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Gatehouse emerges from bankruptcy but not without a cost

When Colleen Farrell returned to Gatehouse’s Messenger Post Newspapers (MPN) in 2012 after a four-year hiatus, only a handful of employees were in the Canandaigua, N.Y. office. Rows of cubicles sat empty and lights in certain areas of the office remained off. When she asked where everyone was, assuming much of the staff was on summer vacation, she was surprised to learn this was the entire staff.

It’s a story heard often in these trying times for newspapers, but more often it’s an issue for bigger papers. Gatehouse, which owns 78 dailies and more than 200 weeklies, has undergone a number of changes and cuts, the most recent being the company’s emergence from bankruptcy two months after filing chapter 11. The filing allowed the company to restructure and put Gatehouse, as well as Local Media Group, a 33-local paper consortium formally owned by the Dow Jones Company, under the ownership of New Media Investment Group Inc.

The shake-up began when Local Media Group’s Times Herald-Record in in Middletown, N.Y. eliminated its photo department. That resulted in the layoffs of four positions, as well as a senior editor for local news, a city editor and assistant sports editor, Romenesko.com reported. Meanwhile, at Gatehouse’s Cape Cod Media, seven full-time and 10 part-time employees were laid off. According to BizJournals.com, a total of 10 Massachusetts papers will close next month, holding a combined circulation of less than 10,000 papers a week. Reportedly, displaced staff will be moved to the company’s larger markets.

Gatehouse’s Canandaigua, N.Y. flagship papers the Daily Messenger and weekly post papers, weren’t as fortunate. (Note: I worked for MPN before Gatehouse acquired it in 2007). Earlier this month, MPN said goodbye to another handful of reporters when it laid off seven full-time employees – four post reporters, two sports reporters and a page designer – working at its eight weeklies. “I used to say, half-jokingly, that they needed to kill the papers, or invest in them. That we couldn’t go on the way we were,” said Farrell, who exited the papers in September after only a year. “Then, when I learned that the four Post reporters were being let go, I was devastated for them. Professionally, of course, because they were out of jobs. Personally, because they didn’t deserve to be. But I was devastated because it felt like a death in the family.”

Despite the cuts, rumors abound that Boston Globe’s new owner John Henry is contemplating selling the Worcester Telegram to Gatehouse. The large media company’s restructuring has no doubt been a means for the company to move forward in a struggling industry. However reporters of the once family-owned Messenger Post Newspapers can’t be expected to be happy at the downsizing of its weeklies.

“I know many of us expats were concerned about what this means for the papers. From what I understand, there will still be some local news content, but I think it will be even less than what has been in there since the ranks thinned a few years ago,” said Farrell. “Media colleagues have expressed shock and sadness, though. Which is a testament to how well regarded these papers once were. We – and yes, I still feel tremendous loyalty to MPN and can’t help but say ‘we’ – provided very good content once. I hope to see that day come again, but I know it won’t under the Gatehouse regime. If anything, the experience has taught me that if there’s any future in journalism, it’s not to be found in corporations.”

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