No Survivors in Haverhill’s Titanic Newspaper Battle

Members of Local 38 International Typographical Union picket outside the Haverhill Gazette on Merrimack Street in downtown Haverhill in 1957.

Members of Local 38 International Typographical Union picket outside the Haverhill Gazette on Merrimack Street in downtown Haverhill in 1957.

News Coverage Flourished During Journal vs. Gazette War

By Tim Coco
WHAV President & General Manager (volunteer)

(These occasional magazine-style articles help expand upon, and illuminate, historical topics raised during WHAV’s Open Mike Show, heard live Monday nights from 6:30 to 8:30. Your feedback is welcome.)

News media competition helps ensure the inner workings of every government department are exposed to the light of day and held accountable, every service club talk is covered and every military personnel homecoming is treated with reverence.

During a relatively short period of time Haverhill residents were the beneficiaries of such fierce media competition. From the end of 1957 to the middle of 1965, the Haverhill Gazette and the Haverhill Journal fought what would become, literally, a titanic battle to the death. Radio station WHAV, through the news reports of luminaries such as Edwin V. Johnson and Ralph Hall, had the advantage of immediacy. The risk that any one news outlet might “scoop” the others ensured even the most obscure stories were covered. The Gazette previously sold WHAV in 1954.

“Undoubtedly it is possible to run at a profit in Haverhill two or more daily newspapers of limited news coverage and of inferior general quality. But the type of newspaper which The Haverhill Gazette has been for many years, which The Haverhill Journal has been since it began publication…could not succeed financially as a wholly independent enterprise unless either it had no rivals or had in the face of rivalry a circulation of over 15,000,” wrote U.S. District Court Judge Charles E. Wyzanski in his assessment of the case in 1959.

Wyzanski presided over a federal anti-trust case that is cited in classrooms and courtrooms to this day. In fact, the case was appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The lesson of the battle between is clear. Competition is expensive—and sometimes deadly—but it is a vital component of achieving complete local news reporting.

Strike of 1957 Cripples Haverhill Gazette

Six of the eight Haverhill merchants paid as advisors to the Haverhill Journal.

Six of the eight Haverhill merchants paid as advisors to
the Haverhill Journal.

The roots of the great newspaper war date back to Nov. 20, 1957 when 31 composing room workers, members of Local 38 International Typographical Union, struck at the Gazette. Workers complained they had been without an agreement since 1947. While the strike was later ruled illegal by the National Labor Relations Board, it continued for six months. The Gazette failed to publish for three days, but was able to resume publication using temporary workers.

Whether they feared business loss, saw opportunity or sympathized with the strikers, eight representatives of the Gazette’s largest advertisers approached Manchester Union Leader Publisher William Loeb about starting another Haverhill newspaper. They said they feared not having a vehicle to advertise their wares just before the big shopping season.

Sidney Katz of Elrich Shoes arranged a meeting at Loeb’s Beverly, Mass. home. He was joined by colleague Eli Shoreman, Martin Bendetson of Boston Furniture Company, Vinson W. Grad of Grad’s Specialty Shop, Irving P. Karelis of Karelis Jewelers and Jerome Fishbein of Hudson’s Apparel. Loeb agreed to publish a “throwaway shopper” and it appeared Dec. 5 and 12. Norris Bendetson, of Boston Furniture Company and half owner of Brest Buick Company, and David M. Gordon, president of Haverhill Hardware and Plumbing Supply Co., joined the six original merchants at a second meeting at Loeb’s home.

Loeb’s shopper became the daily Haverhill Journal on Dec. 16, 1957. Striking Gazette workers helped Loeb deliver the paper and recruit advertisers. An office was located in the former Locust Street School (also the former Greek School and today is The Clubhouse). The battle was on.

The news war was timely as Haverhill pondered its future. Interstate 495 would soon be under construction, the Greater Haverhill Foundation would form to develop the Ward Hill Industrial Park and the first hearings on the city’s downtown demolition plans were taking place.

Haverhill Journal Challenges Gazette’s Monopoly

During 1958, both the Haverhill Gazette and Haverhill Journal would suffer, in Wyzanski’s words, “stupendous losses.”

