Category: News Media

August 7th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

GateHouse Media, the company that owns the New Bern Sun Journal, is closing the pressroom where the Sun Journal is printed and shifting printing to Fayetteville.

According to Mike McHugh, a Jacksonville Daily News reporter who resigned on Tuesday in protest of the cuts, closing the pressroom as well as a call center based in Jacksonville will cost 40 people their jobs.

There was no response to an email requesting more information and comment from Mike Distelhorst, the GateHouse regional publisher in charge of newspapers in Jacksonville, New Bern, Kinston, and Wilmington.

The newspaper industry has been struggling for years due to increased competition online for readers and advertisers, and decreasing demand for its paper products. Most recently, tariffs imposed on Canadian newsprint companies have cut deeply into newspaper profits. Newsprint typically is the second biggest cost for newspapers, second only to personnel.

McHugh, a 14-year employee of the Jacksonville Daily News who joined the newsroom as a reporter in 2017, had this to say about the cuts:

Say a prayer and think of area businesses who might need good, honest people to join their company. Because there’s a bunch who will be seeking jobs.

This week, more than 40 of my former, dear colleagues will be told by Gatehouse management that their jobs are being eliminated and their functions moved out of town. It surely isn’t their fault readership has fallen off a cliff with only 6,600 homes and businesses taking the paper each day. When I joined the paper in 2004, our daily circulation was 24,000, and more than 125 people worked under the same roof with me.

By my count, when the dust settles after this massive layoff, there will be only 26 or so full-time employees working out of the Bell Fork Road office.

The economic impact of 40 lost jobs equates annually to more than $1 million of lost spending in Onslow County. Its effects will be felt by retail stores, automotive centers and restaurants. The indirect hit, though difficult to measure, will be from less freight carriers driving into Jacksonville with its drivers spending money on fuel and food and overnight visitors occupying hotel rooms.

Step back and consider what’s happening to your community paper.

Folks, when they drive the last stake into your hometown paper, it will be gone and then who will cover high school sports, local government and area happenings? Bloggers???? Think again.

And let me leave you with fact. Despite the doom and gloom about struggling media companies and newsprint tariffs increasing the cost of production, the newspaper business is very lucrative to the vulture capitalist that call the shots. Just last Thursday, New Media Investment Group (ticker symbol NEWM) , the parent company of Gatehouse Media, the owners of The Daily News and another 145 or so daily papers, announced a 2nd quarter dividend of 37 cents per share on each share of their common stock. In SEC filings, the company reported more than 53 million outstanding shares making this recent dividend worth more than $19.6 million. New Media hasn’t failed to deliver a dividend to its shareholders since it emerged from bankruptcy in 2013. Dividends are disbursed every three months.

McHugh said 26 positions will be lost in the pressroom and production, plus 15 at a circulation call center. No newsroom positions will be affected by this change.

That’s one bullet the newsrooms have dodged, but just one. Newsrooms in New Bern, Jacksonville, and Kinston are one-third the size they were around 2008, when newspapers coast to coast started a free fall in circulation that has not abated.

Within the past weeks, the Free Press of Kinston lost one of its two reporters due to a resignation. It is unknown whether the position will ever again be filled. Kinston now has one reporter, one photographer, a clerk shared with another department, and one regional city editor based in the Kinston newsroom.

New Bern has three reporters, one photographer, a news clerk, one sports reporter, an executive editor who oversees Kinston and New Bern, and a managing editor who focuses on New Bern and Havelock.

Jacksonville has three reporters, two sports reporters (one with the title sports editor), a managing editor, and a city editor, according to its website.

