Wednesday, December 03, 2003  
 Clubs TonightHot TixBand GuideMP3sBest Music PollSki GuideThe Best '03 
Food & Drink
Editors' Picks
New This Week
News and Features

Food & Drink


Stuff at Night
The Providence Phoenix
The Portland Phoenix
FNX Radio Network

  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

Whatís next at the downsized Herald?

Now that the ax has fallen at the financially ailing Boston Herald, with 19 positions having been eliminated last Friday, the question on everyoneís mind is: whatís next?

It is widely thought both inside and outside the Herald newsroom that publisher Pat Purcell may be readying the cityís number-two daily for sale. But two possible buyers ó Purcellís former employer, Rupert Murdoch, and the Tribune Company ó canít make a move because the Federal Communications Commissionís efforts to loosen the prohibition against cross-ownership have been stymied by Congress. Murdoch owns WFXT-TV (Channel 25), and Tribune owns WLVI-TV (Channel 56).

Then, too, there are those longstanding rumors that Murdoch still owns the Heraldís property ó located in a potentially valuable spot in the South End, near the Big Dig ó despite having sold the paper to Purcell in 1994. This rumor has persisted even though Purcell, in 1999, told the Phoenix he had acquired the six-acre property from Murdoch two years previously (see "Cliffhanger," News and Features, November 12, 1999). Records at the Boston Assessing Department checked this week appear to back up Purcellís claim: in 1998, the property changed hands, with Boston Herald Realty, LLC, acquiring it from News Boston Realty Corporation. This would suggest that Murdoch has less interest in Boston than some might suppose.

Another potential Herald buyer whose name comes up in conversations with anxious Herald staffers is Dean Singleton, whose MediaNews Group owns the Lowell Sun, the Berkshire Eagle, and nine other Massachusetts papers, according to the companyís Web site. By this logic, Singleton ó whose flagship, the Denver Post, is edited by former Boston Globe managing editor Greg Moore ó would likely be at least as interested in Purcellís Community Newspaper chain of 100 papers in Greater Boston as he would in the Herald.

Singleton himself, though, says thereís nothing to it. "I canít tell you anything because I donít know anything," Singleton said this week. "I know Pat very well. Heís an old friend. Pat loves what heís doing, and he loves the Herald.... I donít sense that thereís any interest in him selling anything."

If Purcell is to be taken at his word, there is not necessarily any need for him to sell. "We are profitable," he said this week. Purcell did not return a call seeking comment specifically on the possibility that he might sell. But on several occasions he and his spokesman, George Regan, have characterized the cuts as no different from those that other newspaper companies have had to implement in the past few years ó including the Boston Globe, owned by the New York Times Company, which eliminated some 185 positions through early retirement in the spring of 2001.

The Herald cuts will drastically reduce the presence of two of the Heraldís bigger names (see "Media Log,", November 14). Television columnist Monica Collins and political columnist Wayne Woodlief were told that their contracts will not be renewed. Both, however, will continue to write for the Herald on a freelance basis. Collins will write her Sunday "Downtown Journal" column once a week (it may be moved to the Monday paper), and Woodlief will continue to write weekly as well.

Woodlief, at 68, is already past the customary retirement age. Nevertheless, he said he was "surprised" to learn that he would be asked to retire before he was ready. "Iíve gone through the cycles ó mad, glad; well, not glad, sad ó and in a way Iím looking forward to some liberation, especially since I can continue the column once a week," Woodlief said. "Iíll be around to haunt the politicians and afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted for next year for sure, and maybe beyond."

Also taking early retirement will be sports-media columnist Jim Baker.

This has been a tumultuous year for the Herald. In the spring, beset by declining circulation and advertising revenues, Purcell brought in former Herald editor (and former New York Post) publisher Ken Chandler as a consultant, while leaving editor Andy Costello and managing editor Andrew Gully in charge ó a confusing management scheme that has led more than one staffer to wonder who was really running the paper (see "Donít Quote Me," News and Features, June 20). The Chandler-ized Herald has been a distinctly downscale product, with a heavy emphasis on celebrities, gossip, and scantily clad women.

The newsroom has been on tenterhooks since earlier this fall, when management announced it was asking union employees to take voluntary early-retirement packages known as "buyouts" (see "Media," This Just In, September 26 and October 3). The final toll included eight union members who took the buyout; two union members, including a part-timer, who were laid off outright; and two whose positions were eliminated but who have "bumping rights," which means that they could choose to leave or to take other union jobs, a situation that would cause two other employees with less seniority to lose their jobs. The other seven employees ó including Collins and Woodlief ó are nonunion.

In a statement released last Friday, Purcell said, "The Herald worked diligently to minimize the impact on its employees by reducing expenses in other areas throughout the company, and only after exhaustive evaluation of all aspects of our business did this course of action become necessary."

Lesley Phillips, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston and a Herald staff member, expressed "sadness" for those who found themselves unemployed, but also had some praise for Purcell. "In the past 48 hours Iíve been convinced that this company has done what it can to keep the impact low," she said on Friday. "Itís just been stressful. Itís been a stressful number of weeks. We were waiting for this. Now we go forward and go on to fight another day."

Said Woodlief: "Itís clearly not a happy day. At the same time, most folks are saying, hell, itís the Herald, weíll go on."

Issue Date: November 21 - 27, 2003
Back to the News & Features table of contents
  E-Mail This Article to a Friend

about the phoenix |  find the phoenix |  advertising info |  privacy policy |  the masthead |  feedback |  work for us

 © 2000 - 2003 Phoenix Media Communications Group