When your head is on the chopping block, does it really matter who’s wielding the ax?
That may be a bit of a harsh metaphor for the sale of the Boston Herald — but not by much. The tabloid was looking at one of three potential owners all with a history of slashing costs after taking over newspapers.
In a five-hour bidding process for the bankrupt paper, Digital First, owner of the Denver Post and Orange County Register and dozens of other publications around the country as well as the Lowell Sun and Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise here, came out ahead with an $11.9 million bid, more than double what GateHouse Media had initially offered. [Correction: The initial version of this story erroneously stated Digital First owns the Berkshire Eagle. The paper was sold to a group of local businessmen in 2016.]
“GateHouse did not see these guys coming,” Ken Doctor, a media analyst and columnist for Harvard’s Neiman Foundation for Journalism, told the Boston Globe. “There aren’t many buyers out there. They thought it would be theirs.”
Indeed, GateHouse has been the bigfoot buyer of newspaper fire sales around the country in recent years, gobbling up struggling publications at low cost to add to its portfolio and then cutting and slashing to recoup its investment.
But they apparently are no longer the only player in the bargain-basement bin as evidenced by the fact that once Herald Publisher Pat Purcell announced his agreement with GateHouse to sell the paper for $4.5 million – and rid itself of liabilities, including pension obligations through bankruptcy – in stepped Revolution Capital Group with a slightly better offer, though with similar plans as GateHouse to lop off about 25 percent of the workforce on Day One. Then the dam broke with the entry of MediaNews Group, the corporate name for Digital First.
“Even a property that’s in pretty bad shape is attractive to somebody, and especially attractive to people who have a big chain and can do a number of things in a centralized way and are practiced in reducing expenses,” Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute in Florida, told the Globe’s Jon Chesto, a former Herald reporter and editor who also worked for GateHouse, giving him a slew of insider info.
Purcell refused to let reporters cover the auction at the paper’s law firm but union president Brian Whelan said Revolution, which is owned by a one-time Herald intern, was the first to drop out, leaving GateHouse and Digital First to battle it out. The end result is there will be jobs, though whose and how many are still up in the air.
“The Herald is still alive,” Whelan told his paper as he left the law office. “The devil is in the details and I don’t have any yet.”
It’s unclear what the $11.9 million purchase price entails, how much is cash and how much is assuming liability. A federal bankruptcy judge will have to approve the agreement on Friday. One issue is who will print the paper? The Globe, which is one of the Herald’s biggest creditors, has been printing the paper for several years, first at the old Dorchester headquarters and now at its new printing facility in Taunton.
Had GateHouse won the bid, they have their own printing facilities around the state and would have likely brought it in-house. Now, Digital First will have to find a printer because it’s unlikely they have the presses to run off the tab and deliver it to newsstands around the city. So the Globe may not yet be out a customer.
But the larger question for those who care about journalism is what will the paper look like? Like GateHouse and Revolution, Digital First intends to keep only 175 of the paper’s 240 employees but who they are and where they work is undetermined. Herald reporter O’Ryan Johnson, chairman of the editorial unit of the Greater Boston Newspaper Guild, said the union had some brief talks with Digital First like they did with the other two bidders but no solid plans or promises emerged.
“We had some initial conversations with Digital First last week, and they were cordial and we look forward to talking to them moving forward,” Johnson said. “It was a long day. We’re happy that Boston is remaining a two-newspaper town. We’re thrilled that our members are still going to have jobs.”
Maybe Johnson and others shouldn’t get too settled just yet, though. Digital First has been slashing and burning at its California papers and the company has had its CEO post vacant since the last chief executive left last year, with no indications they are in a rush to write that check.
“If they’re the winner, there’s a real concern about the stability of the journalistic operation [of the Herald] going forward,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Neiman Lab.