Although no jobs have been affected at the New Bern Sun Journal, the impact of a consolidated printing plant in Fayetteville on the Sun Journal is two-fold:

  • The drive time from the printing press to the loading dock is going from 46 minutes to 2 hours, 11 minutes — in good weather. For those who continue to get a printed paper, either their papers will be frequently late due to road and weather conditions, or much earlier but with older news due to early deadlines.
  • The press in Fayetteville already prints several newspapers, including the StarNews of Wilmington and the Fayetteville Observer. Adding three more daily newspapers and four more weekly newspapers will mean early deadlines and news that is even more stale. Depending on where New Bern is located in the rotation, one paper with a missed deadline could snowball and affect timely printing of all the newspapers that follow it.

Still, relative to 40 lost jobs in Jacksonville, New Bern has gotten off easy. Whether that’s good enough for readers and advertisers in New Bern remains to be seen.

Note: Randy Foster, author of this article, was executive editor of the New Bern Sun Journal and Kinston Free Press until October 2017, when he resigned.

Posted in News Media

January 7th, 2018 by newbernpostadmin

American Prospect, a non-profit website specializing in non-profit, independent journalism, has posted an article that is highly critical of GateHouse Media and explains much of what is going on at many of its properties, including the New Bern Sun Journal.

The headline states:

Saving the Free Press From Private Equity

Navigating the digital transition is a huge challenge for newspapers. Absentee ownership by private equity predators makes it all but impossible.

 

It’s a long read, but it does a good job describing the toxic nature of private equity enterprises taking over local newspapers and running them into the ground. Here’s one example cited in the article that sounds disturbingly familiar to those who have been observing what has been happening at the Sun Journal:

The Bastrop Daily Enterprise, in the northeast corner of Louisiana, was founded in 1904, part of a small family-owned chain. The newspaper did a thriving business, with 30 employees and $1.5 million in annual revenues. “We served our communities, won awards for our reporting, and made good money for the owner,” says a former staffer who asked that we not use her name. Then the Enterprise was bought by GateHouse Media, the newsroom was gutted, and all operations were centralized by the new corporate owners.

“Now they’ve got maybe eight people,” says this former employee. “They’re lucky if they’re doing $600,000 gross. I remember what these papers used to be. It’s unrecognizable.” Few citizens of Bastrop, however, know the reasons behind the wasting of the Enterprise because no one has reported on it.

The long-form article does not mention the Sun Journal specifically, but does include the Fayetteville Observer, a formerly family-owned newspaper that has undergone significant staff reductions since it was acquired by GateHouse in 2016.

In North Carolina, The Fayetteville Observer, founded in 1816, had been owned by the McMurray family since the 1920s and is the oldest North Carolina paper continually publishing. Fayetteville is hard by Fort Bragg. The paper has a daily circulation of about 62,000 across ten counties, and had been profitable and well managed. But family members, getting older, decided it was time to sell. Charles Broadwell, whose grandmother had been board chair, was the last family member running the paper. He engaged newspaper brokers to find a buyer. GateHouse, the biggest of the private equity players, took over the paper in 2016, making deep cuts in the newsroom and the business office, and moving the copy desk to their regional center. They raised the subscription price for a shabbier product. “It was like walking around at my own funeral,” Broadwell says.

There is hope, according to the article:
While newspapers will never be the money machines that they were in the glory days, they may yet endure as core institutions of American democracy.
However, against this bleak trend, being repeated at hundreds of papers nationwide, there is actually some good news. In some cities, private equity owners are selling newspapers back to local owners who are not looking for windfall gains but are committed to reinvesting in the newsroom and figuring out digital publishing. In other places, like Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Boston, a category of new local owners whom we might call benign billionaires are devising new business models to allow papers to at least break even, while they give talented editors the freedom and resources to rebuild the newsroom and advance digital. While newspapers will never be the money machines that they were in the glory days, they may yet endure as core institutions of American democracy.

 

Again, the full article is here.

I have contacted Regional Publisher Mike Distelhorst and Regional Editor Pam Sander for their comments about the American Prospect article. I will post their replies if and once I receive them.

 

In the interests of full disclosure, you should know that I was the executive editor at the Sun Journal until October 2017, when I resigned for personal and professional reasons.

