By Nancy West
Encore and Features Editor Kathleen Palmer is the latest to be laid off at The Telegraph of Nashua, leaving some wondering who’s left to put out the newspaper.
Palmer, an eight-year veteran, was laid off late Friday afternoon. She packed up and left the office quietly, not wanting to upset her colleagues in the newsroom.
She didn’t know the calm was about to be broken anyway with the layoff of photojournalist/reporter Don Himsel after 28 years with the newspaper.
“There are now more ex-employees than current employees and these are all superlative people,” Palmer said on Saturday. “They are not getting fired or laid off because they are not good at their jobs. It’s astonishing to me how short-sighted the Ogden people are.”
The Telegraph staff has been drastically reduced since Ogden Newspapers of Wheeling, W.Va., bought the newspaper in April of 2013. Publisher Heather Goodwin Henline said Friday she would have no comment on recent events or the layoffs.
It has been a couple of challenging weeks at The Telegraph as executive managing editor Sandy Bucknam was fired after 39 years, photojournalist Don Himsel was laid off, city editor Chris Garofolo resigned and several others moved on.
Also, Labor Commissioner Ken Merrifield confirmed to IndepthNH.org that the state is investigating The Telegraph as a result of a worker’s complaint alleging being docked pay because of how time cards are calculated.
“At 4 o’clock on Friday, the new editor (Matthew) Burdette told me he’d like to have a 4:15 meeting on the lifestyles editor position,” Palmer said, adding that’s not her title. She was the features and Encore editor. Burdette formerly worked at The Inter-Mountain, another Ogden newspaper in Elkins, W.Va.
It was Burdette’s fourth day on the job, she said, and those would turn out to be the only words he would speak to Palmer at work. Publisher Henline took over at the meeting, she said.
“Heather told me they were evaluating all the departments, evaluating staff levels and looking at everyone’s position. She said, ‘Unfortunately we are not going to move forward with that position.’”
Palmer thought that would mean getting rid of Encore, the arts and entertainment section that has won Palmer awards.
Henline had previously told Palmer she could no longer review restaurants. “She told me, ‘I’m not paying you to eat’ and said Encore was ‘fluff’ and didn’t contribute to the bottom line,” Palmer said. None of the Ogden newspapers have an insert focusing on arts and entertainment, Henline told her.
“I was stunned into silence waiting for more. Heather said, ‘This isn’t personal. It isn’t about you. I’m just trying to make the paper financially viable and it wasn’t when we bought it. Your newspaper was for sale for a reason,’” Palmer said.
Palmer walked back to the newsroom. “I told friends to have a nice weekend. I didn’t tell them when I left. I didn’t want to dump on them at the time,” Palmer said.
Palmer said she was shocked. But like her colleagues, she leaves with fine memories of the community that embraced her and her work. Palmer is the daughter of retired newspaperman Barry Palmer, who worked for many years at the New Hampshire Union Leader.
It’s been an amazing run in Nashua, Palmer said.
“Because of my job, I got to see great local theater and compelling art by myriad talented artists in our community,” Palmer said. “It breaks my heart to not give theater, art, food and wine great coverage and enthusiastic endorsement,” Palmer said.
Fired editor Sandy Bucknam remembers when the newsroom was bustling with about 35 people back in its heyday.
“They had 72-page Thursday papers and 120-page Sunday papers before the Internet. Now, it’s only 11,” Bucknam said.
Bucknam said he was fired for refusing to force salaried employees to work more hours to avoid paying overtime when they were already working more than 60 hours a week. He also opposed more staff cuts. Himsel wondered if he was laid off because he asked for clarification from management about the labor department investigation.
Last year, The Telegraph’s former executive managing editor Roger Carroll resigned telling InDepthNH.org that he was given orders that amounted to censorship. His boss told him to remove facts from a story about The Telegraph’s return to downtown Nashua after 30 years in Hudson, Carroll said at the time.
Today the staff also has to produce five weeklies: the Cabinet (Kathy Cleveland is the Cabinet reporter), three Journals (Bedford, Hollis Brookline and Merrimack) and Encore — if they keep it, Bucknam said.
Bucknam remembered the day he received a handwritten letter from a former high school athlete whose team he had covered as a sports writer for The Telegraph.
“He told me that while he was in high school, he lacked self-esteem and confidence in himself. However, the nice things I wrote about him inspired him, and he went on to own his own successful business,” Bucknam said.
It was also nice to hear from high school kids whose columns he had run on the Education pages.
”They told me they made it into their college of choice because of the portfolio of Telegraph columns they were able to include with their application, and they thanked me for helping them get in,” Bucknam said. “It’s pretty special to think I played a small role in helping these kids become successful and realize their dreams.”
Bucknam said in the last four weeks besides himself, Palmer, Himsel and Garofolo, the following people have left The Telegraph: Beth Eisenberg, page designer, resigned; Jason Orfao, sports writer, resigned to go to the Concord Monitor and was replaced; and Derek Edry, reporter, who resigned to work for Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess.
He said that leaves Dean Shalhoup, reporter; Damien Fisher, reporter; Adam Urquhart, reporter; George Scione, night news editor; Kerry Miller, community news editor; Hope Hunt, copy desk; Jo Arnold, editorial assistant; Alan Greenwood, sports editor; Tom King, sports writer; a new sports writer who replaces Orfao; and the new managing editor, Matthew Burdette.
Retired Telegraph editor Phil Kincade spoke highly of Himsel, Palmer, Garofolo and Bucknam.
“I was fortunate to be able to work with Don and Kathleen for five years and they are two of the most outstanding journalists I know. They were always top-notch,” Kincade said, adding Garofolo was also a very solid reporter.
About Bucknam, Kincade said, “There was not a harder working person in that newsroom.”
Kincade was recently hired as the executive director of the New Hampshire Press Association.
Kathleen Palmer said she will miss the community and has few regrets.
“The only regrets I have are that I didn’t get the chance to put out a final Encore,” Palmer said. She loved being invited to judge at food competitions, special dinners as the food and wine editor, and doing stories about the people and places who welcomed her.
“And I didn’t get to say goodbye to the people in the community who made me feel so important and welcome with awards and invitations to be part of their lives.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye,” Palmer said.
For more information about InDepthNH.org, which is published online by the New Hampshire Center for Public Interest Journalism, contact Nancy West at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 603-738-5635