It’s times like this that I really don’t miss the newspaper business.
If you haven’t already heard, the New York Times Co. has sold its Regional Media Group, which includes The Ledger and the News Chief, to Halifax Media Holdings for $143 million. The Ledger’s official story is here.
A few years ago, I would have considered this a pretty good thing. I used to work for a private media company in West Palm Beach with the Palm Beach Post, and life was pretty good. There weren’t any shareholders to worry about, just making a profit was a pretty good thing, etc. Working for the New York Times Co. always had sort of a heavy-handed feel, with bigwigs from New York dictating what we had to do locally.
Now, however, I’m kind of worried for what’s going to happen to The Ledger and the other regional newspapers. It’s not an apocalypse worry because I don’t think the papers are shutting down, but I’m not sure what they’ll become.
The biggest issue is uncertainty. Halifax currently owns the Daytona Beach News-Journal and a few other smaller properties, but this is a huge load that they are taking on. Granted, the sales price really is kind of a bargain, but I’m sure Halifax is still taking on a lot of debt to make this deal happen. And if they’re taking on this much debt, I would have to think they’re looking to cut costs as much as possible.
In a Q&A sent to employees of all the regional papers that were sold, the NYT said that Halifax will inform them within 48 hours whether they are being offered a position with the new company (the full letter can be found here, courtesy of Romenesko). Even though the memo says that the “vast majority” of employees will be offered jobs, who knows what constitutes a “vast majority.” And the new job offers could have lower salaries and likely worse benefits than the NYT provided (the benefits of the NYT were actually very good).
Aside from the job offers, there’s also details (some small) that will affect the workplace. I’ve read on one journalism forum that Halifax has a very strict dress code (no jeans, no polos with logos on them, etc.) which would certainly impact some people at these papers. I also believe the CEO of Halifax doubles as the publisher at Daytona Beach. Is he going to try to do the same thing in at least the Florida properties? How hands-on is the leadership when it comes to the newsroom? Does the new CEO have people he wants to bring in as editors?
There are lots of practical questions and no real answers, primarily because Halifax was only founded in 2010 and there isn’t any kind of track record available to see how they run a newspaper other than in Daytona Beach.
It is possible, however, that this could be a great thing. Maybe Halifax will support the papers with enough resources and give them enough local control that they will begin thriving. Maybe the new owners will have fresh ideas and methods that will benefit the regional papers. It’s not a foregone conclusion that this is a bad thing by any means. It’s just a big unknown.
I can’t imagine how unnerving it is at The Ledger and the other papers right now, and I’m just praying for my friends and former co-workers there that everything works out. The last thing I want to see are more good people let go.
I haven’t seen anyone from Lakeland post something like this, but a reporter from a California paper that was sold gave some insight into emotions in the newsroom, which you can read here. As you can see, it’s incredibly stressful.
Obviously lots of other companies in other industries have been sold locally or closed down, resulting in good people losing their jobs. I’m not trying to suggest that The Ledger or anyone that works there is better than anyone else who has experienced something similar. But this one just hits home a little more for me.