GateHouse keeps cutting

Worcester publication is down to just one staffer

LOCAL JOURNALISM Is a field full of landmines. One day a reporter could have a job, and the next day he or she is laid off. Possibly even worse, the reporter could be left as the sole staffer to put out an entire paper, which is what happened to Bill Shaner, a columnist for Worcester Magazine.

Shaner’s colleagues, editor Walter Bird Jr. and culture editor Joshua Lyford, were laid off as part of a set of broader layoffs by GateHouse Media. The loss of two out of Worcester Magazine’s three remaining editorial staffers leaves Shaner to put out a paper by himself. And from his recent tweets looking for freelancers to help, and what it takes to publish a weekly, he’s in over his head. Gatehouse put him there, along with the axing of six staffers at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Gatehouse announced last week that it was laying off about 200 employees in a company reorganization. Mike Reed, the CEO of GateHouse parent New Media Investment Group, told Poynter last week that this was “a small restructuring, which I’m sure will be misreported.” He said the company has 11,000 employees.

During this round of layoffs, at least 45 newsrooms were impacted, according to Business Insider. Andrew Pantazi, a reporter at the Florida Times-Union, has been tracking the layoffs in an Excel spreadsheet, which shows a total of 25 people laid off across Massachusetts, including some at the Herald News in Fall River, the Standard Times in New Bedford, and the Patriot Ledger in Quincy.

Eventually, companies like GateHouse won’t have many reporters left to axe. The Associated Press reported in March that more than 1,400 cities and towns in the US have lost a newspaper in the past 15 years. That trend doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon.

Shareholders of New Media Investment, the corporate parent of GateHouse Media, last week rejected a proposed compensation plan that included $1.7 million for GateHouse CEO Kirk Davis. It would appear investors are nervous that shares of New Media Investment are down 45 percent from a year ago. The shareholders approved a $100 million stock buyback program to help increase share prices.

Lyford and Bird Jr. published their own newsroom obituaries today. “I know this,” wrote Bird Jr. “Worcester and Central Mass deserve great journalism and people like the amazing folks who, for even the slightest bit of time over the past 40-plus years, toiled in some capacity for Worcester Magazine.”

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

Lyford was a little more morose. “I am sad that this is my final column and sadder still that there isn’t much of a state of journalism out there to look forward to,” he wrote. “There is much more I want to say here, about how limp this ending is and how it didn’t have to be, but it’s more important to me that this goodbye gets published than it is to be upset with the factors that led to this.”

Shaner perhaps put it best on Twitter. “Today Gatehouse Media laid off Worcester Magazine’s editor and arts editor. I am the only editorial staffer left, with a full paper to put out next week. Pray for me.”