told managers at the Herald yesterday in an email from his newspaper account that he and other representatives of MNG-BH Acquisition LLC will be “coming to your offices” this coming week to conduct interviews.

Dowling also notes that “Digital First owns two daily newspapers in Massachusetts: the Lowell Sun and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.”

That would be the same Sentinel & Enterprise the Boston Business Journal just reported is going virtual.

Fitchburg daily newspaper to eliminate brick-and-mortar newsroom

Next month, for the first time in 180 years, the daily Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise may no longer have a physical office in Fitchburg.

The newspaper, which is owned by Denver, Colorado-based Digital First Media, is switching to what it’s calling a “virtual newsroom” model by the end of February or sooner. Jim Campanini, editor of the Sentinel and Enterprise and the Lowell Sun, told the Business Journal in an interview that the plan is intended to save money, but that the paper is in no danger of closing entirely. In fact, he boasted that the paper just hired a new reporter as well as two videographers.

“It’s our time to create this model of innovation,” Campanini told the BBJ’s Don Seiffert. “I look upon this as discovery. We’re explorers, really.”

Swell. But do they have a compass?

Regardless, the redoubtable Dan Kennedy of Media Nation told the BBJ he’s heard worse ideas. “Cutting rent is certainly better than cutting staff,” he said in an email.

The question is, if Digital First buys the Herald, would Fargo Street become a teardown too?