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Author Topic: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard  (Read 5437 times)

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Offline darrellmaurina

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GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« on: February 22, 2009, 05:55:48 AM »

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Here's another story in the long drawn-out saga of GateHouse Media's collapse -- they've gotten rid of their "web guru," Howard Owens, who was largely responsible for trying to take the company into the future of online publishing.
 
http://www.capecodtoday.com/blogs/index.php/2009/02/21/local-weeklies-parent-whack-web-geek-cc-30?blog=14
 
The company is shutting down a number of its smaller newspapers, including some that were the size of the GateHouse-owned Waynesville Daily Guide, Rolla Daily News and Camden Lake Sun Leader and even much larger papers like the Kansas City Kansan (a suburban Kansas City, Kan., daily paper, not to be confused with the Kansas City Star on the Missouri side of the state line). Owens was responsible for trying to restart the Kansas City Kansan as an online-only publication, and also was trying to do the same in a new publication, the Batavian, in upstate New York.
 
Here's a few quotes from the Cape Cod Today, an online-only newspaper that competes directly with several GateHouse newspapers in Massachussetts:
 
"Within journalism new-media circles, Owens is a highly respected thinker. Before joining GateHouse in September 2006, he helped launch pioneering new-media ventures at the Bakersfield Californian and, before that, the Ventura County Star, according to his LinkedIn profile. At GateHouse, Owens pushed a strategy of Web-first journalism, exhorting reporters and editors to post breaking news stories on the company's Wicked Local sites before running them in their print editions. He was also a strong advocate of quick-and-dirty video for the Wicked Local sites. In addition, he's a co-founder of the Wired Journalists social network."
GateHouse continues to have major financial problems, though its stock has recently rebounded from about 4 cents per share to about 10 cents per share. (It had been trading around $5 per share as recently as the spring of last year, and was kicked off the New York Stock Exchange after its stock dropped below $1 in late summer and company executives weren't able to stop the drop.)
Here's an article on GateHouse's efforts to restructure its debt:
Problems continue throughout the industry. The Journal-Register Company, one of America's larger newspaper publishers, has now declared bankruptcy.
http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/40037947.html
Things aren't getting better anytime soon for print journalism, and now it looks like GateHouse's foray into online journalism has hit a hiccup. We'll have to see what happens next with GateHouse; I don't think anybody knows the answer.
Darrell Todd Maurina
Check out the Pulaski County Daily News online newspaper at
http://www.pulaskicountyweb.com
Cell: (573) 433.6733 * FAX: (573) 774-2349
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/darrellmaurina/
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Offline Vado Del Rio

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2009, 05:01:02 PM »
Kirk Davis did an excellent job of spinning the termination of Howard Owens.
 
In his expanded role, Brad will oversee and foster a stronger alignment of our print and online strategy, organizational structure, training and support. In turn, this will enable Bill Blevins to focus more on accelerating our online revenue performance, but more importantly, devote more time to strategic planning, identifying new digital opportunities and developing business models to support them. While there are many other benefits we’ll realize, I'm particularly excited due to:


1) The confidence I have in Brad and Bill, working closely with me, to bring greater clarity, responsiveness, support and service from a "field" perspective. 


2) The opportunity we have to bring greater continuity to our overall content strategy and product development on all platforms, with a premium on scalability. This will allow us to make big plays when we want, where we want. In other words, we'll benefit from simplified implementation of next-generation products en masse.


3) Our company's ability to step back and appreciate what we've all accomplished together, but to welcome a fresh approach by bringing our vast corporate talent in online development and support together with our premiere news division and its contagious enthusiasm and culture.

4) Our company's increased capacity as a result of these changes to make a greater commitment to long-term and strategic planning so that we can all feel increasingly inspired about where our hard work can lead us. The possibilities are endless.

As Brad and Bill meet with staff and focus on this transition, I've asked them to be prepared to share their plans with us within the next month, which will no doubt allow them to take into consideration any suggestions they receive from you, our digital staff and our outside consulting firm (FTI).

Thank you!

FOSTER A STRONGER ALIGNMENT, what a joke!  It sounds reminiscent of what they did to Joel Goodrich.

