By: Tom Duggan – September, 2008
The Eagle Tribune newspaper, head-quartered in North Andover and owned by Alabama-based Community News-paper Holdings, Inc. announced last week that at least 52 employees have been laid off in the largest ever downsizing measure taken by the company.
In a memo to employees, publisher Al Getler, a puppet comedian prior to being hired by the daily newspaper, said the layoffs were “in response to difficult market conditions,” and bragged in the newspaper that the Eagle Tribune was “the best source of news and information in the Merrimack Valley.”
Sources within the newspaper say that the layoffs affect at least one news reporter and two copy editors at the North Andover facility as well as massive cuts in the newspapers’ circulation department and layoffs in some of the Tribune’s weekly newspapers such as the Derry News.
“This was a CYA situation,” one Eagle Tribune employee told The Valley Patriot. “Al Getler is trying to save his own job because his management of this newspaper has cost us millions and the only way he could show the company [in Alabama] that we could be financially viable was to immediately cut jobs to balance the books to meet the company’s financial goals.”
The Rogers family of North Andover had owned the newspaper since 1898. In 2002, the Eagle Tribune acquired other daily papers, including The Salem News, The Gloucester Daily Times and The Daily News in Newburyport.
Only a few short months after Chip Rogers sold The Eagle Tribune newspaper, employees of the daily paper became so angry and distrustful of new management and their lack of job security that they filed with the Federal Labor Relations Board to organize a union. That effort failed by a vote of 82-52 and employees at the paper say anyone connected with the union issue “were weeded out slowly or dealt with quietly.”
Since the purchase of The Eagle Tribune on September 30, 2005 by the Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., there have been several major changes at the paper.
Key changes in personnel stirred things up immediately at the Tribune including major managerial changes. Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., replaced former publisher Irving “Chip” Rogers, III, and William Ketter, editor and vice president of news who was supposed to be given what they called “a new role” in the organization.
Several staffers, who did not want to be identified by name, confirmed at the time that several other issues had surfaced after the newspaper was purchased, such as Ken Johnson and Bryan McGonigle being suspended for three days (without pay) in July 2005 after an e-mail exchange about the use of racial identities in crime stories.
The daily newspaper has also been the subject of controversy since then, including an erroneous story on the front page of their Sunday edition claiming one of their reporters witnessed “men in tyvek suits removing asbestos” from the Monarch on the Merrimack building in Lawrence. Despite the fact that they retracted the bogus story, multimillionaire developer and Monarch owner Bob Ansin said the story cost him a $40 million investment effectively shutting down construction on the $200 million revitalization project.
In the last two years readers of the Eagle Tribune have seen a significant decrease in news reporting in the Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill area as coverage of communities in southern New Hampshire have dominated their front page and local reporting.
Last month, The Valley Patriot revealed that Eagle Tribune reporter Yadira Betances had to be forcibly removed from Hanscom Air Force Base when the body of Sgt. Jimenez arrived for a wake and funeral service.
The following day Betances was also removed from the Jimenez wake at St. Mary’s Church when she confronted Jim Wareing of New England Caring for Our Military, who was tasked by the Jimenez family to handle the memorial and funeral services.
Circulation for the Eagle Tribune has dropped significantly in the Lawrence and Methuen area including decreases in subscriptions and distribution in North Andover and Haverhill area communities.
Last month, the Tribune ran a front page story revealing the identities and postings of two Haverhill elected officials who had anonymously written messages on the newspapers internet blog sparking outrage in the news publishing business.
“What they did was out a source who posted anonymous messages on their internet blog,” said Haverhill City Councilor Jim Donahue who, along with Haverhill Mayor Jim Fiorentini had posted messages using pen names with the expectation of anonymity offered by the site.
“I don’t see how this is any different than publishing the names and pictures of people who call them on the phone with anonymous tips for news stories,” Councilor Donahue continued.
“What is really troubling is that they were able to, and quite willing to, investigate the blog postings, track the messages back to the people who posted on their website, and then publish that information in their newspaper. It ought to make people very nervous about visiting the site or posting any kind of messages on their blog whether it’s a news tip or just their opinions about their coverage.”
(photo insert of Al Getler with his monkey puppet from http://algetler.com)