Local media matters

When the masthead changes at major newspapers, it’s a seismic shift that causes ripple effects in all corners of the profession and often gets the attention of readers.

But there’s probably no position that can have more of an effect on people’s daily lives, whether they know it or not, than the editor of the local paper. Chazy Dowaliby is a name that is memorable but may not be well known outside of Crown Colony industrial park in Quincy, headquarters for the Patriot Ledger. Dowaliby is leaving as editor of the Ledger and the Brockton Enterprise and her departure means more change for two of the country’s oldest dailies.

In addition to the politically astute Dowaliby, who was the press secretary in Joe Biden’s first Senate victory in 1972, Ledger editorial page editor Amy MacKinnon has also left, leaving a void at two of the most important and high-profile positions at a newspaper.

Dowaliby, who came to the Ledger in 1997 from working in magazines in Europe, oversaw a paper brimming with resources and talent. Indeed, Ledger alumni – such as Carolyn Ryan, national political editor at the New York Times, and Scott Allen, editor of the Globe’s Spotlight team – are in prominent positions that impact major media content daily.

But like all media, declining readership, dwindling advertising, the Internet, and new ownership drained resources and forced cutbacks in the breadth of coverage and content.

When Dowaliby arrived at the Ledger, she had a reporter covering nearly every one of the 26 towns in Ledgerland, as well as a stable of general assignment reporters. As she leaves, there is no dedicated town reporter and just a handful of general assignment reporters. Unless there is a major issue of wide interest, town meetings, selectmen meetings, board hearings, and the like are no longer fodder for the local section of the paper. There’s no one to cover them.

Dowaliby tried a number of approaches to stop the bleeding but the forces, like they are for all editors, were beyond her control. Snappy features, more prominent photos, shorter stories were all designed to grab and retain reader interest. Dowaliby was a fan of what she liked to call “refrigerator stories” – those local pieces that would be cut out and taped on the refrigerator door because a family member was featured. But you can’t tape a computer monitor screen to the Frigidaire.

Her hand was forced by the multiple changes in ownership – at least four – since her arrival. The Ledger is now owned by GateHouse Media and the media bigfoot, which owns nearly 500 dailies and weeklies in Massachusetts alone, is a big believer in sharing resources to save money. That’s why GateHouse shared Dowaliby with the Enterprise as editor about a decade ago, a position she never lost.

But it’s also why readers more and more see the coverage of their towns by the weekly paper reprinted in the Ledger and Enterprise as well as their respective websites. There is a lot of duplication as well in content between the two papers’ websites. As GateHouse thinned the union ranks of reporters, there was little the Newspaper Guild could do to stop the publication of outside content in the papers, though it tried.

GateHouse has built a reputation for gutting newspapers it buys, leaving a lean skeleton in its place. The company also became embroiled in controversy recently over the secretive sale of the Las Vegas Review-Journal to conservative casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

Given all this history, it may be difficult to find a seasoned newsman or woman to come in and take over the Ledger and Enterprise. Whatever the outcome, the choice will matter.

–JACK SULLIVAN

 

BEACON HILL

The cover story of CommonWealth’s new winter issue takes a look at Gov. Charlie Baker’s first year, pronouncing it a winning “yin and yang” of management focus counterbalanced by  surprising moments of emotion-driven candor.

The House is preparing an omnibus energy bill (hydro, offshore wind, solar, everything), setting the stage for one of the most interesting political debates on Beacon Hill in a long time. (CommonWealth)

State officials project a 4.3 percent increase in tax revenues in fiscal 2017, which begins July 1. (State House News)

The Senate Rules Committee has sent a bill to the floor for debate that would ban the use of cellphones and other handheld devices such as GPS while operating a vehicle. (Standard-Times)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

A new Brookings Institution report identifies Boston as the US city with the greatest income inequality in the country. (WBUR)

Boston City Hall will today unveil CityScore, its digital metric for tracking the delivery of city services. (Boston Herald)

A Herald editorial pours frozen cold water on a Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson’s proposal to let seniors and disabled residents off the hook for shoveling snow in front of their homes.