Loeb’s initial response was pay each of the eight merchants $50 a week to maintain their loyalty. He next promised them $5,000 a year for 10 years followed by $10,000 a year for the succeeding 10 years along with an overriding bonus of 3 1/8 percent of the profits of the newspaper “to be effective if and when the Haverhill Journal, under my ownership or control, becomes the only newspaper published in Haverhill,” according to court documents. The merchants posed as “ostensibly disinterested parties, to boost the Journal and disparage the Gazette and persuade other businessmen to advertise exclusively in the former.” This arrangement would ultimately be Loeb’s undoing.

Loeb also named an unpaid advisory board that helped fuel animosity against the Haverhill Gazette for decades. Members included Attorney John Dondero, Albert Elwell, Gene P. Grillo, Arthur Kochakian, Rev. Nicholas M. Marinos, Arthur S. Page Jr., Albert J. Pare, Clayton F. Strobel, Attorney David Swartz and future Mayor Thomas S. Vathally.

Meanwhile, the Haverhill Gazette—suffering as much as a 50 percent loss in circulation—became insolvent. Loeb offered to buy the Gazette for about $500,000, but Publisher J. Wesley Russ, nephew of late publisher and WHAV founder John T. Russ, instead asked fellow New England newspapers for a $200,000 loan. During a meeting at the Lanam Club in Andover Oct. 31, 1958, John Russ’ widow and the Gazette’s principal stockholder, Muriel Russ, killed the idea. She opposed borrowing more money and asked that the newspaper be sold. Haverhill attorney John J. Ryan Jr. would represent Mrs. Russ.

At a second Lanam Club meeting two weeks later, the group of New England publishers agreed to pool their resources and buy the Gazette. The group delegated the making of the contract to a committee of John H. Costello, Lowell Sun; Sidney R. Cook, Springfield Union and Springfield Daily News; Charles A. Fuller, Brockton Enterprise; Philip S. Weld, Daily News of Newburyport and Gloucester Times; and Irving E. Rogers, Lawrence Eagle Tribune.

The group, now known as Newspapers of New England, Inc., bought the outstanding capital stock of the Haverhill Gazette Co. Dec. 10, 1958 for $835,200. The three largest shareholders were the Eagle-Tribune, Lowell Sun and J. Warren McClure of the Burlington Free Press. Altogether, there were 32 publishing interests. Muriel Russ also maintained a small stake in the new company.

Antitrust Claims Turn Local Battle Into a Federal Matter

At the start of 1959, Loeb’s Union Leader Corporation filed an antitrust suit against Newspapers of New England. Loeb claimed violations of the Sherman and Clayton antitrust acts and sought $4.5 million in damages. Newspapers of New England filed a counterclaim against Loeb, seeking $3 million. Judge Wyzanski summed up the litigation.

“Currently there is being waged in Haverhill, Massachusetts a life-and-death struggle between two rival daily newspapers. One is The Haverhill Gazette which, without apparent violation of law, had become in 1957, after more than a century of publication, the only daily local newspaper in Haverhill. The other is The Haverhill Journal, which entered the market in December 1957. This suit is an outgrowth of that bitter rivalry.”

The issues were Loeb’s payments to the merchants, Newspapers of New England’s purchase of the Gazette to keep Loeb out of Haverhill and both newspapers’ discriminatory advertising rates.

Loeb unsuccessfully tried to disqualify Wyzanski, saying the Union Leader’s earlier commentaries about the judge’s role as president of Harvard’s Board of Overseers could compromise his impartiality. Harvard’s board had permitted Julius Robert Oppenheimer to serve as a lecturer at Harvard despite his repudiating his role in the invention of the nuclear bomb and becoming a peace activist. The First Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately ruled against Loeb upon hearing Wyzanski’s response.

“I know nothing whatsoever about any of these parties. In my naiveté I didn’t know until now that the Haverhill Journal had some relationship to a Manchester newspaper. I do not read the Manchester Press. And although no one will believe it, I am not the slightest bit affected by editorials for or against me, but I know there has been some Manchester newspaper which has been in the business of attacking me from time to time, and I don’t know whether it is the plaintiff or not. I am quite immune from any bias with respect to it because I don’t even read this stuff...”

At the end of the year, Wyzanski handed down his ruling against both businesses. The Haverhill Gazette and Haverhill Journal were ordered to charge advertising rates only in accordance with “publicly announced rate schedule(s).” The Haverhill Journal was prohibited from making payments to merchants and inducing advertisers to boycott The Haverhill Gazette and both papers were order to “refrain from attempting in any way to monopolize the market in Haverhill for daily local newspapers of high quality.” Both newspapers were also offered the opportunity to file damage claims against one another.

