GateHouse creates its own conflict

As the print news business continues to contract, there’s a push on by the suits in the corporate suites to find revenues wherever possible. That push can sometimes blur lines and create perception problems for the folks on the front lines of reporting.

GateHouse Media, one of the country’s largest chains of daily and weekly newspapers, could be one step away from creating a giant headache for its team of reporters and editors at the Patriot Ledger in Quincy. GateHouse is one of four companies that submitted a bid to city officials for a contract to market the redevelopment of Quincy Center.

The bid proposals, which were closed on Tuesday, list “cultivate positive media” as one of the aspects of the contract. It also lays out the need for the winning bidder to “develop and implement a marketing campaign that projects Quincy’s image and brand identity in print, broadcast, digital, and social media.” Need anyone say how troublesome that would be for a reporter or editor to run a less-than-flattering story about Mayor Thomas Koch or even increases in crime? Would that lead to the motives behind every positive Quincy story being questioned by skeptical readers?

Though Quincy borders Boston and is just a few miles from the Boston Globe’s Morrissey Boulevard offices, it has been the Ledger that has kept a close eye on the city for decades. Before moving to its current location in a suburban-style office park in 1988, the Ledger ran out of a downtown building in the shadow of Quincy City Hall. Not much went on that wasn’t witnessed by the paper’s troops at all levels.

It would not be the first union between GateHouse and Koch. GateHouse also owns Propel Marketing, a digital services company based in North Quincy, which will presumably handle the marketing contract if they win it. Since the start of last year’s reelection campaign, Koch has paid Propel $11,600 to handle his online presence, including a campaign website, social media interactions, and advertising, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The campaign records also show the company received nearly $7,200 from Koch’s brother-in-law, state Sen. John F. Keenan, to help devise a media plan.

GateHouse, no stranger to depleted coffers, has made a number of financial missteps before and since emerging from bankruptcy, not the least of which is the botched handling of the sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

One of the biggest problems in the sale was the revelation that prior to signing off on the deal, GateHouse officials in the Rochester, New York, headquarters ordered Review-Journal reporters to track three judges and their work habits for a potential story about judicial malfeasance. The reporting never saw print in Nevada but a scathing story did later appear in a Connecticut weekly that had connections to Adelson. And, it turned out, one of the targeted judges is overseeing a lawsuit against Adelson and has twice sanctioned Adelson’s lawyers. It’s questionable editorial abuses like that that raise the specter of conflicts in coverage.

Mike Reed, CEO of GateHouse/New Media Investment, denied any connection between the investigative story and the sale to Adelson in an interview with the industry blog Newsonomics. But his rationale for selling to Adelson gave clear insight into what’s controlling decisions in all areas of media companies.

“As a CEO of a public company my job is to maximize returns for shareholders,” Reed said. “If I can deploy that $140 million at investment multiples we’ve been paying for properties, then I can create a tremendous amount of value for the company. We’ll be able to expand our portfolio of newspapers tremendously, so it was the right thing to do for the company and the shareholders …. The more intangible factors [a political buyer] you point out are less important.”

Anyone see where it says use the cash to beef up coverage or hire more reporters and editors? GateHouse is still reeling from the fallout of the Review-Journal fiasco and officials will likely be put on the defensive next week in Chicago when the company gathers all its editors from the 125 dailies in the chain to talk about the state of the company and parameters for ethics going forward.

““We will discuss steps we’re taking to strengthen our news transparency codes, making sure the standards are relevant for today’s digital era,” according to an agenda outline of the meeting obtained by Newsonomics.

It’s not like other media outlets don’t have conflicts. It’s probable Globe reporters and editors have “who also owns the Globe” on a `save/get key every time they write John Henry’s name in a story about the Red Sox. But being contractually required to spread good news about the city while at the same time digging into the machinations of the daily workings of City Hall is a whole new kettle of fish. And with the cynicism that many people already have for the news business, things will become exponentially harder for journalists at the Ledger.

–JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

State campaign finance regulators rule that the state Republican Party can funnel donations raised through federal accounts and contribution rules to Gov. Charlie Baker’s campaign committee, a ruling that shows a huge loophole in state campaign finance laws. (Boston Globe)

A national gay and lesbian business group that was set to honor Baker at an event later this month has rescinded the invitation, saying it is because he is speaking at a Republican gathering this weekend in Las Vegas where a minister who has strongly opposed same-sex marriage is also on the bill and because he’s been noncommittal on a transgender rights bill. Baker calls it partisan politics. (Boston Globe)

A legislative conference committee working on a new public records law is meeting in public on Beacon Hill, which  is highly unusual and highly unlikely to be replicated. (CommonWealth)

The Senate’s charter bill passes but faces an uncertain future in the House. (Politico) To get up to speed on the charter debate, CommonWealth offers a primer.

