Monthly Archives: October 2006

Phoenix editor leaves

Bill Jensen has left as editor of the Boston Phoenix just a few months after being named to the job, and barely a year and a half after coming to the paper. I have zero insight into this, but here is the announcement.

Jensen is apparently going to be chief Web guru for the New Times/Village Voice chain.

Fortunately for the Phoenix, Jensen’s predecessor, Peter Kadzis, is still around.

Not the only potential buyers

As I wrote yesterday, all sorts of possible buyers of the Boston Globe would surface now that Jack Welch, Jack Connors and company had made their interest known. Well, check this out from today’s Wall Street Journal:

Other potential buyers have been sniffing around the Globe this year as its financial troubles have mounted….

Ben Taylor, the former Globe publisher whose family sold the Globe to the New York Times, has long been unhappy with the performance of the business and has talked about wanting to buy it back, according to a person close to the situation. Mr. Taylor didn’t return a call for comment.

Private equity firms such as Providence Equity Partners, Bain Capital and Blackstone Group have been eyeing the paper as a possible target, although it is unclear if they have reached out to the Taylors, according to a private equity executive.

The Globe today publishes a correction — in fact, the New York Times Co. has not denied that it would sell the Globe. Instead, the company has said nothing one way or the other.

Meanwhile, the Times itself reports that Welch has talked with Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell about being a possible partner in the Globe deal.

This is going to get very interesting.

Jack Welch’s journalistic values

What kind of a co-owner of the Boston Globe would retired General Electric chairman Jack Welch make? Assuming yesterday’s news gets beyond the speculative stage, that will become a key question. And according to Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a left-leaning media-watch organization, the answer could prove to be troubling.

Remember, being a media executive is old hat for Welch: GE acquired NBC in 1986, just five years into his chairmanship. FAIR’s research found that GE’s business priorities affected NBC News’ coverage mainly through unspoken intimidation — but that Welch wasn’t above making his journalistic priorities explicit, either.

Here are some choice tidbits from a piece that Jim Naureckas wrote in 1995 in Extra!, FAIR’s magazine:

[Former NBC News president] Larry Grossman … was told in no uncertain terms what GE expected from him. “You work for GE!” Welch once shouted at his subordinate, poking a finger at Grossman’s chest (Ken Auletta, Three Blind Mice).

Welch told Grossman not to use phrases like “Black Monday” to describe the 1987 stock market crash, because it was depressing the price of blue chip stocks like GE. And warned the NBC News chief, “Don’t bend over backwards to go after us just because we own you.” Welch even told Grossman to allow Today show weather forecaster Willard Scott to keep plugging GE light bulbs (Lawrence Grossman, The Electronic Republic; Electronic Media, 11/11/91).

In 1991, Extra! reported that the Today show wouldn’t even touch a story about a boycott of GE products organized by peace activists as a way of drawing attention the company’s role in producing nuclear weapons. Todd Putnam, then the editor of National Boycott News, wrote that a producer told him he’d be “looking for a new job on Tuesday” if he were to greenlight such a segment.

Do you think Welch would take a high-profile ownership stake in the Globe while promising to keep his hands off the news coverage? I don’t. And his stewardship of NBC is powerful evidence.

No fair, Channel 4!

WBZ-TV (Channel 4), which has done such a great job with Flash video on its Web site, has reverted to a Windows/Explorer combination for its post-debate webcast with Jack Williams and John Henning. I bolted downstairs to Media Nation Central as soon as the debate was over, but alas, I can’t watch.

The Web stream for WBZ Radio (AM 1030) is working (yes, I realize I could just turn on the radio, but what fun is that?), so I’m listening to Paul Sullivan, the Comeback Kid.

I thought the debate itself benefited from not having a live audience or a panel of questioners. Moderator Jon Keller did a good job of keeping things on track while letting Deval Patrick and Christy Mihos mix it up with Kerry Healey. (I did think Keller’s first couple of questions, on guns and pot, were odd.) I thought Grace Ross was particularly good tonight. I was also encouraged to see Patrick do his own counterpunching and not just play Edgar Bergen to Mihos’ Charlie McCarthy.

Look, I’ll be honest — I fell asleep for part of the debate, not because it was boring, but because it was one of those days. Barring some cataclysmic event, it’s all over except for the Patrick victory party. So I doubt anyone was hanging on every word.

In play

The Boston Globe is now officially in play. That’s the real meaning behind Steve Bailey’s front-page story reporting that a local group wants to buy the Globe from the New York Times Co.