Neither side was happy. The Gazette believed its discriminatory advertising rates were forced upon it by the Journal yet Wyzanski ruled price discrimination is “not to be excused because comparable practices were indulged in by plaintiff.” Loeb complained that his payments to the merchants were “prudent…to engage outside help” and “so normal and much practiced in so many businesses that it has become a standard business technique.” Loeb also said “a battle in which there are over thirty newspaper owners on one side against the appellant standing alone…hardly suggests a fair fight.”

Court of Appeals Turns in Gazette’s Favor

Both newspapers appealed the ruling—particularly the damages—to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The case was heard Sept. 22, 1960.

On Dec. 2, 1960, judges William W. Goodrich, John Patrick Hartigan and Bailey Aldrich dismissed all of Loeb’s claims and ruled entirely in the Gazette’s favor. The justices said The Gazette’s discriminatory advertising rates were not evidence of illegal antitrust activity, but rather justified “if it was intended only to resist deterioration of its own position brought about by Union Leader’s unlawful activities.”

As to Loeb’s complaint that the various newspapers illegally ganged up on him when they bought the Gazette, the judges ruled, “However euphonious this melody, Union Leader’s attempted treble does not harmonize with its base accompaniment. A party who pursues an unlawful course of conduct from the moment it appears on the scene is in a poor position to complain of an unfair fight.”

The Gazette had one last fight—collecting damages from Loeb and the Union Leader. A master was appointed by the district court to determine how much the Gazette should receive. The Gazette sought $3,973,575 in trebled damages, but the master awarded only $88,326. Both the Gazette and Journal appealed again to the circuit court during the summer of 1964. The court ruled the master had applied his own rulings, inconsistent with the court’s finding, and ordered a new accounting of damages.

In July, the appeals court denied another motion by Union Leader to change courts and to delay any payments to the Gazette until a Supreme Court appeal could be heard. Once the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, a new damage hearing was set to take place April 30, 1965.

The Haverhill Journal Ends Publication; New Competition Emerges

As it was before 1957, the Gazette emerged as Haverhill’s only newspaper June 2, 1965 when Journal General Manager Richard Becker announced the abrupt closing of the daily Journal as well as its weekly Haverhill Liberator. It was part of a behind-the-scenes settlement between the opposing parties. The following month, the Gazette accepted $1.1 million cash from Loeb and the Journal.

In the aftermath, Newspapers of New England set out to bolster the Gazette’s saleability, moving the Gazette from Merrimack Street to a new plant at 447 West Lowell Avenue. The paper continued to suffer as the legal award did little to heal the emotional scars among the Haverhill population.

Hagadone Newspapers, a division of Scripps-League Newspapers Inc., purchased the Gazette April 18, 1975. Wallace G. Donaldson was named publisher, succeeding Kimball Davis. The Pulitzer Publishing Company bought Scripps-League along with the Gazette in 1996.

Another daily newspaper war would be waged during the 1980s and 1990s when the Eagle-Tribune opened a satellite office on Washington Street in downtown Haverhill and began publishing a Haverhill edition. As Judge Wyzanski had earlier noted, two daily newspapers could theoretically survive if combined with others outside the city.

“There is every reason to believe that no matter what policies they had adopted the market could not have brought them both financial success unless one or both had reduced its quality or one or both had been operationally combined with a newspaper outside of Haverhill. In short, for what may be called the New England type of local newspaper familiar in middle-sized cities Haverhill is economically a one newspaper city,” Wyzanski had said.

gazette

For the first time since 1821, the Haverhill Gazette no longer has a Haverhill-based presence.

Wyzanski could not have predicted other pressures facing newspapers decades later. The Haverhill Gazette this time succumbed to the pressure of competition. It was purchased by the Eagle-Tribune’s ETP Ventures Inc. in 1998 and converted to a weekly. The West Lowell Avenue plant was sold and The Gazette’s and Eagle-Tribune’s Haverhill offices were consolidated in a surviving stub of a once-larger building at 181 Merrimack Street. Even that office closed in March, 2012. After 191 years, the Haverhill Gazette no longer had a physical presence in Haverhill.

The Eagle-Tribune and its associated ventures were sold in December, 2005, to Birmingham, Alabama-based Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

Of the original key executives in the Gazette-Journal war, Loeb died Sept. 14, 1981 and J. Wesley Russ of Plaistow, N.H. died March 31, 2002. Only two of the original eight merchants are alive today—Karelis and Gordon.