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Gazette publisher reassigned, replaced by company president Aaron Julien  

  • STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Michael Rifanburg STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Daily Hampshire Gazette on Conz Street.  STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE



Staff Writer
Monday, November 19, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — A new publisher will oversee operations at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Valley Advocate in Northampton, The Recorder in Greenfield and the Athol Daily News.

Aaron Julien, president and CEO for Newspapers of New England, Inc., on Monday announced that he would take over as publisher effective immediately, replacing Michael Rifanburg, who was reassigned to another position within the company. The action comes one week after employees at the Gazette and Advocate formed a union, the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild. 

Julien made the announcement Monday morning in the Gazette newsroom, standing before staff members. Approximately 70 percent of the 72 eligible employees filed a petition seeking the company to voluntarily recognize the union, according to its members.

Of the change in leadership, Julien said, “I’m trying to create a sustainable business, and that’s one of the things I need to do. I want to communicate better our goals, our hopes and why we believe in local journalism and newspapers — and that we’ve done everything we can to keep them local and independent.”

Rifanburg, publisher since March 2016, is being named vice president of the company’s third-party services group, where he will be in charge of commercial printing, digital services and other aspects of the company that help to sustain the newsroom budget as a decline in print advertising revenue continues. He declined to comment Monday. 

This will be the second time Julien, 56, steps into the role of publisher, a position he held from 2006 to 2008. During that time, a new press was being built and installed at the Gazette’s Conz Street building.

Julien, who lives in Amherst, said the Gazette, as well as the Greenfield and Athol operations, will be his focus.

“I want to give them all my full attention,” Julien said.

In a statement Tuesday, the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild wrote: “We are glad that we have Aaron’s attention, and we know the only reason we have his attention is because of our union. However, Michael Rifanburg’s reassignment changes none of the collective concerns of our workers. Our request remains the same. We ask that Newspapers of New England voluntarily recognize our union and the supermajority of workers who support it.”

Last week, Gazette employees from various departments — who have also been wearing pins and lanyards to work in support of the union — announced the creation of the union, with its mission of giving employees a say in company decisions.

Julien said he is not yet prepared to address the petition, filed Nov. 12, but that it is the “elephant in the room.”

“The petition made clear everyone needs a better understanding of what we’re doing, the challenges we face and how we meet our goals,” Julien said. “It would be disingenuous to not acknowledge the timing of this change and its relationship to the filing of the petition.

“This change is, in part, recognition I need to be involved now — and here,” Julien said. “It’s clear I need to be involved in all these issues; that’s something I’m hearing loud and clear, and I feel this is the best way to do it.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.