Offline ex-ed

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #2 on: February 23, 2009, 12:30:09 AM »
Here's another story in the long drawn-out saga of GateHouse Media's collapse -- they've gotten rid of their "web guru," Howard Owens, who was largely responsible for trying to take the company into the future of online publishing.
 
http://www.capecodtoday.com/blogs/index.php/2009/02/21/local-weeklies-parent-whack-web-geek-cc-30?blog=14
 
...
Problems continue throughout the industry. The Journal-Register Company, one of America's larger newspaper publishers, has now declared bankruptcy.
http://www.philly.com/philly/hp/news_update/40037947.html
...
Note who gets the shaft at the Journal Register Company:
    "As part of the bankruptcy case, the company has asked for permission to pay as much as $1.7 million in bonuses to 30 top officers and key employees should the Journal Register meet certain reorganization goals, including closing more papers and eliminating more employees. The company employs about 3,500 people."

    I worked for JRC for about a year and a half after I retired from the Army in late 1997. They were one of the worst newspaper companies to work for. In fact, they weren't a newspaper company at all, just a holding company set up to scarf up small community newspapers, drain them of all possible assets and strip news staffs to the bone, then complain to creditors that no one was buying ads in their stripped-down "no-news" newspapers.
    Meanwhile, management was taking all the profits as "bonuses" and leaving stockholders holding empty bags. The went public in 1996, with stocks selling around $22 per share.
    Gatehouse has followed a similar path with similar results. Staff consolidation between the Daily Guide/Rolla Daily News/St. James Leader Press/ while I worked there (Aug. 2006-Aug. 2008) resulted in about a one-third to one-quarter drop in employee numbers.
    In all fairness, the problems at GateHouse and JRC reflect the state of the industry, not just the companies involved. It's too bad. I really enjoyed community newspapering.
    Time to look for a FISHING HOLE!

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

Offline ex-ed

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2009, 12:32:14 AM »
... what a joke!  It sounds reminiscent of what they did to Joel Goodrich.
Joel Goodridge (note spelling) was an old-school newspaper publisher who was doing a good job of maintaining the profit base at the DG and the Rolla Daily News. GH really stepped on it when they summarily fired him.
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

Offline Vado Del Rio

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2009, 02:22:50 AM »
Joel Goodridge (note spelling) was an old-school newspaper publisher who was doing a good job of maintaining the profit base at the DG and the Rolla Daily News. GH really stepped on it when they summarily fired him.

Thanks for pointing out my error.  I do know his correct name and visited with him on occasion over the years.  Yeah, I bitch and moan about the Daily Guide but I'll continue my subscription mainly to support my local paper.  I just hope the Gatehouse philosophy of cuts, mergers, and profits doesn't further errode into the "hometown" uniqueness of our paper.

Offline okie the thread killer

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2009, 02:38:31 AM »
Gatehouse has followed a similar path with similar results. Staff consolidation between the Daily Guide/Rolla Daily News/St. James Leader Press/

While you are correcting, it is St. James Leader Journal, and tell Darrell it is Camdenton Lake Sun Leader, and I miss you and I need some trout! lol
I have it on good authority that the Hokey-Pokey really IS what it's all about.

Offline ex-ed

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2009, 03:37:56 AM »
Gatehouse has followed a similar path with similar results. Staff consolidation between the Daily Guide/Rolla Daily News/St. James Leader Press/

While you are correcting, it is St. James Leader Journal, and tell Darrell it is Camdenton Lake Sun Leader, and I miss you and I need some trout! lol
    Thanks for the correction.
    Amy and I made a trip to Bass Pro in Springfield Saturday; trout season opens this coming weekend, but we are going to be gone over the weekend. Expect a trout or two by the Ides of March!
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"

Offline darrellmaurina

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2009, 08:02:07 AM »
Gatehouse has followed a similar path with similar results. Staff consolidation between the Daily Guide/Rolla Daily News/St. James Leader Press/

While you are correcting, it is St. James Leader Journal, and tell Darrell it is Camdenton Lake Sun Leader, and I miss you and I need some trout! lol

