Nieman Journalism Lab is reporting that Digital First Media — which owns dozens of community newspapers nationally, including a few in the Philadelphia suburbs and across Pennsylvania — will announce deep cuts to its online journalism operations, and is expected to auction off many of its newspapers.
Philly-area newspapers and news organizations owned by the company include Main Line Media News, the Lansdale Reporter, the Delco News Network and others; Digital First owners nearly 30 properties, some print, some digital across the state.
Nieman reports that the sale will be triggered with an announcement today of the end of “Project Thunderdome,” a digital-first initiative designed to transform how the company’s newspapers delivered news to their audiences. The transition, apparently, didn’t happen fast enough:
The move also signals the fatigue of majority DFM owner Alden Global Capital — and that it is readying its newspaper properties for sale. They’re not yet on the market, but expect regional auctions of DFM properties (with clusters around the Los Angeles area, the Bay Area, New England, Philadelphia, and Texas) — unless Alden can find a single buyer, which is unlikely.
The current incarnation of Digital First Media was formed on Dec. 31, with the formal merger of large newspaper companies MediaNews and Journal Register; DFM had been managing both since 2011. And while its name might not be as well known as a Tribune or a New York Times Co., Digital First is a big player. Ask how big, and it won’t emphasize the number of dailies that it owns (75), but rather its digital position: “800 multi-platform products reach 67 million Americans each month across 18 states.”
It’s clear that Thunderdome’s elimination is driven by cost-cutting.
One DFM project, Project Catalyst, has swallowed another, Thunderdome. Catalyst is aimed at taking more than $100 million out of the company’s costs, a number a little greater than Tribune’s much publicized $100 million cut ordered by CEO Peter Liguori last fall. Recent DFM cuts in Philadelphia and the Bay Area, eliminating dozens of jobs across all divisions, are part of that process.
Indeed, journalists at Delaware County Daily Times, Norristown Times Herald, the Pottstown Mercury, and the Trentonian were given layoff notices just last month. If those papers are indeed put up for sale, more cuts may be coming.