Once I discovered that at least one Sun Journal telemarketer was misrepresenting the circumstances of my departure from the company, I posted my resignation letter along with a memo  I wrote just prior to my resignation. A short time later, GateHouse Media sent me a cease and desist demand, which I present here in its entirety:

December 14, 2017

Mr. Randy Foster
Email: randy.foster@newbempost.com
Re: Your Legal Obligation to GateHouse Media, LLC

Dear Mr. Foster:
I am General Counsel of GateHouse Media, Inc. (“GateHouse”). GateHouse Media is the ultimate parent of the publisher of the New Bern Sun Journal (“New Bern”). I write to remind you of your continuing legal obligations to GateHouse under State and Federal law.

While you were employed by GateHouse, you were given access to unique, confidential, and proprietary business information including information regarding management options for potential layoffs. It has come to our attention that you are publishing such information on your personal blog – http://newbempost.com/myside. Under State and Federal law, the use of such confidential and proprietary information in this manner is prohibited. Further, State and Federal law dictate that you not disclose such confidential and proprietary information to anyone, or use such information for your own benefit or the benefit of others.

To the extent that you are using such information, we request that you immediately cease and desist from such use. Should GateHouse discover that this practice is continuing we will seek an injunction against and damages from all appropriate parties for such misuse.

We certainly trust and expect that you will fully comply with your obligations to GateHouse under State and Federal law, and that no legal action by GateHouse to protect its rights will be necessary. This letter sets forth our position on the matters contained herein and should not be deemed to restrict, prejudice, waive or limit any of our rights or remedies under contract, at law or in equity.

Very Truly Yours,
Polly Granfield Sack
Sr. Vice President, Secretary And General Counsel

I responded that I complied with their demand and took the memos offline, but made a cease and desist demand of my own:

Dear Mrs. Sack:
I am sole owner and operator of the local news website, NewBernPost.com, and a former GateHouse Media employee. I have complied with your cease and desist request in your Dec. 14 letter to me. I removed the article from public access on the evening of Dec. 14, along with social media links to the referenced. It will remain offline while I discuss the matter with my lawyer.

Meanwhile, I am requesting that GateHouse Media and Coastal ENC Group, their officers and representatives, cease and desist from misrepresenting the reason for my resignation from GateHouse Media, and cease and desist from disseminating private personnel records and information about me in violation of state and federal laws and your own company policy.
I expect a timely reply in which you explain steps that will be taking to satisfy my requests. Should I discover that this practice is continuing, I will seek an injunction against and damages from all appropriate parties for such misuse.

I certainly trust and expect that you will fully comply with your obligations to me under state and federal law and GateHouse Media policies, and that no legal action by me to protect my rights will be necessary. This letter sets forth my position on the matters contained herein and should not be deemed to restrict, prejudice, waive or limit any of my rights or remedies under contract, at law or in equity.

Very Truly Yours,
Randy Foster

Posted in New Bern, New Bern business and commerce, News Media

December 15th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin
Alderman Sabrina Bengel takes the oath of office after being selected mayor pro tem. Alderman and former mayor pro tem Jeff Odham is in the background fuming. The two sit on opposite sides of the dais and, judging from their first meeting Tuesday, are on opposite sides of other things, too.

It didn’t take long for four years of bad blood between Sabrina Bengel and Dana Outlaw/Jeff Odham to spill over into Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting. The question is, who started it?



Was it Ward 1 Alderman Bengel who, during her first meeting as alderman (this time around) and using a portion of the meeting called New Business that allows aldermen to bring up issues and call for decisions that aren’t on the agenda, made a motion to restore former New Bern mayor Lee Bettis’ name to a ladder truck that was bought when he was in office? That’s what Mayor Dana Outlaw and Alderman Jeff Odham say.

Was it Ward 3 Alderman Bobby Aster, who when he was fire chief, ordered the fire truck to include Lee Bettis’ name? That’s what Mayor Outlaw says.

• Was it tradition? That’s what Alderman Aster says.

