DARK DAYS AHEAD? No one knows for sure. [Photo by Richard McCaffrey]
In February of 1997, two granddaughters of former Providence Journal publisher Stephen O. Metcalf (the first of three successive Metcalfs to hold that position) paid $9828 for a full-page ad in the paper.
“We mourn the sale of the Providence Journal Company to A. H. Belo,” it read. “The news of this transaction was a complete shock and greatly upset us; but more importantly, we are saddened by the loss of the independence of the newspaper and what that has meant for well over 100 years to the citizens of Providence and the State of Rhode Island.”
The sisters were referring to the blockbuster transaction by which that Dallas-based media conglomerate forked over $1.5 billion for the Journal and its handful of local television stations. The deal made Belo “the 10th-largest television group in the country, measured by household reach,” The New York Times reported.
In addition to whatever bitterness the sale left at the Metcalf family dinner table, it also left plenty of uncertainty at Journal HQ. In a follow-up article after the deal closed, the Times wrote, “[T]hese journalists wonder, would Belo one day sell The Journal-Bulletin to a less hospitable chain?”
Seventeen years later, we have an answer — or, at least, a partial one. Last week, on the day after the Journal celebrated its 185th anniversary, the paper announced it would be sold for $46 million to a new chain: the New Media Investment Group, parent company of GateHouse Media.
But will this new owner be “less hospitable” than Belo, as Journal staffers once feared?
It’s impossible to say at this point. But we still went searching for answers to three pressing questions.
WHO ARE THE JOURNAL’S NEW OWNERS?
In this post-Metcalf world, it can feel like you need an MBA just to understand who, exactly, is buying the ProJo.
One way of describing the situation, it seems, is to say “a post-bankruptcy media conglomerate called GateHouse Media now operating under a parent company, the New Media Investment Group, which itself is owned by a larger firm called Fortress Investment Group LLC, which manages over $60 billion in assets from offices all over the world.”
Another way is to say that the Journal will soon be owned by a huge-assed, non-local, megacompany with a portfolio of “451 community publications, 367 related websites, and six yellow page directories” that “operate[s] in 363 markets across 27 states.” These are the Big Boys. . . even if they’re “New Media” Big Boys who brag about how many yellow page directories they own.
The company does not enjoy the greatest reputation. As Philippe and Jorge mention this week, readers of the journo-gossip warehouse, jimromenesko.com, know that GateHouse is infamous for a 2013 memo sent to employees at two of its Massachusetts papers, The Brockton Enterprise and the Quincy’s Patriot Ledger, announcing, “We will no longer be able to supply coffee service in our newsrooms.” More recently, the alt-weekly Illinois Times (which follows GateHouse news after the company purchased Springfield’s State Journal-Register) quoted a “former GateHouse employee” who said, “You seen Goodfellas?. . . GateHouse is like Paulie when he buys that guy’s restaurant, runs up bills on the joint’s credit, then has Joe Pesci burn it down when he can’t extract any more money from it.”