IS ‘THE BORING BROADSHEET’ ABOUT TO CLOSE? NEWSROOM ABUZZ AFTER CORPORATE PARENT, DIGITAL FIRST, ANNOUNCES DEATH SENTENCE FOR ITS NEWSPAPER HOLDINGS
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, APRIL 7, 2014) — THE PLANET‘s sources within The Boring Broadsheet tell us that executives recently gathered to discuss the future of the newspaper in light of “an all-hands meeting” Wednesday afternoon in New York City at the headquarters of Digital First Media, The BB‘s stepdad.
Digital First Media is the holding company created in 2011 to manage the assets of The BB‘s corporate parent, Dean Singleton‘s MediaNews Group, and the equally distressed Journal Register Company, which both went belly up. Singleton ultimately drove MNG into the financial ground. For his efforts, Digital First Media rewarded Singleton with a well-paid spot in the DFM hierarchy to chew his cud until his retirement in fall 2013.
DFN brags on its web site of its “more than 800 multi-platform products including web, mobile, tablet, and print.” Unfortunately, The BB is one of DFN’s print holdings.
As Dragnet used to phrase it, Dum De Dum-Dum. Dum Da Dum-Dum Daaaaaaaa.
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DFN has announced the closing of its news hub in The Big Apple in what industry analysts, including Poynter.org, say is the beginning of a divestiture that “may soon result in the sale of the company’s newspapers.” The Columbia Journalism Review reports DFN chopped 100 positions in New York, the beginning of a wave of job loss that will follow Digital’s “rapid consolidation” of its newspaper holdings. That would, of course, direly affect The BB.
‘Panicked’ BB Execs Meet Amid Hush-Hush Conditions
The agenda, minutes, and actions decided at last week’s high-level meeting at The Boring Broadsheet have been placed under “eyes only” lock and key, leading to rampant speculation in the newsroom and elsewhere internally. On the mild end of the possibilities, layoffs. On the nuclear end, the imminent closing of the paper, throwing everyone out of work. The execs, of course, get the golden parachute. One newsroom source describes The BB‘s executives “in a panic” prior to the meeting.
It’s uncertain who attended The BB‘s meeting. Sources mention that it was almost certainly some combination of CEO Kevin Corrado, CFO Frank McKenna, VP Operations Andy Swanton, VP Audience Development Warren Dews Jr., and Regional VP Kevin Moran. Another source said Corrado was in NYC for the Wednesday Digital First “call on the carpet.” In an ominous sign for the newsroom, sources say the local meeting did not include managing editor Tom Trupicco. Another portentous sign, if true, is that The BB execs met not at the Clock Tower but offsite.
Corrado is seen as Digital’s ax man, entrusted to shed costs in Pittsfield at The BB, with Moran as executioner. You’ll recall worked that way wen the newspaper shuttered The North Adams Transcript, in a scenario eerily similar to what happened months later at North Adams Regional Hospital.
Needless to say, the doings have BB employees nervous.
“They [management] haven’t said much, almost nothing, but something’s up,” one source says. “We’re [the employees] wondering when ‘the other shoe’ is going to drop. There’s a lot of resume updating going on, for sure. That’s bad enough for the young guys, but at this stage of my career? Not a chance.” Rumors of closing or layoffs is neither a sign nor a prescription of health for a newspaper that leashes its talent and refuses to let them cover key stories honestly and in an investigatory manner.
‘Expanding the Paywall’ Means Online Readers Will Have to Cough Up
One decision said to come out of the meeting is that The BB, like other Digital print offerings, is expected to “expand its paywall offerings.” What does that gibberish mean? Put into plain English, it means that it will continue to divest in print, which is losing money, advertisers, and circulation, and will charge readers for more for digital content.
The BB‘s experiment in switching from free to paid digital subscriptions “has been a flop,” according to a source in the business operations of the paper. Those who have been on The BB website will have experienced a poorly designed, hard-to-navigate site “featuring” stories shoveled in from print. Layout is confusing, load times perpetual, and the mix of news hole with ads chaotic. The site would have been state of the art in 1991.
The BB website provides little in the way of unique content. An online newspaper must be a lot more than its print version, especially if you are going to ask people to pay for a product that for many years they have been receiving for free.
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The move to close DMF’s NYC hub, industry analysts report, comes several months after DFN acquired the assets of Singleton’s MediaNews Group. Singleton’s “retirement” preceded the ascendancy of former MNG executive Steve Rossi (no, he’s not the straight-man to Marty Allen of Allen and Rossi fame) to chief operating officer of Digital First.
Industry sources say Rossi has one job: slash costs. They expect Rossi to do this by first picking clean the company’s newspaper holdings, including The BB. The idea is that cutting costs may help make individual properties more attractive to prospective buyers.
“[The newspapers are] not yet on the market,” reports Andrew Beaujon of Poynter.com, “but expect regional auctions of DFM properties (with clusters around the Los Angeles area, the Bay Area, New England, Philadelphia, and Texas) — unless … a single buyer [can be found], which is unlikely.”
DFM chief executive John Paton, in a speech last summer, said about his company’s operating costs, “If you don’t see the kinds of tough decisions to cut expenses in what is not growing — print — and increased spending in what is growing — digital — then get out because your company is surely dying.”
For The Boring Broadsheet, it appears only a matter of “when” and not “if” before doors close, at least on the MNG era. What will follow promises to be as pennies are to the dollar.
“Of the wide world I stand alone, and think / Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.” — John Keats, “Sonnet,” (18170).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.