Are the vultures circling the Herald?

McGovern offers glimpse of Digital First’s approach

BOB MCGOVERN OFFERS the first inside glimpse of what’s left of the Boston Herald after the newspaper’s purchase by Digital First Media — and it isn’t pretty.

McGovern, who covered legal matters for the tabloid, left the Herald on Friday and on Monday published a somewhat rambling account of the newspaper’s plunge into bankruptcy and its purchase for nearly $12 million by Digital First, a hedge-fund-backed operation with a reputation for cutting spending and delivering high profit margins. In Massachusetts, Digital First also owns the Lowell Sun, the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg, and the weekly Valley Dispatch in Lowell.

The concerns raised by McGovern echo those raised by other Digital First publications. The company faced an open rebellion in April at the Denver Post from editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett, who put together a package of stories condemning the “vulture capitalists” running the firm and urging them to sell the newspaper to someone interested in doing “good journalism.”

The rebellion spread to the Boulder Daily Camera, where Dave Krieger was fired after he published an editorial critical of Digital First on a blog after Digital First refused to run it. One of Krieger’s concerns was the recent decision to eliminate the position of business editor. “Imagine a daily paper without a business editor trying to cover a town that considers itself the high-tech and startup capital of Colorado,” he wrote.

Digital First, which is controlled by Alden Global Capital of New York City, said nothing and kept on cutting. “We received nothing to assuage fears. There was no push back,” McGovern said of the Boston Herald’s new owners. “The conveyor belt kept moving with more wire copy and fewer hands on deck.”

The Boston Herald masthead before the March 19 ownership change (above), which lists the paper’s editorial page editor and deputy editorial page editor. The new masthead (below) only lists the new publisher and editor-in-chief Joe Sciacca.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

According to McGovern, the already short-staffed Herald has lost a lot of its reporters and editors since Digital First’s purchase. At its headquarters, the Herald now occupies one floor rather than two.The business section is down to one reporter. The sports section is crammed into a corner with no TVs. Deadlines were moved up to 7 p.m. as the paper shifted its printing contract from the Boston Globe to the Providence Journal.

“Perhaps things will change, but I have a lingering fear they won’t,” McGovern wrote. “I worry that buying newspapers out of bankruptcy will prove to be financially prudent for investors. On its face, the purchase will seem virtuous and good. It will keep a news outlet alive, and it will keep people employed. But I wonder what the cost will be when already depleted newsrooms are boiled down to skeleton crews. At some point, a newspaper becomes a once-proud masthead riding on an empty vessel. I don’t think that’s good for the community, and I don’t think it’s good for journalism.”