Article

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, BORING BROADSHEET LAST

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.

KEVIN CORRADE, left: THE BB EXECUTIONER?

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.

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“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.

 

24 Responses to “IS ‘THE BORING BROADSHEET’ ABOUT TO CLOSE? NEWSROOM ABUZZ AFTER CORPORATE PARENT, DIGITAL FIRST, ANNOUNCES DEATH SENTENCE FOR ITS NEWSPAPER HOLDINGS”

  1. dusty
    April 7, 2014 at 1:32 am #

    Occasionally I get to read newspapers from different cities and they all make the Berkshire Eagle look like a product of amateur hour. I don’t doubt that the ground level employees work very hard and would produce a much better product if allowed to.

    But if this sad sad excuse for journalism bites the dust I think that the Fourth of July parade should be in honor of their demise. The lack of honest investigative reporting has contributed greatly to Pittsfield s sinking into a pit of corruption. They were and are complicit. If they go there will be smiles and high fives in the community.

    • danvalenti
      April 7, 2014 at 7:38 pm #

      There is the raw material, in terms of staff talent, to do much better. But the feeling in the newsroom is rather like passengers in a plane that’s going down. Moral is low, and staffers are looking to get out.

  2. MrG1188
    April 7, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    The problem, Dusty, is that there is nothing there to replace it. As bad as it is, and I certainly concede its timorousness, faintness of heart and general, all around impotence, at least it does something. And the something that it does is not an easy or inexpensive thing to do. I think Dan has hit it on the head in the past; an area such as ours can’t be covered by a large national chain because we’re just not big enough to devote the resources necessary to be profitable for them. Further, I doubt ANY news gathering operation could be profitable when the primary drive is to feed that metal monster in the basement and all the people who keep it running. I mean, of course, the presses. If you took that legacy cost away, put effort into developing a much better product then distributed it electronically via 2-3 email updates a day for subscribers you might have something that the ad sales folks could sell, something that would provide real value for advertisers AND real value for the community. iBerkshires has a clue, but it’s hideous, hard-to-impossible to navigate and hyper-locally focused on North County. It just goes to show how difficult it is! Just an off the cuff analysis shows me any serious web-based news venture, county wide, would require a close-to-minimum of $57,500 per month burn rate BEFORE any site is occupied, any lights are turned on or any equipment is bought. Soooo…if anyone wants to give me, saaayyy, $500000 I think I could have a first-rate, bare-bones local web based news vehicle up and running and approaching profitability in 6 months or so.

    • ed shepardson
      April 7, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Got a model MrG? I haven’t heard of a successful newspaper website. In fact, some newspapers who have tried to reduce print publishing days in favor of digital have reversed course. Keep in mind, that those pesky advertising flyers that fall out of your Sunday paper represent about 30% of a daily newspaper’s revenue with very little expense.

    • GMHeller
      April 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm #

      Gotta agree with Mr. Shepardson on his point re the economics of publishing.
      What’s more, the Berkshires are no longer an expanding marketplace.
      If anything, it’s shrinking as a dynamic marketplace, losing population, losing the age demographics which can be counted on to spend bucks and thus be courted by advertisers willing to spend advertising dollars to reach those people doing the spending.
      A city being overrun by junkies is ripe for middle class flight whether the geniuses who run and write for the Berkshire Eagle choose to recognize it.
      Related point: There’s also little use spending tens of millions for new schools to service a declining population.

      • danvalenti
        April 7, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

        The problem with online is how to get people to pay for a product that they’ve been receiving for free, since the popularity of the internet exploded on the world scene. The younger demographics generally don’t use the web for news. Those that do scan and have little patience for stories longer than a minute.

        • MrG1188
          April 8, 2014 at 9:36 am #

          Ahh Ed & Mr. Heller, for me the ability to deliver local news online cost effectively, even profitably, is a holy grail. It can’t be based on the same model though that the print versions were based on. For the print guys, those little inserts have become fools’ gold. They continue to print the paper to accommodate those things. They look at it as “very little (additional) expense” but when you continue to incur the giant expense of printing just to carry those fliers along the reality is they are expensive. I have said for 5 years now that the next great frontier for the web IS local. As these local papers die, and they all will, there will be a void that requires filling and I think some smart people, maybe me or us, will come up with how to do it effectively and profitably. The paywall model of asking people to pay for content they are used to getting free is a failure…but what about crowd-funding? WHat about a newsletter subscription model? AOL just failed miserably with Patch, but I have a business model, or at least financials, that I took to the Eagle a few years ago, and i think it would work. ANyone wanna try it?

