MassLive staff faces furloughs, wage cuts

News site owner says COVID-19 has hurt revenues

THE OWNER OF SPRINGFIELD-BASED MassLive notified employees on Wednesday that many of them will be furloughed and have their wages cut.

Caroline Harrison, CEO of Advance Local Media LLC, which owns MassLive, sent an email to staff outlining plans to implement wage reductions from May through December and require most employees to take two-week furloughs over the next few months.

The wage reductions will scale upward from 2 to 20 percent, with those employees making the most money facing the higher reductions. Harrison said employees making less than $35,000 will not see their salaries cut. She said pay levels could be restored faster if the economy turns around faster.

Health insurance will remain uninterrupted, but 401ks will not be matched through the end of the year.

“Like every other local news and information company in the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a significant decline in our revenue,” said Harrison in the email. “And, just like the vast majority of these companies, it is necessary for us to take some immediate steps to mitigate our losses and protect our long-term viability.”

MassLive has no paywall and is known for its breaking news stories, and its growth strategy, placing reporters in Worcester, Boston, and at the State House.  The organization has around 50 staff members. In February, MassLive was named the best website in New England by the New England Newspaper & Press Association.

Although the publication is free, MassLive today rolled out a $10-a-month voluntary subscription model for readers.

Ed Kubosiak, MassLive’s vice president of content, made the request in a letter to readers, but didn’t mention the wage cuts or furloughs. He said that advertising at the publication has decreased significantly.

Several reporters at MassLive were approached for comment but all declined.

Advance mentioned the CARES ACT federal stimulus package as a possible relief during the furlough period, and mentioned additional state benefits might be available. The CARES Act, passed by Congress at the end of March, allows for an addition $600 in unemployment benefits per week through July 2020.

While the announcement by Advance is alarming, it is still a softer blow than what the Cleveland Plain Dealer, another Advance property, was dealt in Ohio. There, ten journalists were laid off voluntarily, leaving only four reporters.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, 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 long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, 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.

Several other local news outlets are facing cutbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic. Gannett, which merged with GateHouse Media last year, announced layoffs and furloughs at the end of March.

More than a dozen Massachusetts newspapers are owned by the company, including the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Brockton Enterprise and Cape Cod Times. Many staff members making $38,000 or more will be furloughed for one week a month through June.

Similarly, the Newspapers of New England, which owns The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton and the Greenfield Recorder laid off 13 employees in March.