The future of newspapers – again

Seems every time a newspaper is sold, the prognosticators and print junkies predict – and hope for – a  new way forward. Isn’t that the expectation for Jeff Bezos and John Henry? Or what Wellesley’s Aaron Kushner has done with the Orange County Register?

The problem is, though, all visions of the grand plan for someone to lead the way out of the wilderness for dead tree journalism have different road maps and no one, it seems, knows which one will be successful and able to be repeated.

The latest version, apparently, starts with buying every available small weekly and daily you can, piling up a mess of debt, going the brink of default, then running into bankruptcy court in order to survive and remain a player. Hello, GateHouse. Or, more accurately, Fortress Investment Group, GateHouse’s majority owner.

But, the thing is, it may actually work, at least from a numbers perspective. And the plan to monetize the digital side of the business is getting some acceptance, at least from the majority of the creditors holding $1.2 billion in debt from GateHouse who will take an equity stake in a restructuring that will need court approval.

Newscastle Investment Corp., an affiliate of Fortress, agreed to buy the former Ottaway news group, which was owned by Dow Jones, from News Corp. The purchase of the 33 weeklies and dailies around the country with a heavy Massachusetts portfolio comes with a price tag of $87 million, including assuming $33 million in debt. The group will place GateHouse into a prepackaged bankruptcy and then combine GateHouse and the new acquisitions into a new entity called New Media Group.

Boston Business Journal managing editor Jon Chesto, the former business editor of GateHouse-owned Patriot Ledger, has a very smart and incisive look into the buy. The piece is part accountant porn and part journalistic primer about the deal but lays out all the potential ramifications in a very understandable way. There’s also a really good comparison between the Dow Jones sale and the purchase of the Boston Globe for $17 million less. It kind of puts the New York Times snarky story about the Fortress purchase into context. Chesto also points out that Fortress says they’ll look to spend up to about another $1 billion on gobbling up other “distressed” newspapers now that they’re free of the old debt.

What the story doesn’t do, though – and which no one knows how it will work – is predict the future of the old and new acquisitions. In its presentation to investors yesterday, Newcastle emphasized the successes and the potential for the digital side of the business. But there was also much talk about finding “efficiencies” in the expense ledger.

Some of the papers that just came into the GateHouse fold, such as the Cape Cod Times and New Bedford Standard Times, have footprints that overlap with some of the company’s existing papers, such as the Fall River Herald News and Taunton Gazette. And in the weekly round-up, there are a mess of papers such as the Cape Codder, the Barnstable Patriot and the Nantucket Inquirer-Mirror that have been going head-to-head with GateHouse papers for years. Something’s got to give and when it does, somebody – or some bodies – will be out looking for work.

Also up in the air is whither Pat Purcell, who has been running the local Dow Jones group papers for his buddy, Rupert Murdoch, and using some of the content to fill the tabloid’s shrinking news hole. And then there’s the printing. GateHouse has shown a propensity for selling off its real estate that included many of its printing presses and has agreements with the Globe to print and distribute many of its papers. Will the new broadsheets run off the Morrissey Boulevard presses as well?

In addition, the media company has plans to consolidate its copy editing into one office in Austin, Texas. A couple years back, GateHouse made a move to universal copy desks, with one in Illinois for all its dailies and one in Framingham for the weeklies. Now both desks will be under one roof in the Lone Star state and you can bet there will be a magnifying glass by out-of-work copy editors placed on headlines written by someone who’s never been north of the Alamo.

                                                                                                                                                                           –JACK SULLIVAN

BEACON HILL

Attorney General Martha Coakley approves the language of 28 ballot petitions, including measures raising the minimum wage, doing away with the new software services tax, and expanding the bottle deposit law. She rejected a petition that would have banned casinos in the state, the Associated Press reports. Meanwhile, low wage workers in Western Mass. comment on the new ballot measure.

Beacon Hill leaders meet on the tech tax, State House News reports (via CommonWealth).

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Eugenie Beal, Boston’s preeminent parks and open space advocate over many decades, died last week at age 92. A figure of dignity and vitality throughout her life, Beal had become in recent years a valued contributor to CommonWealth, penning perspective pieces for the magazine’s website and print edition, including this piece, co-authored with fellow Boston parks standout Henry Lee for the Winter 2013 issue, calling on the state to maintain support for Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

Worcester cancels its contract with Pat’s Towing after police disclose the owner has been arrested for trying to bribe a witness and the department has responded to 261 emergency response calls from the business since 2008, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

The Somerset police chief is on leave from what he is claiming is a work-related injury that does not count against his 300 days of accrued sick time, an absence that is causing a rift among selectmen and confusion in the police department over who is in charge.