        • ed shepardson
          April 8, 2014 at 5:14 pm #

          Actually Dan, it’s how to get advertisers to pay enough for advertising on the web to support an entire news gathering operation.

          • danvalenti
            April 8, 2014 at 8:14 pm #

            Actually, ED, it’s a combination of “paywall” plus advertisers.

  3. MrG1188
    April 7, 2014 at 6:04 am #

    LOL…And if anyone wants to go over my financials or discuss such a venture…I am open

  4. Linda
    April 7, 2014 at 7:27 am #

    As a former subscriber to the bb, I can agree that the newspaper has let the entire community down.

  5. GMHeller
    April 7, 2014 at 8:26 am #

    Mr. Valenti,

    This must be the economic recovery that the Obama Administration has been all excited about.

    How fitting that The Berkshire Eagle should be mired in the economic goo brought about by the leadership of the Left’s great hero Barack Hussein Obama.

    And Mr. Valenti, please let us know should you get word that Clarence Fanto and/or Bill Everhart, trumpeters extraordinaire for the Obama Economic Miracle, have been laid-off.

    • ed shepardson
      April 7, 2014 at 10:49 am #

      Glenn, I think the goo at MediaNewsGroup and Digital first might be more the excrement of Mr. Singleton and Mr. Paton.

  6. Shakes His Head
    April 7, 2014 at 8:34 am #

    If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, who really cares!?!!!

  7. GMHeller
    April 7, 2014 at 8:35 am #

    Mr. Valenti,

    The mystery surrounding NARH’s closure deepens.
    No doubt you read of Gov. Deval Patrick’s surprise at the suddenness of NARH’s closing.
    Patrick is quoted in the Boston Globe as saying “We had a deal!”
    This means the Governor was apparently aware of the hospital’s fiscal troubles.
    Now the question becomes, what did the Governor know, when did he know it, what was the deal he thought he had, and with whom did he strike that deal?

    • danvalenti
      April 7, 2014 at 7:41 pm #

      THE PLANET takes up the story, again, tomorrow.

  8. Robert
    April 7, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    Dan,
    What would be nice would be if the berkshire eagle folded,and a smaller, run conservative paper took its place. Not only would we get actualy news, but can you imagine all the head spinning that would go on in the couny.

    Sounds like fun. MrG1188, if you have the means……………then by all means!

  9. Ron Kitterman
    April 7, 2014 at 8:55 am #

    Maybe they can get a bailout from the Bianchi administration when they override Prop. 2 1/2 ?

    • ed shepardson
      April 7, 2014 at 10:50 am #

      Ron, I read that today. Can’t wait.

    • MrG1188
      April 7, 2014 at 11:02 am #

      Hey…c’mon now…they weren’t talking override, just getting right up TO it!

  10. Bill Sturgeon
    April 7, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

    Maybe the Eagle should assess it stable of reporters. They have some young energetic very bright reporters. Tony, Howard, Clarence, and Derek still have what it takes to knock out good articles.

    Maybe the Editorial Staff (person) should stop falling all over stories that have such a liberal stance. There are great many of us Un-enrolled voters who would like to read about both sides.

    A couple of the Eagle’s reporters, in my opinion, have been mailing it in for several years. While I understand that the City Council and School Department Meeting can run long by the time I read about what happened at these meeting I have seen it 3 times on PCTV.

    If the Eagle goes out of business who will the local radio stations get their local news from? In my opinion, Tom Conklin is really the only real “news’ reporter left on local radio.

    For what it is worth – Let your young stars shine and send your worn-out nags to pasture.

    • danvalenti
      April 7, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      BILL
      The reporters you mention are indeed capable, but all are well into “the back 9″ of their careers. They are treading water and are not apt to rock the boat. Of the younger members, Andrew Amelinckx and Phil Demers have that elusive “it” factor. The problem with The BB is management. The news out of NYC from Digital First has a previously timid leadership paralyzed. Only Corrado knows what is actually going to happen, and he “ain’t talkin’.”

      • Spectator
        April 8, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

        give me a few days and I’ll have the scoop for you

  11. Scott
    April 8, 2014 at 4:22 am #

    It’s in all our best interest that they go under. Read the editorial today they’re saying there’s merit to tax increases before govt loses the power to do so with out the consent of a public vote. Just like the home telephone is losing to mobile devices it’s time for lopsided media coverage control to fall to the wayside of real investigative journalism in cyber space.