Paper cuts at the Herald

More reductions as tabloid’s new owners to outsource advertising and layout

THE NEW OWNERS of the Boston Herald have told staff they will outsource all the paper’s advertising design and news page layout functions for the daily print edition to the company’s headquarters in Colorado, triggering elimination of at least half the copy editor and design positions.

The move is the latest round of cuts imposed by Digital First Media, which bought the paper out of bankruptcy in March. According to sources and social media postings by Herald staffers, the paper’s employees were told about the coming changes at a meeting on Tuesday.

Calls and emails to Herald officials as well as officials with the Newspaper Guild unit at the paper were not immediately returned.

Staffers were told that advertising design, which is already being run by a skeleton crew, will be outsourced by August, though who will be doing it is unclear. Herald officials also told the employees that the layout and design of the paper will be shifted by October to Boulder, where Digital First houses several of its functions, including editing, design, and IT for the nearly 100 publications, including 65 daily newspapers, it owns around the country.

The biggest change will be on the Herald copy desk, where copy editors double as page designers. In addition to several design employees, 10 to 15 of the 29 positions, many of them copy editors, will be eliminated when the workload is shifted west.

Until now, most of the cuts have been on the business and administrative side of the paper’s operations.

“Editorial has been the least affected,” one longtime employee told CommonWealth. “This looks like their turn.”

Digital First, notorious in the industry for buying distressed papers and then slashing to maximize profits, won a bidding war against two other competitors, including GateHouse Media, to buy the Herald out of bankruptcy for $12 million. The company, which is backed by the Wall Street hedge fund investment group Alden Capital, immediately cut the paper’s staff back from about 250 to 175. One source said there are now about 150 employees, including less than a dozen reporters.

In addition to the cuts, union members are slated to take a vote on a proposal from the trustees of the bankruptcy case filed by former owner Patrick Purcell to adjust the severance package for employees that is part of the collective bargaining agreement. While the severance amounts vary depending on the length of employment – many older employees get two weeks paid for every year they worked at the Herald, while those with less seniority get one week – the revised package would pay about 37 cents on the dollar to departing workers.

According to staff members at the Monday meeting, Digital First officials have decided to move the “ad building” responsibilities to Boulder. Ad building is the process of taking information, graphics, and art from an advertiser such as a car dealer and then creating the ad for the paper. Moving those responsibilities west will mean the elimination of several artists and graphic designers as well as some reductions in the sales force.

Advertising employees were told there will also be cuts there, but no hard numbers were offered. However, the department has already seen an exodus of top officials and a consolidation of responsibilities, with some wearing two or even three hats, according to sources.

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Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

The vice president of classified advertising was let go and the classified manager quit. In addition, a staff member who had been running the national and local display advertising has now assumed responsibility for classified as well. The new owners also fired one of the top marketing officials and sources said most of the circulation department employees have left or been laid off and not replaced.

The latest figures for the Herald, once a feisty tabloid competitor for the much larger Boston Globe, show the daily paper had a circulation of just under 41,000 for the first quarter of 2018, a drop of more than 7 percent from the last quarter of last year. Like most newspapers, the print edition has been dying for years. Herald circulation peaked at more than 320,000 in the mid-1990s.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the vote on a severance change was negotiated with Digital First Media. It is part of the bankruptcy case filed by former owner Patrick Purcell and does not involve Digital First.