•  Was it Mayor Outlaw, who added New Business to the board meeting format? That’s what Alderman Bengel says.

Was it Ward 6 Alderman Odham, who used the New Business portion of the agenda to make a motion to remove Bettis’ name from the engine several years ago? That’s what Bengel, Aster and Alderman Jamee Harris say.

• Was it Lee Bettis, who, while recuperating from a hip replacement surgery, took a prescribed medication that could result in drowsiness (although more likely it was sleep deprivation), then drove erratically while taking his kids to school the next day? That’s what Outlaw, Odham and Kinsey say.

• Was it the New Business portion of aldermen meetings, which allows any alderman to bring up any subject and, if it can get enough votes, it passes — without any advance public notice or preparation time by staff or other aldermen? That’s what apparently everyone on the board now thinks.

The New Bern Post was the first with a story, but it’s not a big issue. In fact, the Sun Journal, CityTalk Radio, and All About Craven on CTV-TV 10 all spent a good portion of their next available programming covering it, that’s how unimportant it was.

What it does, though, is reveal the schism that exists between Outlaw/Odham, and probably the entire rest of the board. Even Alderman Johnnie Ray Kinsey, who was one of the aldermen who voted to remove Bettis’ name, was so befuddled on Tuesday that he said he was undecided, which according to some counts as a yes vote.

In the process of indicating that they didn’t care, Outlaw and Odham certainly appeared that they did. Odham said he wasn’t going to lose any sleep over it and that his comments on Tuesday would be the last he would say, but he Facebook Lived himself the next morning– while driving and, frankly, looking like he lost sleep over it — commenting on it, and he popped up in social media throughout the week like a bearded Whack-a-Mole commenting some more.

Bengel, meanwhile, sat next to her radio co-host Lee Bettis (why yes, as a matter of fact, THAT Lee Bettis) on CityTalk Friday morning explaining herself. Yes, it could be interpreted as hypocritical to use a portion of the agenda that she has frequently criticized, to force a decision that some would not like. She was simply using a weapon of Outlaw’s and Odham’s creation, against its creators, she said, more or less.

Anyway, that’s what I have today. My son Cole is in town for holiday this week and, between him and my day job, I’ve had less time to devote to New Bern Post. I’ll catch up next week, starting first with the reporter notebook that I filled up at Tuesday’s meeting.

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor, New Bern Fire Department, News Media, Opinion Tagged with:

November 28th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin

You should know that the original version of this article has been taken down following a cease and desist demand from GateHouse Media.

I was the executive editor at the Sun Journal until October 2017, when I resigned for personal and professional reasons.

Once I discovered that at least one Sun Journal telemarketer was misrepresenting the circumstances of my departure from the company, I posted my resignation letter along with a memo  I wrote just prior to my resignation. A short time later, GateHouse Media sent me a cease and desist demand, which I present here in its entirety:

December 14, 2017

Mr. Randy Foster
Email: randy.foster@newbempost.com
Re: Your Legal Obligation to GateHouse Media, LLC

Dear Mr. Foster:
I am General Counsel of GateHouse Media, Inc. (“GateHouse”). GateHouse Media is the ultimate parent of the publisher of the New Bern Sun Journal (“New Bern”). I write to remind you of your continuing legal obligations to GateHouse under State and Federal law.

While you were employed by GateHouse, you were given access to unique, confidential, and proprietary business information including information regarding management options for potential layoffs. It has come to our attention that you are publishing such information on your personal blog – http://newbempost.com/myside. Under State and Federal law, the use of such confidential and proprietary information in this manner is prohibited. Further, State and Federal law dictate that you not disclose such confidential and proprietary information to anyone, or use such information for your own benefit or the benefit of others.

To the extent that you are using such information, we request that you immediately cease and desist from such use. Should GateHouse discover that this practice is continuing we will seek an injunction against and damages from all appropriate parties for such misuse.

