Hexit Watch™: Mark Garfinkel Shuttered at Herald

Photojournalist extraordinaire Mark Garfinkel posted this melancholy tweet on his Twitter feed this morning. (Tip o’ the pixel to the redoubtable Dan Kennedy via Facebook.)

Jack Sullivan at CommonWealth Magazine has the gory details about Garfinkel – and others.

More cuts at the Herald

Tabloid lays off two photographers, half the sports desk

THE STRUGGLING BOSTON HERALD laid off about 20 more staffers Thursday, including at least two award-winning veteran photographers for a tabloid that thrives on pictures . . .

Calls to several Herald officials, including editor Joe Sciacca, were not returned. Beyond the photo department, it’s unclear who else was laid off. Sources said five people on the nine-person sports copy desk were let go.

Sullivan goes on to tote up the damage since Digital Fist – sorry, First – Media bought the  shaky local tabloid: “Since February, when Digital First took over, the paper has lost more than half of the 225 people who worked there, with about 110 employees, including an estimated 12 news reporters, remaining before Thursday’s cuts.”

The outsourcing caused by those cuts has become increasingly apparent. Two months ago, the Boston Business Journal reported [subscription required] that “Digital First Media, the parent company of the Boston Herald, is laying off nine advertising representatives at the paper in what’s being called a ‘consolidation’ of the department with others at the company.”

On Tuesday, this ad appeared in the shrinky local tabloid.

Adtaxi is Digital First’s clearinghouse for ad placement, which describes itself with gobbledygook like this:

Taking an omnichannel approach, Adtaxi offers a true full-funnel solution powered by our intelligent optimization technology, Quantum, that drives performance to the conversion metrics that matter most to your business.

A Herald sales rep wouldn’t be caught dead talking like that.

But a dead paper walking? Sure.

Hexit Watch™: Steve Buckley Intentionally Walks

Chalk up another significant departure from the shrinky local tabloid.

Yesterday morning the sadreading staff noticed an item tucked away in the Boston Globe Sports Log column.

That was soon followed by this Chad Finn piece on the Globe’s website.

Herald columnist Steve Buckley leaving for The Athletic

Longtime Boston Herald sports columnist Steve Buckley is leaving the newspaper to join The Athletic Boston website, industry sources confirmed Thursday night.

Buckley, 62, has been with the Herald since 1995. Before joining the Herald, he wrote for The National sports daily among other outlets.

A University of Massachusetts graduate, he has made frequent appearances on Boston sports television and radio throughout his career, and has authored several books, including Wicked Good Year on the 2007 seasons of Boston’s major sports franchises. He is also the founder of the annual Oldtime Baseball Game in Cambridge.

As WEEI’s Alex Reimer noted yesterday, “[w]ith Buckley now presumably out the door, the Boston Herald is left without any general sports columnists.”

The “presumably” is there because, Reimer wrote, “Buck, annoyingly, wouldn’t confirm the news to me in a text message. Perhaps that’s his revenge for spending so many hours with me inside of a radio studio.”

No comment.

Coincidentally, the scraggly local tabloid did announce an addition to its sports desk earlier this week.

Good luck to Marisa Ingemi boarding the Good Slip – sorry, Ship – Herald, and bon voyage to Steve Buckley, a true pro and a real loss for the shaky local tabloid.

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.

Boston Herald Editorial Page To Be Silenced?

When we last left Digital First Mishegas – sorry, Media – last month, the Denver Post editorial board was begging the newspaper group’s owner, New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, to sell the Post.

Denver deserves a newspaper owner who supports its newsroom. If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell The Post to owners who will.

The proximate cause of that plea was a looming 30% cut in the Post’s newsroom – a mystery, the editorial said, “as many [Digital First] newspapers still enjoy double-digit profits and our management reported solid profits as recently as last year.”

How solid?

Rock solid, as media guru Ken Doctor just detailed for Nieman Lab: “DFM reported a 17 percent operating margin — well above those of its peers — in its 2017 fiscal year, along with profits of almost $160 million. That’s the fruit of the repeated cutbacks that have left its own shrinking newsrooms in a state of rebellion.”

This week Denver Post editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett wrote another piece blowtorching Alden, but that one was rejected, which triggered Plunkett’s resignation.

“I was being boxed in so that I couldn’t speak,” Plunkett told CNN’s Brian Stelter. “How can I be silent at this point?”

