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.