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Gazette workers to host “Saving Our Local News” public forum on Wednesday

Jim McGovern and Lindsay Sabadosa will be there, but not Aaron Julien, the newspaper’s president and CEO

By Sarah Robertson

The news industry is in crisis right now, and few people understand that better than workers at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Between waves of layoffs last year and the printing press shutting down, the newspaper lost half of their staff just in 2020. That is why the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild decided to go public with their concerns about the future of the paper in an online forum his Wednesday night.

“Over the past year we’ve witnessed massive staffing cuts and those of us left at the paper are, to put it mildly, feeling overwhelmed,” said reporter and union member Dusty Christensen. “I think it’s time the community does know how Gazette employees feel about the direction of the paper.”

This Wednesday night at 7 p.m. the Gazette’s union will host an online panel discussion to address the fragile state of the local news industry. They will be joined by U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, journalist and former Gazette columnist Shaheen Pasha, Alicia Fleming of Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, and photojournalist Ben Brody of Report for America. The event is free and open to the public, and will be followed by an open Q&A session. Anyone can register for the Zoom meeting here

“We hope this is the start of an honest conversation in the community about what we want from our local new outlets and how to best achieve that,” Christensen said. “To continue staffing cuts year after year is not a way to ensure we have a sustainable newspaper.”

Today there are just five reporters left at the Gazette to cover all of Hampshire county, Holyoke and some southern parts of Franklin county. Some may still remember the days when the Gazette had fully staffed bureaus with physical locations in Amherst and Easthampton, or when reporters could spend weeks investigating one story instead of filing multiple stories a day. 

“People just don’t understand how time intensive true accountability reporting is,” Christensen said. “We’re not adequately staffing newspapers in so many communities.”

Newspapers of New England (NNE) owns the Gazette, Greenfield Recorder, Valley Advocate, Amherst Bulletin, what’s left of the Athol Daily News, in addition to a few New Hampshire based publications. Now with the Gazette’s Conz Street headquarters up for sale, serious questions loom about the future of the longest running daily newspaper in Massachusetts.

“We have no indication from ownership that they’re intending to sell the paper… which is encouraging,” Christensen said. “We’re very grateful we’re not owned by Gannett.”

In recent years NNE has outsourced advertising, design, and now printing work to the Gannett Company, the largest newspaper distributor in the United States. The company owns dozens of newspapers in eastern Massachusetts including the Gardner News and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, which Gannett acquired in a merger with Gatehouse Media in 2019.

Some fear the trend could foreshadow a corporate buyout similar to those happening around the country. Last week vulture capitalist hedge fund Alden Global Capital announced their acquisition of Tribune Publishing, leaving even fewer major players to spar for dominance in the American media landscape.

“The wolves are at the door. They always have been. That’s not just for our paper that’s for every paper nationwide,” Christensen said. “At the end of the day decisions about the future of the newspaper will be made by Newspapers of New England.”

Last month NNE oversaw some major changes to their leadership. Editor-in-chief Brooke Hauser was fired and replaced by Greenfield Recorder editor Joan Livingston, the newly dubbed “editor-in-chief of the Pioneer Valley.” A new publisher, Shawn Palmer, replaced Michael Moses who resigned after less than two years on the job. One might think NNE’s president and CEO Aaron Julien would use a public forum to address the recent upheavals to a concerned public, but Julien doesn’t seem to think so. He chose to ignore the union’s invite, and neither Julien nor Palmer responded to The Shoestring’s request for comment on this story.

NewsGuild members hope the panel will be an opportunity to explore new ideas for sustaining local news through means like nonprofit status or cooperative ownership, as well as other forms of community partnerships. 

“The Gazette is an institution that has long served this community and provides valuable accountability,” Christensen said. “We’re hoping this will be a positive first step.”

(For more on the state of our local media environment, listen to the Trippin’ on The Shoestring podcast episode “Disappearing Ink.”)

Sarah Robertson is a Shoestring contributor who worked as a staff writer for the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Athol Daily News between 2017 and 2019. Photo by Harrison Greene.

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