We certainly trust and expect that you will fully comply with your obligations to GateHouse under State and Federal law, and that no legal action by GateHouse to protect its rights will be necessary. This letter sets forth our position on the matters contained herein and should not be deemed to restrict, prejudice, waive or limit any of our rights or remedies under contract, at law or in equity.

Very Truly Yours,
Polly Granfield Sack
Sr. Vice President, Secretary And General Counsel

I responded that I complied with their demand and took the memos offline, but made a cease and desist demand of my own:

Dear Mrs. Sack:
I am sole owner and operator of the local news website, NewBernPost.com, and a former GateHouse Media employee. I have complied with your cease and desist request in your Dec. 14 letter to me. I removed the article from public access on the evening of Dec. 14, along with social media links to the referenced. It will remain offline while I discuss the matter with my lawyer.

Meanwhile, I am requesting that GateHouse Media and Coastal ENC Group, their officers and representatives, cease and desist from misrepresenting the reason for my resignation from GateHouse Media, and cease and desist from disseminating private personnel records and information about me in violation of state and federal laws and your own company policy.
I expect a timely reply in which you explain steps that will be taking to satisfy my requests. Should I discover that this practice is continuing, I will seek an injunction against and damages from all appropriate parties for such misuse.

I certainly trust and expect that you will fully comply with your obligations to me under state and federal law and GateHouse Media policies, and that no legal action by me to protect my rights will be necessary. This letter sets forth my position on the matters contained herein and should not be deemed to restrict, prejudice, waive or limit any of my rights or remedies under contract, at law or in equity.

Very Truly Yours,
Randy Foster

 

Posted in New Bern Post, News Media, Opinion

November 17th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin

It’s been about a month since I launched my local news site, https://www.newbernpost.com, as a hobby and as a personal mission to keep a journalistic watch over local government since that responsibility has been shirked by the local corporate-owned news media, including the Sun Journal, where I was executive editor until last month.

I don’t post every day … early on, I posted once or twice a week. This week, it looks like I will be posting most days. But this is a hobby, a spare time thing, and I have a day job and other responsibilities.

Over the last two weeks of October, starting with the launch on Oct. 17, my site had 210 visitors, with 741 views for 16 posts. I had just started the Post’s Facebook page.

Today, following the first two weeks of November, my November numbers are 1,215 visitors, with 3,593 views for 21 posts.

My Facebook wall has 281 likes and 296 followers.

The audience numbers are nothing spectacular, but enough to lull me into thinking my time spent on it is worthwhile.

There are many more things I would like to do, but they are all of the scope that would require me to pay full attention to New Bern Post, which I can’t afford.

Meanwhile, a reader asked me if I would be selling advertising or subscriptions. My answer about advertising is, no. I don’t think I have the audience number to deliver value to an advertiser. As for subscriptions, I don’t want to restrict access to my site because I think it defeats the purpose of shining light on what local leaders are doing.

I would not turn away contributions from people who value my work, or sponsorships from businesses who think what I am doing brings value to the community. That’s why I am adding Paypal Subscribe (and Unsubscribe) buttons to the site. If you are a business owner and want to discuss sponsoring the Post, please email me.

I have already reached the point where I am turning away news tips and offers for help from other local journalists, because they would open a floodgate that would be hard to close unless New Bern Post was my full-time job.

I have, however, partnered with another one-person local news site that specializes in community news and events (Wendy Card’s amazing New Bern Now site, http://www.newbernnow.com), because I think our content is complementary. We run the other’s RSS feeds on our respective websites.

If I have accomplished nothing else, I did this: the Sun Journal has resumed coverage of local city meetings. I sat next to its reporter at Tuesday’s Board of Aldermen meeting, the first time I have seen a reporter from any local news service, including TV, radio and print, since I started this site a month ago.

It delighted me to see the Sun Journal back where it belongs, and to spend time with a former colleague who I respect and admire.

