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Back Bay newspaper's famous refusal to put up a Web site has driven it out of business

Boston Courant to go out of business

In a front-page message to readers this week, Boston Courant owners David Jacobs and Gen Tracy say they lost a wrongful-termination lawsuit by a former employee and that:

Given the legal fees and the amount of the judgment, it is no longer feasible for the paper to continue publishing.

What drove the paper out of business was a wrongful-termination lawsuit filed by Kevin Smith, whom the paper had hired in 2008 as vice president of sales, then fired the next year for not meeting revenue goals. At the time, Smith sought $242,000 in back pay.

Last month, the Massachusetts Appeals Court sided with Smith, saying he had been hired in part to sell ads on a Courant Web site and that the paper's decision to cancel plans for a Web site was the reason he couldn't meet his revenue goals. In its Dec. 9 ruling, the court wrote:

Our review of the record revealed sufficient evidence to support a finding that Courant's promise to provide a Web site was part of the agreement and that Courant materially breached the agreement by failing to provide the Web site after Smith began his employment.

The Courant had covered the Back Bay since 1995 and eventually added coverage of the South End, Fenway and downtown.

H/t Charlie Z (click for the entire Courant story) and Michaelatlaw.

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Comments

I read the Courant every week. It's the only paper that keeps up with hyper-local issues, like development and community affairs, etc. Not to mention, its police log is always a good read. Patch is virtually useless and the South End News is a shadow of its former self (though maybe this can spur something to happen there). Something needs to fill in the hole.

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Same deal with the Fenway News and Back Bay Sun

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The Fenway News has consistently reported on a neighborhood that has gone from landlords burning building and killing tenants for insurance to the construction of luxury buildings along Boylston Street.

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And it's bilingual:

http://sampan.org/

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Have you seen www.northendwaterfront.com? Hyper local coverage seems to be desired by those mourning the loss of the epic and legendary Courant. Maybe some folks can get an online news blog together. It is a digital world, so this great loss might be characterized as inevitable. I still like black press on my cuffs, and sadly another good reason for it -- The Courant -- is gone.

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But what about insurance?

Well, I tried to get insurance for a hyperlocal and gave up. Lloyds of London was the only company that would take it on and they wanted clearance forms filed for everyone in its contents as though the news site were a creative content maker or documentary film-maker. Yes, even if they're on a public street or at a City Council meeting. Needless to say, we went without insurance and ... just won't hire anyone.

Insurance is out of hand.

Now back to the story...

I'm familiar with Boston Media Makers, but I think there needs to be a subgroup either within that group or something separate that functions as a think-tank for how to make news profitable again. I fear that non-profit news agencies will play it safe and I especially fear a country without local news outlets. (Why I appreciate UHub)

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If my employees make a dollar together we probably pay 60 cents of it to taxes, the unemployed and the whole apparatus of regulation such as lawyers, insurance men and the most do-nothing parts of government.

The legislature can change the standards of proof for worker lawsuits but because they favor employees so heavily we all pay through the nose in insurance.

If you work for a wage you should know where your money is going.

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What a shame. Another local newspaper bites the dust. Well, I guess we know who to thank for this.

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Whom do we blame for this?

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Adam, you blamed Kevin Smith -- who you stated is suing the Courant. And, that because of the legal fees incurred by Kevin Smith's lawsuit, the staff at the Courant can no longer keep the newspaper in business. My apologies if I misread you post.

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I overreacted - I thought your message was blaming some other party or thing that was so obvious we should all know about it and so didn't need to be stated (like video killing the radio star) .

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That a disgruntled ex-employee's frivolous lawsuit brought down this useful paper. If they hired the guy to sell online ads, then they decide not to go online, it sounds like a legitimate reason to let him go. Unless there is something we don't know about going on.

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They hired him in part to sell ads on the Web site, then canceled the site and fired him for not making revenue goals. The court agreed with him that the paper breached its contract because his revenue goals were based in part on the assumption there'd be a Web site to sell against.

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Now I understand what happened. (BTW, I see that sort of thing happening to employees in the public sector with evaluations.)However, deductibles aside, I thought it was possible to be insured against lawsuits? I guess they weren't?

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Lay him off?

And, he had a contract?

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I wonder if they had let him go because they decided not to have a web site if he would have had any cause to sue....

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I call it penny wise, pound foolish. I bet they fired him in order to try to evade the increased unemployment insurance that they would have had to pay if they just laid him off.

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"frivolous" = "I don't agree with it because it didn't 'sound legitimate' to me"

Glad we got such legal scholars on UHub.

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The Courant occupies about the same niche as the old Boston Ledger (remember them?) I wonder who will step into the gap now.

