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.

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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?