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Keith Lewis leaves Walpole Times

September 1, 2011

In a surprise announcement that has rocked the local sports community, longtime Walpole Times Sports Editor Keith Lewis was laid off by company management this past week. The move appears to have been the result of a combination of financial pressures and also ongoing concerns about the quality of the newspaper’s sports section.

Lewis’ departure also appears to signal the end of an era – the Times sports section, which has received awards in the past for its community sports coverage, will now be composed of content provided exclusively by reporters based outside of Walpole. The result, by all indications, will be fewer Walpole-oriented sports stories and a smaller sports section overall.

Gatehouse Media, the Times’ parent company based in Fairport, NY, owns hundreds of newspapers across the country and over 100 within Massachusetts alone. But as with the rest of the newspaper industry in general, the company’s financial statements look pretty bleak and Gatehouse as a whole reported continued reductions in revenue in SEC filings this year. Since being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange three years ago, the company has struggled to maintain a stock price above $1.

Although the Times itself isn’t necessarily performing as poorly as the rest of the company, and in fact may actually be performing better, Lewis appears to be a casualty of the company’s efforts to slash payroll costs and consolidate operations.

It may be better for the company’s bottom line if Lewis is gone, but I’m certain that his loss is not good for the town or for the Times for that matter. If the Times was still owned by an independent locally-based firm, I don’t think Lewis would have been let go. Local sports coverage is an integral part of the Times and is beneficial to the community. Walpole is a hugely sports-oriented town, and the Times sports section is very widely read. Many Walpole High School students and former students read the Times primarily for its sports coverage. Parents buy the Times to see photos and articles about their kids in the sports section. It remains unclear whether a regional staff, as is replacing Lewis, can truly provide the intense passion and wide-ranging locally-oriented content that Lewis offered and that readers depended on.

Another reason Lewis was laid off is reportedly because company executives were concerned that the Times sports content was not as strong as they wanted. Lewis has never been regarded as a particularly excellent writer, but he was a staple of Walpole High School sporting events with his highly recognizable Elvis-style hairdo. He was, for many years, the Times’ only sports reporter and photographer and was well known for his extensive reporting of games and athletes of all kinds.

I’ve seen worse sports stories in other publications, and Lewis is by far not the worst reporter I’ve seen. He was also said to be improving recently, as Times staff had been working with him in recent months to improve his stories after Gatehouse executives expressed concern.

Lewis, reached at his home in Foxborough, said the move to lay him off was “unexpected,” but he said he’s making the best of it. “It’s giving me a chance to catch up on things,” he said, noting he had been putting in long hours with the Times. Multiple independent sources said Lewis was offered a freelance position with Gatehouse that wouldn’t provide benefits, but he hasn’t indicated an interest in taking that opportunity yet. He will reportedly receive a severance package from the company as well.

Lewis, who has been with the Times since 1999, said he is proud of his accomplishments as sports editor in Walpole, especially his 2002 Award from the New England Press Association for Best Sports Section among small weekly papers. “That was my high point probably,” he said.

He hasn’t applied for any other jobs yet, and said he’s not really sure where to look. “The newspaper field is a very tight field these days,” he said.

Besides being uncertain of what he’ll do next, he said he was never given details about what the company intends to do in his absence. “They didn’t tell me what their plans were, post me,” he said.

But this week’s Times included a brief statement that a different sports reporter and editor, both based out of the company’s Needham office, are slated to provide sports coverage for the Times in Lewis’ stead. Both apparently have experience covering Walpole sports in the past, but they will be covering multiple other towns at the same time which could impede the type of in-depth Walpole sports content that Lewis was typically able to provide.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. James Adamson permalink
    July 6, 2012 12:14 PM

    Almost a year since Elvis left the building and I can say that the Walpole Times Sports coverage declined significantly. Was Keith the best write? Defintely not. But his passion for all Walpole Sports was oustanding and has been missed dearly. I used to look forward to the Thursday Sports section, now I am disappointed 75% of the time.

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