Friday, November 14, 2003

The axe comes down at One Herald Square. Two of the Boston Herald's bigger names will be drastically scaling back their presence, as long-anticipated cutbacks at the city's financially ailing number-two daily are finally playing out today.

Television columnist Monica Collins and political columnist Wayne Woodlief have both been told that their contracts will not be renewed. Both, however, will continue to write for the Herald on a freelance basis. Collins will write her Sunday "Downtown Journal" column once a week (it may be moved to the Monday paper), and Woodlief will continue to write weekly as well.

Although an official announcement will not be made until later this afternoon, the word out of One Herald Square is that 12 union employees have accepted an early-retirement incentive known as a "buyout," and an additional 10 non-union employees -- a category that includes Collins and Woodlief -- have been told that their positions are being eliminated.

As of early this afternoon, word was that not all of those who are losing their jobs had been informed yet.

Herald spokeswoman Gwen Gage said the paper would release a statement at 3 p.m.

Collins is expected to spend a lot of her time on "Ask Dog Lady," a syndicated column of tongue-in-cheek advice for dog owners that appears locally in the South End News and the Cambridge Chronicle -- the latter owned by Herald publisher Pat Purcell's Community Newspaper chain. Collins also has a website,

Woodlief, at 68, is already past the customary retirement age. Nevertheless, he says he was "surprised" to learn that his job had been eliminated. "I've gone through the cycles -- mad, glad; well, not glad, sad -- and in a way I'm looking forward to some liberation, especially since I can continue the column once a week," Woodlief told me this afternoon. "I'll be around to haunt the politicians and afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted for next year for sure, and maybe beyond."

This has been a tumultuous year for the Herald. In the spring, beset by declining circulation and advertising revenues, Purcell brought in former Herald editor (and former New York Post) publisher Ken Chandler as a consultant, while leaving editor Andy Costello and managing editor Andrew Gully in charge -- a confusing management scheme that has led more than one staffer to wonder who was really running the paper.

The Chandler-ized Herald has been a distinctly downscale product, with a heavy emphasis on celebrities, gossip, and scantily clad women. The early returns, however, are mixed. The most recent circulation figures show the paper continues its slow slide (as does the Globe), though perhaps not quite as much as it would have were it not for Chandler's drastic steps (see "Tabzilla Returns," June 20).

The newsroom has been on tenterhooks since earlier this fall, when management announced it was seeking buyouts from union employees (see "This Just In," September 26 and October 3)

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Purcell can now right the ship and return his struggling paper to profitability. But with the bad news finally out of the way -- until the next time, anyway -- he's given himself a chance at least to change the subject.

Says Woodlief: "It's clearly not a happy day. At the same time, most folks are saying, hell, it's the Herald, we'll go on."

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