July 5, 2017

Telegram parent to settle lawsuit over deceitful subscriptions

The website on Wednesday for the Marblehead Reporter, a weekly newspaper that has had one subscriber sue its parent company, GateHouse Media.

The owner of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, MetroWest Daily News and other daily and weekly newspapers in Massachusetts is being sued in a class-action case in which the chain is alleged to have offered deceitful subscriptions.

Two subscribers who filed the lawsuit said GateHouse offered subscriptions for lengths such as 26 weeks or 52 weeks, but instead were given shorter terms because of premium publications that weren't included in the subscription. As often as once a month, subscribers would be sent Lens, a publication the plaintiffs said is "filled almost exclusively with advertisements and other puff articles" and was not related to the publications they signed up for.

A subscriber is allegedly automatically charged as much as $2 for each issue of Lens, which is deducted from the time length of the subscription. Someone subscribing to a year of a GateHouse publication actually would receive only about 30 weeks, according to the complaint.

Customers are not allowed to opt out of receiving Lens, and details explaining the special publication are buried in fine print that contradicts the more explicit details portrayed in the advertisement, the subscribers allege.

GateHouse, which is based in New York and has local headquarters in Needham, has denied any wrongdoing but said it studied litigation costs and decided to settle. The company said it will continue with premium editions -- though not Lens -- but will more clearly disclose to subscribers about the publication of premium editions. Subscriptions will continue to be shortened, but subscribers will be able to opt to be billed separately for such editions.

Under the class-action case, any subscriber who started a subscription from April 1, 2014 to March 21, 2017 is eligible the join the case if they had their subscription terms shortened as described in the lawsuit.

Such subscribers have until July 19 to postmark or file electronically any claims.

The suit was filed last year in Essex Superior Court in Salem by Steven Keenholtz, a Marblehead resident who subscribes to the Marblehead Reporter, and Dorothy Guillicksen, a Hanover resident who subscribes to the Hanover Mariner. Keenholtz said his two-year subscription to the weekly newspaper was shorted by nine issues because of the deceitful practices.

The plaintiffs and GateHouse agreed in January to a settlement that allowed the class-action case to move forward.

If the settlement becomes finalized, all who subscribers who join in the case will be entitled to a refund. A hearing for such an action is scheduled for Oct. 5.

GateHouse owns daily Massachusetts newspapers in Worcester, Framingham, Milford, Brockton, Taunton, Fall River, Quincy, New Bedford and Hyannis.

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