Hexit Watch™: It’s -35- for Steve Bulpett

From the never-ending evisceration of the Boston Herald

More Grim Reaper action yesterday at the shrinky local tabloid. From Jenna Ciccotelli at boston.com.

Longtime Celtics writer Steve Bulpett part of latest round of Boston Herald layoffs

Steve Bulpett, who has covered the Celtics both at home and on the road longer than anyone in franchise history, announced Wednesday that he has been laid off from The Boston Herald.

Bulpett, a North Shore native with roots in Lynn and Swampscott, was in his 35th season of covering the Celtics. The University of Dayton graduate has earned multiple Associated Press Sports Editor Top 10 honors . . .

This is the second round of recent layoffs for the newspaper, which cut at least half a dozen employees in April, including longtime sportswriter John “Jocko” Connolly, Boston Bruins reporter Marisa Ingemi, and sports editor Justin Pelletier.

Let’s stipulate that it’s amazing the Herald even publishes every day, given that, according to Don Seiffert at Boston Business Journal, “[t]he size of the Boston Herald has gone from about 240 employees at the end of 2017, before its purchase by MediaNews Group, to just a few dozen today.”

Boston Herald Circulation Down by 1/3rd in 3 Years

The shrinky local tabloid has experienced knee-buckling drops in circulation over the past three years, according to Don Seifert’s piece in today’s Boston Business Journal (tip o’ the pixel to the redoubtable Dan Kennedy).

Boston Herald print circulation sees biggest drop in three years

The Boston Herald’s weekday print circulation saw a bigger drop in the first three months of 2018, as measured from the previous quarter, than it’s seen in at least the past three years.

The newspaper’s weekday average print circulation fell to 40,914 during the first quarter of 2018, according to a report the Herald filed this week with the Alliance for Audited Media.

That’s a drop in circulation of nearly 3,200 subscribers — about 7.2 percent — from the fourth quarter of 2017. It marks the largest three-month decline in the paper’s weekday print circulation since at least 2015.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the big picture is even bleaker. “Over three years, the paper’s weekday print circulation has decreased by 19,145, or 32 percent. That’s nearly twice as much as the 17 percent decline the Boston Globe has seen from the beginning of 2015 to the fourth quarter of 2017, the most recent quarter for which AAM has data.”

So, to recap: The Globe is in decline, the Herald’s in free fall. That can’t be good news for Digital First Media. But it’s even worse news for the remaining staffers at the shaky local tabloid.

Digital First Takes Knife to Boston Herald Again

The clearcutters at Digital Worst – sorry, First – Media are at it again, engineering a Memorial Day Massacre at Fargo Street, according to Greg Ryan’s report in the Boston Business Journal (tip o’ the pixel to @EBMason).

Digital First lays off Boston Herald managers, workers

Digital First Media, the new owner of the Boston Herald, laid off at least six employees on the commercial side of the newspaper on Friday, according to a union representative.

A marketing manager and automotive sales manager were among those who lost their jobs, as were a receptionist and three employees in the paper’s financial services department, which handles billing and other tasks, said Donna Marks, a Herald employee who took over as president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston earlier this week.

The cuts come in the midst of a steady exodus of Herald staffers who had survived Digital First’s original bloodbath right after it purchased the shaky local tabloid. (See our Hexit Watch™ for a partial list.)

Sad as it may be, what’s happening at the Herald is very much newspaper business as usual according to this piece by Bloomberg’s Gerry Smith.

Several hedge funds have become newspaper barons in recent years. Alden Global now owns about 60 daily newspapers through a subsidiary, Digital First Media. New Media Investment Group, which is managed and controlled by private-equity firm Fortress, owns almost 150 newspapers in smaller towns like Columbus, Ohio, and Providence, Rhode Island, through a unit, GateHouse Media. And hedge fund Chatham Asset Management LLC is one of the largest shareholders and bondholders in McClatchy Co., publisher of the Charlotte Observer and Miami Herald.

Helpful chart:

Smith adds, “’They’re not reinvesting in the business,’ Ken Doctor, a longtime newspaper analyst and president of the website Newsonomics, said about Alden Global. ‘It’s dying and they are going to make every dollar they can on the way down.’”

Two certainties at the Boston Herald: 1) They’ve got company at over 200 other U.S. newspapers, and 2) They all face the same future of death by a thousand paper cuts.

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.

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?