Following the departure last month of the Cambridge Chronicle’s editor and only full-time journalist, Amy Saltzman, former employees and residents have expressed doubts about the future of the U.S.’s oldest surviving weekly newspaper.
Saltzman’s exit comes after years of cutdowns reduced the Chronicle’s staff from a full team of reporters to just one, part of a larger pattern of shrinking newsrooms around the country. The Chronicle announced the hiring of a new editor and reporter, William J. Dowd, on Nov. 17.
Saltzman, who declined an interview, wrote in a Nov. 12 op-ed in the Chronicle that readers should “support local journalism” to help the publication stay afloat.
“The paper’s survival as the oldest continuously run weekly newspaper in the country continues to be against all odds and should be lauded,” Saltzman wrote.
Erin Baldassari, who served as assistant editor, reporter, and photographer under Saltzman until 2014, blamed the Chronicle’s parent company — at the time GateHouse Media — for the paper’s dismantling.
“They don’t really seem to value local news and the people who produce it,” Baldassari said in a recent interview.
According to Baldassari, when she began interning at the Chronicle in 2010, there were three full-time reporters, a number cut in half only two years later.
The staff cutdowns, according to Baldassari, left her with a workload “about as full time as full time can get.”
“When the Boston Marathon bombings hit, I think I worked for 36 hours straight at one point, like overnight and into the next morning,” Baldassari said. “I remember the management told us not to put in for overtime — we should just take comp time for that.”
Dana Forsythe — who worked in a shared Somerville office with Saltzman and Baldassari as the editor of another GateHouse paper, the Watertown TAB — said his experience covering the bombings was “an absolute mess” due to GateHouse’s staff cuts.
“We were kind of just all hands on deck in that office,” Forsythe said. “There was no translation between like, ‘Oh, you’re putting in a ton of work, you know, this is great.’ Like, I remember getting a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card.”
Forsythe added that he received no more than “a couple hours” of overtime pay in his five years at the TAB, and that he “never got a raise” during that period, even amid regular pay cuts.
“I can’t believe Amy stuck in for that long,” Forsythe said. “It’s just not a supportive environment.”
In 2019, GateHouse merged with Gannett to create the largest newspaper conglomerate in the U.S. — the company took the Gannett name due to better brand recognition.
According to NiemanLab, at the time of the merger, the new company controlled one-sixth of all print newspapers in the country.
Despite the change in ownership, Baldassari said she is not optimistic about the Chronicle’s future, as it has yet to replace the reporter position cut during her time there.
“If they never decided to hire a reporter to fill the former reporter’s shoes, you’re not interested in staffing up a paper,” Baldassari said. “I can’t imagine that things are going to improve.”
A Gannett spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement that the organization prides itself on “fostering a supportive work environment” where “all employees are valued.”
“While we can’t speak to the past issues, Gannett is deeply committed to local journalism and to our employees,” the spokesperson wrote. “We are working steadfastly to ensure the future of local journalism and continue to keep our communities informed.”
Dowd — who is moving from his role as editor of the Salem Gazette and Swampscott Reporter — said in a statement through Gannett that his first priority as the Chronicle’s new editor is to build a relationship with the city of Cambridge.
“I think listening is the best course of action right now,” Dowd said. “I have devoted the last decade of my career to community journalism, and am looking forward to directing the Cambridge Chronicle's coverage into the future.”
—Staff writer Brandon L. Kingdollar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @newskingdollar.