'Boston Herald' Files for Bankruptcy, Pensions in Question After Pending Sale

The longtime independent newspaper The Boston Herald has been scooped up by GateHouse Media. 

The Boston Herald’s publisher Patrick J. Purcell announced on Friday that the paper would file for bankruptcy and be sold to GateHouse Media LLC for $4.5 million cash.

The Boston Globe reported Purcell saying in an interview: “I wanted to keep Boston a two-newspaper town as long as I could. Apparently, this is as long as I could. Purcell purchased the tabloid from Rupert Murdoch in 1994, 10 years after being named publisher of the paper. 



Reports say its business as usual until the sale goes through. The newspaper's future is uncertain. A second issue is employees' status.

The Boston Herald, which has 30 large creditors, 12 dealing with employee retirement plans and unions, did not settle those debts with its new owner. By filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, The Boston Herald will be able to renegotiate those debts, including the employees’ pensions.

It was reported that GateHouse plans to keep 175 of the Herald’s 240 employees, although staffers will have to re-interview for their jobs. GateHouse, the largest owner of newspapers in the country, with 130 dailies and 640 community papers, is known for consolidating and centralizing the operations of its titles.

Purcell noted the common troubles facing most news and media outlets right now—dwindling subscriptions and a drop in ad revenue—as the reasons he could no longer keep The Boston Herald running as it had been.

The drop in numbers is staggering. The paper had nearly 900 employees at its height in 2000, with under one-third of that number employed now. Print subscriptions plummeted from 84,000 in 2011 to 45,155 this year. Digital and print Sunday subscriptions combined totaled 73,510.

Despite efforts to invigorate the brand with an online radio station and push into a digital presence, The Boston Herald could not tap into a new digital audience that could sustain its operations. 

The paper, founded in 1846 and independently owned until the recent pending sale, offered a feisty tabloid voice to the city's news options, winning eight Pulitzers in the process. In 2012, it was named one of the "10 Newspapers That 'Do It Right" by Editor & Publisher.

The Herald's future is unknown, but the death of the title's independence is an ominous reminder that newspapers, a bulwark of a free press, are struggling to survive in a changing media landscape. 

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