Even when they manage to stay in business, newspapers are getting harder to find — literally.
Witness The Salem News and The Herald News, the latest papers to move out of their longtime digs to occupy smaller places or to consolidate offices. On the North Shore, The Salem News staff has set up shop in a much smaller office in Danvers, while The Herald News will close its Fall River office, with the employees joining colleagues in New Bedford.
The moves are part of a decadelong trend, as newspaper publishers from Los Angeles to Miami move to smaller offices to save money and to cash in on the real estate. Many of their buildings are local icons, fixtures in their respective cities’ downtowns. But they were built for a different time in the media business, an era when print advertising sales flowed like ink and the presses hummed every night. Print ads have not disappeared, but they’ve slowed to a trickle in many places, and printing operations have been consolidated at manufacturing hubs for multiple papers.
Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst, says these asset sales help publishers pay down debt and provide a short-term buffer against shrinking print revenue.
As these outlets have cut their staffs over the years, they have had far less need for all the space in legacy buildings.
The downside: Newspaper companies are left with fewer hard assets, as operating performance declines. That can make them less attractive to potential buyers and lenders, Doctor said, and sometimes makes it harder to attract the talent needed to run increasingly digitally focused enterprises.
In many cases, these properties become prime development opportunities. Sometimes, the developments trade on nostalgia for their former occupants’ heyday. The Portland Press Herald’s home became the Press Hotel, after Maine’s largest newspaper moved to South Portland in 2010. National Development converted the Boston Herald’s old home in the South End to the sprawling Ink Block residential complex; today, the Herald’s old sign hangs in the Whole Foods Market downstairs, among other nods to the paper. (The Herald is now leasing space in Braintree.)
And after The Boston Globe moved to downtown Boston and Globe owner John Henry sold its sprawling Dorchester plant, developer Nordblom Co. began marketing the Morrissey Boulevard site to future commercial tenants as “The Beat.”
In Beverly, parent company CNHI has found a buyer for the 34,000-square-foot building overlooking Route 128 that The Salem News has occupied for roughly 25 years; the deal could close as soon as next month.
Regional publisher Karen Andreas said the public reaction has been positive as she and editor Dave Olson make the rounds at local chambers, Rotary Clubs, and the like to talk about the move. Readers, she said, understand that the building is far too big for the newspaper’s current needs: CNHI has already consolidated printing, customer service, and accounting at the Eagle-Tribune in North Andover.
About 30 people have made the move to the new Danvers office, which opened off Route 114 on Monday. She described it as centrally located in the paper’s primary coverage area.
That’s not the case with The Herald News. However, general manager Lisa Strattan said the move to downtown New Bedford, where the paper will bunk with The Standard-Times, will be temporary.
Strattan wrote a note to readers on Jan. 7 that said the Fall River building would be closing down this month to make way for a new owner. She promised to move “key newsroom and advertising sales staff” back to Fall River, once she can find the right office to lease.
It simply made no sense, she said, to continue to operate the newspaper’s massive — and massively outdated — physical plant.
The Herald News is owned by Gannett, which is under pressure to cut its debt after borrowing $1.8 billion from the private equity firm Apollo Global Management to complete its recent megamerger with the parent of GateHouse Media. The relatively high interest rate of 11.5 percent gives Gannett executives a strong incentive to eventually line the company up for a major refinancing.
Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute think tank, said that he wouldn’t be surprised to see more consolidation of offices in the now-giant Gannett chain. Nearly one-fifth of the 250-plus dailies in the group have tiny news operations, with fewer than five reporters apiece, he said.
The Herald News promised to return to its hometown. But many papers leave and don’t come back. The Athol Daily News, for example, just closed its office and moved operations to the office of the Greenfield Recorder, a sister newspaper.
And in Torrington, Conn., the sole reporter at the Hearst-owned Register Citizen was reportedly told to work from home as that office closed.
It’s no wonder the mayor there is concerned about the rise of Facebook as a major local news source.
She’s not the only one.