Comments? Contact me

Posted in New Bern Post, News Media

November 14th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin

Coming up Tuesday in the New Bern Post: Full coverage of the last Parking Advisory Committee meeting Tuesday afternoon and its final recommendations to the Board of Aldermen, and top-story coverage of Tuesday evening’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

Later this week, I’ll drill down into the minutiae.

Because I’m not looking to build an audience. I’m looking to build community awareness and civic involvement.

~ Randy Foster, New Bern Post

Got tips or comments?

Posted in Aldermen, Board of Aldermen, Mayor, New Bern, New Bern Post, News Media

October 20th, 2017 by newbernpostadmin

The Sun Journal has a new advertising director, but you probably wouldn’t know that from reading the Sun Journal’s own article, here. (Note: The Sun Journal updated the linked article to make it more locally relevant.)

The Sun Journal has a new executive editor, but you probably wouldn’t know from the Sun Journal’s own article, here, that his position is interim or why he is replacing me at the job.

Newspapers pride themselves in covering local news, but when it comes to covering themselves, it’s hit and miss.

Part of it is that journalists don’t like to write about themselves, even if the news is positive.

Part of it is that the corporations that own newspapers want to control the message, especially if the news is negative.

These two reasons are not new. What is fairly new, however, is the technology newspapers use to share information between themselves for public distribution.

Let’s take them one at a time.

First, about the journalists. Reporters are trained from the start to be dispassionate about the topics they cover and avoid as much as possible putting their own voice into the story. You may notice that journalists covering events rarely applaud, for example. This dispassion is so ingrained in journalists, especially veteran journalists, that when a story about the newspaper itself needs to be assigned, it is seen as dirty duty.

Then there are the corporations. In the case of the story about my replacement at the Sun Journal, it reports that there will be a new leader in the New Bern and Kinston newsrooms and that he will replace me. It doesn’t say why I left or when (pretty basic facts to leave out, journalistically speaking). The reason that information was left out was because I left for personal and professional reasons spelled out in a lengthy resignation letter that Sun Journal and GateHouse managers would rather you not know about.

Finally, the technology, which explains what went wrong with the story about the new ad manager.

The Sun Journal and its sister papers in Kinston and Jacksonville, more and more, are being led from the regional office at StarNews Media in Wilmington. That’s where the publisher (the overall boss), the senior editor, the HR director, the circulation manager … and now the advertising director … are all based. (See comments below for an opposing viewpoint from GateHouse’s Coastal North Carolina regional circulation director, Don Wilson.)

At the same time, due to diminished staff sizes in the local offices, there is more and more sharing of content between the four newspapers.

The StarNews of Wilmington did a story about the new regional advertising director, but the reporter who wrote the story and the editor who checked the story and posted it online weren’t really thinking that it was going to be seen by readers in New Bern, Kinston and Jacksonville. It would have been an easy fix, revising a sentence or two, but Wilmington is the dominant paper of the four dailies and readers in New Bern, Kinston and Jacksonville are not high priorities.

That wouldn’t be all that big an issue were it not for the fact that the StarNews article was posted to all four dailies at the same time.

What the article lacked in its first version and still lacks is the information that Sun Journal ad director Terry Tokie left her position some months ago and was replaced by Jacksonville-based ad director Ken Warren, and that the new Wilmington-based ad director is now over Ken Warren.

Moving forward, you may notice a lot of news about Kinston, Jacksonville and Wilmington on the New Bern Sun Journal website, with a lot less news about New Bern. It’s a combination of shared stories, and smaller news staffs.

The solution is in your hands. The Sun Journal, which already is arguably the second largest of the four dailies (Randy’s comment: note my use of the word “arguably” and see Don Wilson’s comment about circulation, below), will not get better by readers quitting their subscriptions and businesses cancelling their advertising. If you value having a daily newspaper in New Bern, you need to support the one we have, even if it is owned by a corporation that is more focused on quarterly dividend checks than it is on keeping century old community institutions like the Sun Journal strong and healthy.

Posted in New Bern, New Bern business and commerce, News Media Tagged with:

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