February 5, 2018

After editor layoff, Fitchburg's daily newspaper closing offices

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The Sentinel & Enterprise offices on Main Street in downtown Fitchburg. The newspaper will leave at the end of the month, leaving its staff to work remotely.

The Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise will close its longtime offices this month, leaving its shrinking staff to work remotely.

The cost-saving move comes just three months after its editor, Charles St. Amand, was laid off. The newspaper is now overseen by editors at its larger sister paper, The Sun of Lowell.

The Sentinel & Enterprise announced the office closure Friday, saying its reporters, editors, photographers and sales staff will work from home or from the field effective at the end of February. Its parent company, Denver-based Digital First Media, has left open the possibility of opening a physical office again, but its new editor, Jim Campanini, the editor of The Sun of Lowell, said working from the field will benefit news coverage.

"We're now connecting with people faster and developing richer, Main Street level news all the time," he told the Sentinel & Enterprise. "We'll be getting out into the community more and looking for good content and reporting at an eye level that has taken place before, but not to this 100-percent model."

The Sentinel & Enterprise, like nearly any other newspaper, has faced shrinking resources with a declining print circulation.

The newspaper today has three news reporters and a single full-time photographer. Its entire Fitchburg-based staff numbers about a dozen, including one onsite editor, with much of its editing and production work taking place in Lowell. The two newspapers occasionally share news content as well.

The Sentinel & Enterprise has undergone other changes in the past year.

The newspaper shifted its printing presses last June from Devens to Portsmouth, N.H., which led to a 90-minute earlier deadline for news staff, and closed its news staff based in Devens that worked for weekly newspapers covering the Nashoba Valley. The Sentinel & Enterprise shifted its production and printing operations from Fitchburg to Devens in 2002.

Its publisher, who is based in Lowell and also oversees The Sun, has also changed. Kevin Corrado, who became the publisher last September, oversees several newspapers in upstate New York. He replaced Mark O'Neil.

St. Amand, the editor who was laid off in November, was the Sentinel & Enterprise editor since 2010, and before that had been an editor at The Sun starting in 1989.

"It's vital that the Sentinel & Enterprise continue to cover the community," St. Amand told the Worcester Business Journal. "It helps preserve democracy in the communities it serves. It's equally as important that the community continues to support the newspaper."

"The staff will be able to adapt to this new reality," he added of the latest changes. "I know because I hired most of them. They're solid journalists who care about what they do."

The Sentinel & Enterprise, The Sun and the Nashoba Valley Voice weekly newspaper are owned by MediaNews Group, which is run by and more often known as Digital First Media. The privately-owned chain owns daily newspapers in Denver, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles area and elsewhere, and otherwise does not have much of a presence in the Northeast.

The Sentinel & Enterprise and The Sun came under common ownership in 1997 when Media News Group bought both papers.

The Boston Herald reported on Friday that Digital First is a potential bidder for that tabloid newspaper, joining two other potential new owners including GateHouse, which owns the Telegram & Gazette, MetroWest Daily News, Milford Daily News and The Providence Journal.

The potential Massachusetts expansion comes amid continued staff reductions at the chain.

Layoffs were announced at the Los Angeles area newspapers just last month. The Sun had five editors take buyouts in late 2016, including its business editor, two arts editors and an editorial page editor.

The Sentinel & Enterprise's office at 808 Main St. in downtown Fitchburg, which the newspaper had leased, was last assessed at $573,000. The site is just over half an acre, and the 24,000-square-foot two-story office building was built in 1979, according to city records.

The newspaper opened a bureau in downtown Leominister in 2006, but the offices were destroyed by a fire in 2012 and never re-opened.

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