Friday, May 23, 2003

Coming to earth? Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell's gravity-defying act has been dealt a setback. Dow Jones reports that Purcell is making some significant cutbacks at Herald Media, which owns the Herald and Community Newspaper Company, a chain of about 100 papers in Greater Boston and on Cape Cod. (Thanks to Cape Cod Media for pointing me to this one.)

In recent weeks, insiders have told me that though things were tight, there was no sign that Purcell was in any financial jeopardy. The Washington office has been expanded from one person to two, and the Herald sent two people to cover the war in Iraq -- a significant expense for what is, essentially, a local paper.

It also comes at a time when the Herald has been tarting itself up. Former editor Ken Chandler, who went on to edit the New York Post, is back as a consultant to Purcell, and the pages lately have been notably more tabloidy, to the distress of some staffers. In addition to such headlines as today's all-caps "POLS PIG OUT" (pork-barrel spending on Beacon Hill) and "HELL NEXT DOOR" (the Hells Angels have bought a house in Chelsea), the paper's two gossip pages have been brought together under the "Inside Track" brand, complete with a comely bimbo of the day.

Still, speculation that Rupert Murdoch, the owner of WFXT-TV (Channel 25), will buy the Herald strikes me as wrong, or at least very premature. Purcell loves being a local media magnate and, if anything, he's been talking about further acquisitions, not a sellout. The Herald's business pages have endlessly hyped the pending repeal of the cross-ownership laws, and Purcell recently told the crowd at his Herald 100 luncheon that he wants to become a radio entrepreneur.

Sounds to me like Purcell intends to try defying gravity for at least a little while longer.

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