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UHub until Adam goes all Hollywood & sells out, or gets sued, or deposed by militant cyclists or the Brookline turkeys.

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That's the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association. Or Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association, or the Friends of the South End Fitness Center (Disclosure: I'm a member of its steering committee)? I assume that'd be a bit much for one person to do..

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> I assume that'd be a bit much for one person to do..

Yep, even covering Brighton's neighborhood developments would sometimes mean having a BCDC meeting at City Hall at the same time as a BRA meeting out in Brighton. Adam cannot be a one-man hyperlocal for the whole city. It is pretty much impossible to be a one-man hyperlocal for a neighborhood.

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Is the sheer volume of neighborhood associations it has.

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Tiny to medium sized Associations mean fewer members, fewer volunteers, and less horsepower with city government.

On the other hand, you can get to know one another...

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I wonder if the TLF is plotting something? They've been suspiciously quiet of late.

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I was editor at the Boston Ledger for a few years until just before it finally closed in 1992, and it's a shame these small weeklies continue to close regardless of the reasons. I agree with another commenter that there must be a way for them to remain in business - despite the fact that if it wasn't for John Henry's deep pockets the Globe could be out of business, and it's astounding that the Herald keeps going.

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From September of last year:

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Good riddance That rag will NOT be missed.

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No one, as far as I know, has ever forced you to read it.

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It may be only coincidental that their printer closed this month. Boston Offset, owned by Gannett, announced several months ago their Norwood plant would be shut down and it would have USA Today printed by the Globe's new press in Taunton. Along with the Courant, quite a few other small regional papers and tabloids that were printed there had to scramble to find a new printer.

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Couldn't they have just "laid him off", or is that legally the same as firing him for non-performance?

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You can't lay off a person for performance issues. If a company lays off 1 person, alarm bells should be going off everywhere. In general, firings have to do with the employee(s) and performances, layoffs have to do with the company and budgets and economics, stuff like that.

The fact the guy had a contract made this situation pretty cut and dried, when the paper didn't live up to its end.

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a company that pursued me for three years, got me to leave a good job, hired me and then "eliminated my position" after 179 days is bulletproof. At-will employment in MA. "Budgets and economics" are whatever you say they are with a privately held corporation, especially one as big as the one who tucked it to me. Apparently everyone chose to ignore those "alarm bells".

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They hired a guy to do a job. They made it impossible to do that job. Then they fired him for not doing the job that it was not possible to do. Then they blamed the guy who could not do the impossible job. Now they blame legal fees...

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He should be glad he got screwed by a little fish, The big ones can hide legal fees in plain sight.

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In an age where the bulk of consumers seek their news (even hyperlocal news), it seems an odd choice to not have made the leap to a Web based platform. While there are those who I'm sure enjoy the feel of a real paper, their support can't possibly sustain the liabilities inherent to running a business.

This reminds me of a quote: "If you think change is tough, try irrelevance"

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The Back Bay and the South End make up one of the richest real-estate markets in the country and even with Web sites, the Courant still had plenty of brokers willing to throw money at it for advertising. From a Nieman Journalism Lab article:

"How many millionaires do you think are in my primary coverage area?" Jacobs asked me. I hemmed and hawed, then ventured a guess: a couple thousand maybe. "Ten thousand plus!" Jacobs exclaimed. "I have the sort of readership that advertisers kill for."

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...a quarter million dollar judgment sank the ship. Perhaps they misjudged the advertising value of 10,000 millionaires as "potential" subscribers.

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Couldn't he just go online only now? It wouldn't cost too much and the site would probably look better on a free WordPress blog comapred to those awful Gatehouse Media sites. (Note: I'm just against the Gatehouse news website layouts—not the newspaper themselves—I know they don't have a choice on the platform they use.)

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Just wait until those sharks over at 'GBH catch wind of that Photoshopped image from Downton Abbey!

Seriously, it would have been MUCH cheaper to settle with the guy years ago. Is the state still using that 12.5 percent interest rate to calculate judgments?

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I looked forward to this little paper. I get tons of news online but there was charm and uniqueness to the Courant. It was a 10 minute read at breakfast. And did anyone in journalism ever have more fun writing up a police beat than their reporter? Most of us just scan police beats for an address. She made it hilarious.

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The Boston Courant was such a great local newspaper that covered the news fairly .The reporting was very balanced , and it was also well written. I looked forward each week reading it that covered many neighborhoods in Boston.

Thank you David and Jen for the 20 years. Thank you to all the great reporters that did fair reporting over the years.
Ending this newspaper is a loss for Boston and the neighborhoods of Boston.The Courant will be missed.

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