Ironically, Plunkett may have silenced every editorial voice at Digital First’s newspapers.

[Plunkett] also said “there is active consideration of doing away with the editorial pages throughout the company.” He means “at all the papers” owned by Digital First Media . . .

That would include the Boston Herald, which coincidentally has just gotten its editorial page sorted out.

As CommonWealth Magazine’s Michael Jonas recently chronicled, after Digital First’s purchase of the Herald, it had no editorial page editor. But then it did.

Tom Shattuck, a former talk radio producer who has run the paper’s online radio station and written op-ed columns, will replace Rachelle Cohen, the paper’s longtime editorial page editor who left last month when Digital First Media took ownership of the Herald.

Except soon, according to Plunkett, he might not.

Put aside any opinions about Shattuck himself, whom Jonas calls “an unwavering cheerleader for President Trump, a sharp departure from the editorial page under Cohen.”

Representative sample: The editorial in today’s smoochy local tabloid under the headline Media distortion hits new lows. Clunky-as-hell lede: “Another week has gone by in which the media covering the president of the United States has committed reckless malpractice more disgraceful than usual.”

People might say no great loss if that voice goes away. Beyond that, there’s exactly zero chance that the shaky local tabloid will ever go scorched-earth on Digital First.

Even so, no editorial voice at the Herald?

That would be just wrong.

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.

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.

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?

Will Busting Boston Herald Unions Bust the Herald?

For starters, the sadreading staff applauds the Boston Herald editors in general – and reporter Brian Dowling in particular – for birddogging the twists and turns of the shaky local tabloid’s attempt to sell itself to the highest bidder.

The latest drama began last Friday with this piece on the standoff between Herald union members and prospective buyers.

Unions fight Herald’s motion to kill contracts

Lawyers for the Herald’s unions are slamming the company’s bankruptcy plan to dissolve its collective bargaining agreements, claiming the newspaper didn’t negotiate in good faith and issuing a warning the move could spark a strike.

Teamsters Local 25 and the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston Local 31032 filed objections yesterday to the Herald’s motion to dismiss the union contracts as the newspaper’s bankruptcy case grinds on in Delaware.

The unions want “the fate of the union contracts [to] be decided after the bankruptcy auction and all potential buyers have emerged.”

Nuts to you graf:

“Employees may be left with no choice but to exercise their right to strike,” lawyers for the Newspaper Guild wrote, highlighting the unrest would only worsen the paper’s finances.

Yesterday’s edition of the Herald featured management’s response to the union’s call to action.

Herald says labor pacts must go or paper goes under

The Herald is firing back at union objections to its bankruptcy plan by arguing that if costly labor contracts aren’t axed, buyers will disappear and the newspaper will go under — leaving the paper’s creditors to sell off furniture, computers and other hard assets to recoup little of what they’re owed.

The newspaper, bankrupt since Dec. 8, said it has only attracted suitors for a Feb. 13 auction whose bids are contingent on having the collective bargaining agreements tossed.

“The only other outcome will be a fire-sale liquidation in which all jobs are lost and all creditors receive a fraction of the value currently expected,” the Herald’s lawyers wrote in a filing.

But . . .

Today’s edition of the Herald suggests there’s been a detente.

“The Herald and most of its unions have struck a deal over the company’s contentious plan to dissolve labor contracts that had sparked an exchange of strike threats and dire warnings that the newspaper could be forced to close its doors for good.

“The agreement filed today in U.S. bankruptcy court in Delaware cools tensions as the Communication Workers of America’s News Guild of Greater Boston — representing newsroom and commercial employees — agreed to back off its opposition to the newspaper’s plan to reject their collective bargaining agreements.”

It’s kinda complicated, so you should read the whole piece.  But this Jon Chesto item in today’s Boston Globe has the bottom line: “As part of the agreement with the unions, the successful bidder will make job offers to at least 175 Herald employees and recognize their vacation and severance rights.”

Here’s what hasn’t changed: “Newspaper giant GateHouse Media offered $5 million for the paper, and Los Angeles-based Revolution Media Group offered $5.75 million.”

Except it’s not that cut-and-dried, as our kissin’ cousins at Two Daily Town noted recently.

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.

Whichever one gets the paper is now required “to bargain with [the] unions as soon as possible after the closing of the sale.”

Yes well, “bargain” don’t mean agree. Let’s just hope it’s only the sale that closes.