Thank you, Okie, for clarification of the community name for the Lake Sun Leader. I had been calling it the Camdenton Lake Sun Leader until I was told by somebody that I was wrong, that Camdenton is the city, but the paper goes by the name of Camden County, not the city. If I remember right, the masthead on the printed edition is "Lake Sun," the website is "www.lakesunleader.com," and the full name is not anywhere obvious on the website (or at least I couldn't find it when I looked last year).
Darrell Todd Maurina
Check out the Pulaski County Daily News online newspaper at
http://www.pulaskicountyweb.com
Cell: (573) 433.6733 * FAX: (573) 774-2349
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/darrellmaurina/
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Offline darrellmaurina

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2009, 08:26:06 AM »
Joel Goodridge (note spelling) was an old-school newspaper publisher who was doing a good job of maintaining the profit base at the DG and the Rolla Daily News. GH really stepped on it when they summarily fired him.

Let's just say GateHouse Media lost far more money in advertising dollars and exacerbation of community ill-will than they ever saved in staff costs when they fired Joel Goodridge with no notice after decades of dedicated service to the Rolla Daily News, Waynesville Daily Guide, and several other papers in what is now GateHouse Media.

Joel spent virtually his entire adult life working for GateHouse and its predecessor companies, but he got thrown out like a piece of trash and replaced by an out-of-town publisher from Kansas who knows nothing about the local area and has a history of spending just a few years in each community where he worked before moving on somewhere else. The abusive treatment Joel received is a major part of why I have the startup capital needed to begin the Pulaski County Daily News.

Don't get me wrong -- Joel had nothing to do with me starting the online news operation. He's too nice to get involved in revenge stuff.

What happened is that in early 2008 the Daily Guide had been leaving unpaid bills all over Pulaski County. I don't know all the details, but it appears to be at least in part because of corporate orders to preserve cash flow as the company's stock prices were collapsing. Dan Hassett can say more about the unpaid bills he had to watch crossing his desk as the Daily Guide's general manager; I had to deal with angry businesspeople all over the county who happened to also be school board and city council members who I had to deal with on a regular basis in my work, and all I could to was tell people to call Rolla. A number of local businesspeople trusted Joel and believed his assurances that things would be taken care of. Then, after Joel was fired with no warning after decades of faithful service to the company, I dealt with businesspeople all over Pulaski County screaming bloody murder about "those @((##$@!!!! out-of-town jerks who don't pay their bills."

As far as I know, Floyd Jernigan, the new publisher in Rolla who supervises the Rolla Daily News, Waynesville Daily Guide, and St. James Leader-Journal (but not the Camdenton daily and its regional weeklies), has now taken care of all the unpaid bills. But the slow payment, combined with the termination of a publisher who grew up in this area and was known for honesty and trustworthiness, REALLY antagonized a lot of people who decided that one of the best ways to punish Gatehouse was to pay for me to do what I'm doing now.
 
Another problem is it just doesn't work for a local newspaper to tell local businesses they ought to spend their money locally, when the Waynesville Daily Guide is filled with ads for Rolla businesses telling local people to go out of town and shop at their competitors. It also doesn't work to have the news editor, news reporter, publisher, and ad manager all living in Rolla.
 
The result?
 
Friday's edition of the Daily Guide has a big "advertise here" banner on the bottom of page one because nobody wanted the premier placement of a front page ad. The church pages have the regular ads from local businesspeople who want to support local churches, but other than that, the only display ads in the entire newspaper are small ads for Cinema 8 in Waynesville, Farley's Arkansas Pondstockers, and Anderson Foot Clinic of Rolla/Salem/Waynesville on page 6, a good-sized quarter-page ad on the classifieds page for Seeger Toyota of St. Robert, and a Hawthorn Bank of St. Robert quarter-page ad on page 12.
 
Saturday's paper was just as bad: again, a big "advertise here" banner on the bottom of page one, what looks like a one-eighth page ad for Lowe and Lowe law firm on page two, small ads for First Presbyterian Church of Rolla, Metro Business College of Rolla, Cinema 8, Anderson Foot Clinic, and a quarter-page ad for Mid-America Bank of St. Robert/Dixon/Rolla on page 4, a big full-page ad for Phelps County Regional Medical Center of Rolla on page 7, and small display classified ads for Sellers-Sexton of St. Robert and Lincoln University of Jefferson City for its Fort Leonard Wood program.
 