A judge rules two of four cottages on Conomo Point in Essex belong to their owners while the other two belong to the town, which owns the land and is evicting its tenants, the Gloucester Times reports.

Arbitration for police, fire, and EMS contracts could saddle Boston’s next mayor with $200 million in bills for back pay on expired contracts; the city has just $67 million set aside to cover raises for unsettled contracts.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is done talking about Mayor Tom Menino’s bid to “blow up” his city, because, Bing’s spokesman says, he’s “a very classy guy, a very high-end guy.” Menino, however, isn’t finished. Meanwhile, Detroit steps up its bid to raze vacant structures that have become magnets for arson; in an apparent oversight, the Wall Street Journal story on the program fails to include a comment from Boston’s mayor.

Former Foxboro Town Manager Kevin Paicos lands in Northfield.

CASINOS

The state’s top gambling regulator gives Boston and Everett until the end of the week to decide whether Boston is a neighboring or host community in connection with the casino proposed by Las Vegas mogul Steve Wynn, the Associated Press reports. Former governor William Weld is representing Wynn in the land dispute. A Herald editorial urges the two sides to strike a deal, saying the perceived anti-Wynn activism on Boston’s part “is no way to begin the casino era in Massachusetts.”

Several Boston mayoral candidates come out in support of a casino referendum falling on the city’s November 5 election date, but City Council President Steve Murphy tells the Herald he worries about an election day casino referendum “suck[ing] all the oxygen out of everyone’s record,” and turning the election into “essentially a referendum on casinos.”

Leominster, Milbury, and Raynham consider their bids for the state’s only slots license. In Leominster, the chamber of commerce backs the slots effort.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

Massachusetts’ two senators aren’t convinced yet on President Obama’s Syria resolution; Sen. Ed Markey votes present during a committee vote that went 10-7 in favor of intervention, the Associated Press reports. US Rep. John Tierney and the candidates for the open Fifth District seat also appear undecided, the Salem News reports. Will Brownsberger, a candidate in the Fifth, says on NECN’s Broadside he needs more information on what would happen after the US responds. Sen. Rand Paul says he opposes intervention because US interests aren’t at stake. Scott Brown rips Markey’s non-vote, saying that “I did not agree with John Kerry on much, but at least he would have had the guts to vote.”

The Washington, DC, City Council is standing behind its vote requiring Wal-Mart and other big box retailers to pay a “living wage” to their employees, even though Wal-Mart has threatened to shut down its stores and halt construction on others, Governing reports.

ELECTIONS

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua is sitting out a debate with his five challengers, the Eagle-Tribune reports. The debate is being hosted by CommonWealth and the Eagle-Tribune. One of Lantigua’s challengers, state Rep. Marcos Devers, says the state is running the city’s schools and overseeing its finances so the mayor should be paid only half his regular salary.

For Boston mayoral candidate Marty Walsh, unions are a boon and a challenge, WBUR reports. The Globe’s Joan Vennochi explores the same theme.

The Globe profiles Boston mayoral candidate John Barros, who is set to receive fundraising help from Danny Glover.

The Globe reports that a group of black politcos met in Roxbury last night to consider trying to convince some minority candidates for mayor to drop out in order to strengthen the chances of those that remain.

Fall River Mayor Will Flanagan has raised $100,000 more in contributions than all five of his challengers combined.

Former state senator Steven Baddour of Methuen says Charlie Baker has a good chance of winning the governor’s office if he remains positive, the Eagle-Tribune reports. Here’s a link to Baker’s announcement video. The Berkshire Eagle notes that Baker will have to look on the bright side of life if he wants to get elected in 2014.

Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee announced that he will not run for reelection in 2014.

New York’s mayoral race has taken a sharp anti-Bloomberg turn.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

A new report co-written by Noah Berger of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center says an educated workforce, not low taxes or other incentives, is the key to a strong economy that pays high wages to workers.

A new IRS rule may eliminate automatic tips on large restaurant tabs, after the agency decides the payments should be subject to payroll tax withholding.

EDUCATION

Fidelity legend Peter Lynch and his wife Carolyn talk to Emily Rooney about their foundation’s $2.5 million donation to Boston schools to improve training for principals as well as raise the English and math skills of students.

US Education Secretary Arne Duncan says schools should consider opening later in the morning because of research showing young people need more sleep, the Associated Press reports.

HEALTH CARE

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. 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.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is now retired. 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.

As many as eight patients may have been exposed to a rare, fatal brain disease while undergoing surgery at a Manchester, New Hampshire, hospital this year, the Globe reports.

Workers from struggling Quincy Medical Center held an informational picket outside the offices of Granite Medical Group claiming the practice was steering patients to more expensive hospitals outside the city.