Massachusetts has the highest rate of reported child abuse and neglect cases in the country, though advocates say it’s a result of lower threshold for mandated reporting and heightened awareness. (Gloucester Times)
No quick consensus emerged at a Boston City Council hearing on Mayor Marty Walsh’s proposed ordinance to regulate home-sharing services like Airbnb, with some questioning whether the measure goes too far and others wondering if it goes far enough. (Boston Globe)
Fall River City Councilor Steven Camara, who has a history of delinquencies and foreclosure notices, once again failed to pay his federally funded mortgage for the last three months on one of the rental properties he owns in the city. (Herald News)
Framingham Mayor Yvonne Spicer is defending her purchase of a $43,000 SUV, complete with emergency lights, with city funds for her own use. (MetroWest Daily News)
Mashpee selectmen voted to extend a mutual aid agreement for public safety services to the Mashpee Wampanoag tribal land through the end of the year despite no joint meeting between the town and tribal officials to discuss shared priorities. (Cape Cod Times)
A Lowell city councilor has asked the board’s president to rearrange seating and move the councilor next to her after she said he touched her arm several times in anger during a heated debate. (Lowell Sun)
Just six weeks into his new job, Lynn Mayor Thomas McGee has asked the City Council to approve a home-rule petition for a $16 million, 10-year bond to close the FY 2018 and 2019 budget deficits. (The Item)
The Hadley police chief has invited an Amherst business owner to talk with him after the 29-year-old man said on social media he has been stopped three times in the past year in what he claims were incidences of racial profiling. (The Republican)
Three members of the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corp., a legislatively created nine-person board, resigned over frustration with the lack of authority and local support. (Cape Cod Times)
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the chamber would move on from the immigration debate unless senators come to an agreement this week after Democrats blocked an amendment that would withhold funds from sanctuary cities. (U.S. News & World Report)
The head of the FBI contradicted the White House timeline on what it knew about the abuse allegations against former chief secretary Rob Porter, saying the bureau gave the administrations reports months before officials said they knew about the charges. (New York Times)
Firm evidence: More than a year after taking office, President Trump has yet to name a White House science adviser, the longest the position has ever sat vacant since it was created under Franklin Roosevelt. (Boston Globe)
Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer who has denied there was any relationship between his client and porn star Stormy Daniels, said he paid her $130,000 out of his own pocket and was not reimbursed by Trump or the campaign. (New York Times)
A lawyer for the New Hampshire woman who won a $650 million lottery payout argues in court there for her right to remain anonymous. (Boston Globe)
State Rep. Keiko Orrall of Lakeville announces her intention to run for state treasurer, the first Republican to enter the race against incumbent Democrat Deb Goldberg. (State House News)
Beth Lindstrom goes on the offensive against Republican rival for US Senate John Kingston, saying the party doesn’t need another “white, rich male” to go up against Sen. Elizabeth Warren. (Boston Herald)
Paul D. Craney, a board member of the conservative group MassFiscal, says attempts by state officials to force disclosure of donor identity by issues organizations such as his violates the constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. (CommonWealth)
The Massachusetts Republican Party appears to be violating its own rules against taking sides in contested primaries by aiding efforts by Gov. Charlie Baker to secure nominating signatures for reelection. (Boston Globe)
Jeff Jacoby laments the fact that the Tea Party is dead and gone, swallowed by a Republican Party that has utterly abandoned its principles of fiscal restraint. (Boston Globe)
Dozens of students and faculty members at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester protested the administration’s decision to keep the name “Crusaders” for the school’s athletic teams, with critics saying it ignores the violence crusaders inflicted on non-Christians. (Telegram & Gazette)
A 6-year-old Haverhill girl appears to be the first child in Massachusetts to die this year from complications from the flu. (Eagle Tribune)
A report by a patient advocacy watchdog group says there are “disturbing similarities” between the 2015 death of a woman at the psychiatric care Pembroke Hospital and a man four months earlier at Westwood Lodge, both facilities owned by the troubled Arbour Health Systems. (Patriot Ledger)
The MBTA trolley driver who was at the helm during a trolley crash in late December has a lengthy driving record, including license suspensions, which the T says it was not aware of at the time of the crash. (Boston Herald)
George Bachrach and Elizabeth Henry, past and present presidents, respectively, of the Environmental League of Massachusetts, say Gov. Charlie Baker has not kept his 2014 campaign promise to fund environmental programs at 1 percent of the state budget. (CommonWealth)
The chairman of the state Cannabis Control Commission said the panel is feeling no added pressure despite comments from top elected officials calling on the board to slow down on approving broad regulations beyond just retail stores, cultivation and manufacturing facilities, and testing labs. (CommonWealth)
Two black columnists for the Boston Globe, Adrian Walker and Renee Graham, take the Boston Police Department to task for its Black History Month tweet celebrating the late Celtics president Red Auerbach for being the first NBA executive to draft a black player, field an all-black starting five, and hire a black coach, saying the recognition of a white man shows that Boston still doesn’t get it when it comes to race issues. As if to underscore the divide, two white male columnists for the Boston Herald, Joe Fitzgerald and Michael Graham, call out critics and say it was perfectly appropriate to salute Auerbach.
Shirley Leung claims three more victories in her campaign to get advertisers to cancel promotions on WEEI because of the radio station’s history of offensive banter by its sports talk show hosts. (Boston Globe) A radio consultant and professor of media studies at Lesley University says the station would be well served to jettison the outrageous commentary and go back to its “bread and butter” (though some might say that is the offensive comments its hosts weave through their sports talk). (Boston Herald)
Jack Hynes, long regarded as the dean of Boston television newscasters, died at age 88. (Boston Globe)