This means many of the ads in the Waynesville Daily Guide are promoting out-of-town businesses, being sold by an out-of-town ad manager in Rolla into a paper that is edited, reported, and published by Rolla residents. That's not a recipe for success in a community newspaper.

Floyd Jernigan seems like a decent guy caught in a very bad situation in the middle of a declining newspaper industry. It's not like he's able to tell Rolla advertisers to go away; he needs the money, and needs it badly to do his share of paying off GateHouse Media's $1.2 billion debt. (Yes, that's "billion" with a "B," up from about $550 million about two years ago.) Publishers in today's world don't do what Joel did -- spending his entire aduilt life with one company and basically living in one area. Not just publishers but also editors and reporters play "musical chairs" and move regularly from city to city. The result is really bad for newspapers and especially smaller newspapers since people don't ever get to know their community before they leave town for someplace "bigger and better." But it's not fair to blame Floyd Jernigan for following the standard promotion track that most people follow in this business. The problem is the system, not the person, and the system is killing not just newspapers but also television stations all over the United States.
Darrell Todd Maurina
Check out the Pulaski County Daily News online newspaper at
http://www.pulaskicountyweb.com
Cell: (573) 433.6733 * FAX: (573) 774-2349
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/darrellmaurina/
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Offline darrellmaurina

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #9 on: March 04, 2009, 09:27:55 AM »
I don't know any of the details, but Gatehouse's former web wizard is back in the cybersaddle again.
 
Howard Owens, who previously worked for metro newspapers in California and is well known in internet publishing circles, was recruited to GateHouse Media to help it transition to online publication operation about three years ago. He left GateHouse Media in what other publications called a "whacking":
 
http://www.capecodtoday.com/blogs/index.php/2009/02/21/local-weeklies-parent-whack-web-geek-cc-30?blog=14
 
He's now going to be running the Batavian, an online-only newspaper in Batavia, N.Y., near GateHouse's headquarters, that GateHouse started up to see if it could make online newspapers work.
 
You can find that site here:
http://thebatavian.com/
 
And here's a post giving a few details about what happened, but not many:
http://thebatavian.com/blogs/howard-owens/new-chapter-batavian/4779
 
Your guess is as good as mine on what this means for GateHouse Media, but it does appear to mean that there's one more guy trying to do the same thing that I'm doing -- running an internet newspaper in an age when print media are dying. (And from looking at the comments on the Batavian post, they're having the same problem of trying to find a way to pay for a sports reporter.)
Darrell Todd Maurina
Check out the Pulaski County Daily News online newspaper at
http://www.pulaskicountyweb.com
Cell: (573) 433.6733 * FAX: (573) 774-2349
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/darrellmaurina/
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Offline darrellmaurina

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Re: GateHouse Media whacks its web wizard
« Reply #10 on: March 04, 2009, 08:27:14 PM »
I just got a reply from the former head of internet publishing for GateHouse Media who has asked me to post a reply on the Pulaski County Web... there's a lot of talk out in cyberland about what happened to Howard Owens and he wants to clarify some of it. I'm happy to help out.
 
Here's Mr. Owens' comments:
 
I appreciate the notice and the praise, but I want to be clear -- in no way did I intend my words to be in anyway critical of GateHouse Media.  I'm talking strictly about how to operate online for the kind of small community sites I'm most interested in.  The web is way more personal than print, making local, engaged staff much more important.
I am very proud of my time at GHM and remain friends and an admire with so many of the people worked with from top to bottom. I do not want to be associated in anyway with any criticism of GHM.
There's a lot of misunderstanding about the company out there. It's not my place to correct it, but be assured, I remain proud of my association with GateHouse.
Darrell Todd Maurina
Check out the Pulaski County Daily News online newspaper at
http://www.pulaskicountyweb.com
Cell: (573) 433.6733 * FAX: (573) 774-2349
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/darrellmaurina/
Follow me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/darrellmaurina/