“I’ve been asking the question a lot around here: what is the vision and what is the goal? And I don’t know the answer yet.” –Brooke Hauser
By Sarah Robertson
Newspapers of New England announced yesterday that Daily Hampshire Gazette editor-in-chief Brooke Hauser’s position would be terminated, effective immediately.
“I want people to subscribe to the Gazette and I want people to support local news,” Hauser told The Shoestring. “I want to see the paper do more than plugging holes and I want to see a larger vision embraced and articulated clearly.”
Hauser, the first permanent female editor in the newspaper’s 235-year history, broke the news of her firing on Twitter yesterday: “And… I was just told my job was ‘eliminated.’ I love my staff, I love this paper, and I love this community. What a shame.”
“The staffing changes we’re making keep the Gazette moving forward while we wait until the economy improves,” publisher Michael Moses said in a letter to readers. “Most of the positions we are eliminating are those that do not create any content. Our aim is to reduce or eliminate the impact on our readers and customers.”
Several other staff members are leaving the newspaper in the latest restructuring move, some accepting buyouts and others getting laid off. Veteran sports editor Mike Moran announced online that he took a buyout and would be leaving the company after 18 years. In a tweet, reporter Dusty Christensen suggested that “at least seven other colleagues” are leaving the paper as well.
“We are moving forward with a restructuring of our workforce so we can put our company on a stronger path for the future,” Newspapers of New England Publisher Michael Moses said in a statement. “We have been working around the clock to determine a streamlined organization, and while the loss of valuable employees is never without regret, the new organizational structure is shaping up to be strong.”
Hauser served as the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s arts and culture editor before she was promoted in 2018 to fill a role left vacant by the dramatic departure of former executive editor Jeff Good.
“I’ve been asking the question a lot around here: what is the vision and what is the goal? And I don’t know the answer yet,” Hauser said. “It’s a whole kind of reenvisioning that needs to happen, and I know it is happening in some places, and I think it should happen in western Mass because the community here deserves it.”
The latest shake-up at the Hampshire Gazette follows a pattern of cuts and consolidations in recent years made across the parent company, Newspapers of New England. In June 2018, four positions from the papers’ shared advertising and design department were outsourced to Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the United States. Two years after buying (and gutting) the Athol Daily News, Newspapers of New England announced last year they would close the Athol office altogether and push production responsibilities to the Greenfield Recorder under the direction of editor Joan Livingston.
With Hauser gone, Livingston will now assume editorial responsibilities for the Daily Hampshire Gazette, becoming “editor in chief for the Pioneer Valley.”
“Basically, I see this change as a collaboration,” Livingston wrote in a Dec. 30 letter to Gazette readers. “Although I pledge to keep the identities of each newspaper separate, we certainly will share coverage that is of regional interest. I see this as a great opportunity for our newspapers, and I am pleased to be a part of it.”
A mystery novelist based in Shelburne Falls, Livingston worked as editor-in-chief of The Taos News in New Mexico before moving back to western Massachusetts three years ago. “While I wasn’t expecting to return to journalism, my interest was piqued when I saw an ad in the Recorder for the editor-in-chief’s position, especially since it’s a newspaper devoted to hyperlocal journalism,” Livingston said.
Last March, Newspapers of New England laid off 13 employees citing a decline in advertising revenue due to the pandemic. Another devastating blow came this summer when the company outsourced all print and distribution jobs – again to Gannett – laying off 29 employees and shuttering the Northampton printing press. Soon after the building was listed for sale at $4.2 million. The layoffs essentially halved membership of the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild, the Gazette’s “wall-to-wall” union which has been negotiating their first contract for over a year now.
“This decision has nothing to do with ‘union busting’ but is one driven by the economics of the printing business,” Moses wrote in a short editorial about the decision to close the printing press. At odds with his statement, however, Moses told the Montague Reporter one year ago this month that the printing press was “a healthy revenue stream” that supported other aspects of the company.
Moses declined to say how many positions were eliminated on Tuesday and chose not to discuss any further plans for future layoffs. Gazette managing editors Chad Cain and Dan Crowley will now report directly to Livingston and take on additional editorial and layout responsibilities.
On Wednesday, the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild signed an agreement with Newspapers of New England on the terms of the layoffs, guaranteeing their former members fair severance and temporary healthcare coverage.
“We’re a good newspaper and we’re going to continue to work hard and continue to create excellent work,” said Gazette reporter and the union’s unit council chair Bera Dunau. “Doing more with less will make that difficult. How that works and how we will continue to succeed is up in the air.”
The four union members lost to the layoffs will receive severance packages comparable to the buyouts some staff members took and four months of healthcare coverage. Newspapers of New England also agreed to give priority to former employees if the company were to rehire for the positions lost, Dunau said.
“Obviously what rehiring looks like and how that happens is based on economic recovery and the amount of community support the newspaper gets,” Dunau said. “If you care about the Gazette, you should care about its workers and care about its product too.”
“Hard to describe how devastating this is to us. Brooke’s edits make good work great and she ALWAYS supported us as reporters and colleagues.” reporter Dusty Christensen said on Twitter. “When will the cuts stop?”
Hauser declined to comment on how the changes would impact the quality of the papers, but emphasized the importance of an accessible and civic-minded approach to news coverage. In a tweet she said that local news providers in general need to look “beyond bandaids” towards more sustainable business models and nonprofit ventures.
“Generally the local news landscape is having a really hard time right now and people aren’t really making that much of a profit.” She suggested, “Why not try something new?”
“I’d like to see a future where local news is free, where it’s made accessible to the public, where paywalls are taken down, where people can get the news they need to know in an accessible way and where more newsrooms are nonprofits,” she said.
This story has been updated to reflect that Hauser was the first permanent editor in chief of the Gazette. Debra Scherban Dion was the first female editor in chief, serving as interim editor from February through August of 2018.
Will Meyer contributed reporting.
Sarah Robertson is a freelance reporter who worked as a staff writer for the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Athol Daily News between 2017 and 2019.
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