A suspended Hingham police officer charged with lying about being injured on the job and intimidating a witness pled innocent to insurance fraud charges, with his attorney declaring he will “defend himself vigorously.” (Patriot Ledger) The officer, Kris Phillips, is also the focus of a probe into anonymous letters with confidential information that were sent to selectmen.

New Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia continued his shake-up of city government, firing two leftovers from the previous administrations, eliminating four middle-management positions, and reorganizing the structure of several departments. (Herald News)

The 1,200-member Franco-American Club in Beverly learns its building has three mortgages that were never authorized, including one for $300,000 that is now in default. (Salem News)

The Cambridge City Council approves a zoning petition allowing residents to create accessory apartments. (Cambridge Chronicle) Amy Dain earlier wrote about how the state and municipalities should encourage accessory apartments. (CommonWealth)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Planned Parenthood has filed suit for fraud and racketeering against the groups that released a controversial video of one of the organization’s doctors seemingly discussing the sale fetal tissue harvested from abortions. The videos, which the health care organization says were heavily edited, triggered backlash to defund Planned Parenthood in Congress and around the nation. (New York Times)

ELECTIONS

Donald Trump channels his angry-man persona into a pretty effective debate performance. (Boston Globe) Sen. Ted Cruz turned the birther tables on Trump in the penultimate GOP debate before primary voting begins, saying even Trump would be disqualified from serving under the bombastic GOP front-runner’s logic because his mother was born abroad. (U.S. News & World Report) For more, check out Politico’s report.

Longtime Kennedy confidant (and Democratic National Convention superdelegate) Paul Kirk, who temporarily filled Ted Kennedy’s seat upon the senator’s death, has thrown his support behind Bernie Sanders. (Boston Globe)

President Obama called this week for nonpartisan redistricting commissions to redraw congressional and state legislative seat districts, but Massachusetts state leaders say things are going swimmingly with politicians in charge of drawing the lines, reports Mike Deehan. (WGBHNews)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The city dialed up Boston’s charms and benefits in its all-out campaign to woo GE. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has vilified the company for representing all that is wrong with corporate America, had nothing to add to the news that Jeff Immelt and the company would soon be constituents of hers beyond a tepid statement issued on Wednesday night. The Herald’s Hillary Chabot says Warren “finally welcomed GE last night,” but then quotes from the same statement Warren had in fact issued on Wednesday night to Politico.

State Street Corp. agrees to a $12 million payment to settle an SEC case involving allegations it was involved in a pay-to-play scheme in Ohio pension funds. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

Adjunct faculty at Northeastern University have reached an agreement on a three-year contract that will provide most with double-digit pay increases. (Boston Globe)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

John McDonough explores the very likely concept of setting hospital prices by ballot question. (CommonWealth)

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has reached an affiliation deal with MetroWest Health Center. (Boston Globe)

A significant drop in the number of teenage mothers has pushed the average age of first-time moms in the US to more than 26 years old, an all-time high, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. (Associated Press)

TRANSPORTATION

President Obama’s administration unveils a $4 billion, 10-year plan to jumpstart self-driving cars. (NBC)

New software is making it easier for officials to design transit routes — almost like playing a video game. (Governing)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Deportation of immigrants who have low-level criminal offenses on their record are drawing sharp criticism from immigrant advocates and causing heartache for some local families. (Boston Globe)

Foxborough’s police chief, Edward O’Leary, who stonewalled requests for information about an incident involving Patriots player Chandler Jones, earned $43,000 last year in added pay funded by the team for coordinating police details at Gillette Stadium. (Boston Herald) “Let us count the ways” that O’Leary “misled the public,” says a Herald editorial that comes down hard on the chief.

Springfield Judge Charles Groce III offers a defendant a choice of sentences — six months in jail or two years on drug-free probation. (Masslive)

The White House declared Bristol County a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a designation that made the region eligible for federal grants to fight opioid abuse and addiction. (Standard-Times)

MEDIA

A Globe editorial says Attorney General Maura Healey should investigate the labor practices of the paper’s hired distribution company to address concerns that it improperly classifies delivery drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.