A solar net metering bill clears the Senate and heads to the governor. (Masslive)

State reps send a letter to House Speaker Robert DeLeo urging him not to include language requiring ratepayers to pay for natural gas pipelines in the omnibus energy bill he is developing. (Salem News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera and landlord Carmine DiAdamo reach a settlement of their hostilities that requires the city to pay DiAdamo $3.5 million for two buildings that until last year were the home of the school department. (Eagle-Tribune)

A New Bedford city councilor has proposed licensing panhandlers in the city as a way to monitor the number of people begging on the street as well as find those in need of services. (Standard-Times)

Tension boils over at a hearing on a proposal to locate a Muslim cemetery in Dudley. (WBUR)

A Newton community meeting on prejudice and intolerance turns testy as attendees spar over whether the focus should be anti-Semitism in the city or all forms of bias. (Boston Globe)

The Secretary of State’s office upheld a public records appeal by the Cape Cod Times and ordered Brewster officials to release the full video of last fall’s Town Meeting when the Town Moderator was caught on tape at the end of the session using disparaging terms to describe several women.

Two members of the search committee for a new school superintendent in Weymouth say the panel may have violated the Open Meeting Law by recommending just one candidate and not interviewing the others in public. (Patriot Ledger)

Fall River officials have agreed to revisit the rules about memorials and flowers in the city cemetery after a cleanup and removal of items without notifying people angered many families. (Herald News)

CASINOS

“Nobody likes being around poor people,” Steve Wynn reportedly tells a group of investors. (Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

In a Globe op-ed, Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls out her Republican colleagues for blocking hearings on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

Time does a rundown on the Panama Papers.

Pope Francis issues a broad dictum calling on the church to be more welcoming and less judgmental to people in “irregular” living situations such as single parents, unmarried couples living together, and gays. He also signaled openness in allowing divorced and remarried couples to receive communion but declared same-sex marriage unacceptable to church doctrine. (New York Times)

Women in Indiana have started a social media storm with the hashtag #periodsforpence describing their menstrual cycles and targeting Gov. Mike Pence for signing what is considered the nation’s most restrictive new abortion law. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

The run-up to the Democratic primary in New York is getting nasty with Bernie Sanders saying Hillary Clinton is “not qualified” to be president while Clinton says “I’m not even sure” the independent Vermont senator is a Democrat. (U.S. News & World Report)

US Rep. Michael Capuano says Clinton and Sanders will have to make peace with each other once the Democratic nominating process is done and rejects the suggestion that Elizabeth Warren might somehow play mediator. (Boston Herald)

On the Republican side, Donald Trump needs to win his home state — huge. (Boston Globe)

Bill Clinton gets into a heated exchange with a Black Lives Matter protester over his 1994 crime bill. (NPR)

State Senate candidate and ex-Revere mayor Daniel Rizzo gets nicked up by a set of minor ethics allegations dropped to the Globe just before next Tuesday’s special election seven-way Democratic primary.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A media company removed a billboard on Route 140 in New Bedford that was part of a national campaign after complaints that the sign, which referred to the 1967 Six Day War in the Middle East, was anti-Semitic. (Standard-Times)

EDUCATION

The Worcester schools are facing a nearly $21 million budget deficit and preparing a series of cuts, including the elimination of 20 teaching jobs. (Telegram & Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Peter Gelzinis says the state should get ready for the next marijuana-imbibing mutation: dabbing. (Boston Herald)

TRANSPORTATION

Despite a fare hike that takes effect shortly, MBTA officials say service cuts remain an option in the coming fiscal year. (State House News)

The T’s new technology chief says the agency is ready to dive deep to gather the data needed to improve service and fare collection. (Boston Herald)

Uber agrees to pay at least $10 million to settle allegations that it misled customers about the quality of its driver background checks. (CBS News) Uber recruits drivers in Springfield. (Masslive)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Quincy will switch over all the city’s streetlights, traffic signals, and outdoor fixtures to LEDs in an effort to save money on energy costs. (Patriot Ledger)

A new tidal power testing site is coming to Bourne. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A man arrested for allegedly trying to pull three Worcester school girls into the woods had ropes, pliers, and duct tape in his backpack. (Masslive)

Tewksbury police officials overlooked a warrant and released a prisoner, who went on a crime spree. (The Sun)

The Orleans town clerk is seeking dismissal of a vehicular homicide charge stemming from a 2014 accident in which she struck and killed a 20-year-old student who was walking in Amherst. (Cape Cod Times)

MEDIA

The Arizona legislature denies floor privileges to reporters who refuse to undergo a background check. (Arizona Capitol Times)