Not that retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch, Boston advertising executive Jack Connors, concession magnate Joseph O’Donnell et al. are necessarily going to succeed in their quest. But watch: Now everyone who’s ever harbored the fantasy of owning the Globe is going to surface. The sense is that now is the time. (The Boston Herald adds a wrinkle: Mall developer Steve Karp may be involved with the Welch/ Connors/ O’Donnell group as well.)

That said, it could well be that the Times Co. won’t even consider selling. The company bought the Globe in 1992 for $1.1 billion — a huge amount, given that the Times Co.’s worth 14 years ago was $2.2 billion.

Did you see what Bailey’s reporting the Globe is worth now? Try $550 million to $600 million, in 2006 dollars. Surely Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would like to goose that up before unloading the Globe, unless he concludes that the price is only going to keep dropping.

Last Friday I mused about the possibility of local ownership, writing:

What’s missing is an identifiable group of Boston-based investors who’d be interested in buying the Globe. I would love to see such a group step forward so we could all have a look. A locally owned Globe might be a better Globe — but it all depends on who those owners might be.

I have to say that Times Co. ownership looks pretty good compared to the Welch crowd. Perhaps my own last name will allow me to get away with a bit of ethnic profiling, but this looks like the Revenge of the Pasty-Faced Irishmen. This is Old Boston, not New Boston — a nostalgia move, about the past rather than the future. Two items in Bailey’s column tell you all you need to know:

— Mike Barnicle, the ethically challenged former columnist for the Globe and, more recently, the Herald, is involved in some sort of consulting role. Barnicle has been a frequent, if little-seen, presence on MSNBC (co-owned by GE) since leaving the Globe in 1998. Barnicle’s wife, Bank of America executive Anne Finucane, used to work for Connors. Might this presage Barnicle’s return to the City & Region front? Good grief.

— Bailey reports that it’s “unclear” whether the Welch group wants Boston.com. Frankly, I’d be a lot more impressed if the would-be owners wanted Boston.com but were “unclear” about whether they wanted the Globe. The arithmetic is pretty simple. Revenues at the paper are huge but dropping. Revenues at the Web site are small but rising.

The Welch/ Connors/ O’Donnell move comes at a time when industry observers are questioning not just the chain-ownership model but the very idea of whether newspapers can remain a profitable business.

As Bailey and others (including Media Nation) have noted, the Philadelphia Inquirer has gone from chain to local ownership, and the Chicago-based Tribune Co. is under pressure to sell the Los Angeles Times to local investors.

But the new owners of the Inquirer have announced cuts that go beyond what Knight Ridder ever tried to do. And though Bailey reports that the Welch group would be willing to operate the Globe at a lower profit margin than the Times Co., the Wall Street Journal reported last week that the Globe right now isn’t earning any profits at all.

Among the more promising models is that of the nonprofit foundation, which is how papers such as the St. Petersburg Times, the Christian Science Monitor and Britain’s Guardian.

Could such an arrangement work with a large metropolitan daily such as the Globe?

Bob Jordan checks in

Robert Jordan, a former president of the Boston Globe’s newsroom employees union, writes in response to this item from last Friday:

Dear Dan,

In one of your recent postings, you asked readers to check out a “toxic” quote from Dan Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, which appeared in the New York Post, which, in reference to the New York Times Co., owner of the Boston Globe: “It seems to us they’ve ruined the paper and are guilty of gutting it.”

You stated that his quote “goes far beyond the rhetoric of previous Globe union heads, such as Robert Jordan and Steve Richards.” I may write or speak a little differently than Dan, but both of us would be talking about the same reality of the Globe’s cost-cutting measures and the devastating impact they are having on the workplace and upon the hard-working employees who are forced to pay unrealistic and unaffordable health care costs.

Sincerely,

Robert A. Jordan

Anyone for a chorus or two of “Solidarity Forever”?

Update: Jordan has also written a response to Mitchell Zuckoff on Romenesko.

Not talkin’ ’bout my generation

Jon Keller gives props to Barack Obama for admitting that he inhaled. “Finally,” Keller writes, “a baby-boomer political candidate who tells the truth!”

But alas — Obama is just 45 years old, which makes him more GenX than Baby Boom. And, as Jon knows, the Xers have always hated us Boomers for our arrogance and dissembling.

This just in

Kerry Healey’s got Deval Patrick right where she wants him. According to a new poll by Suffolk University and WHDH-TV (Channel 7), Healey now trails Patrick by 27 points. Healey’s unfavorable rating is up to 53 percent.

Obviously Healey’s strategy of buying boneheadedly offensive attack ads is working: Patrick’s folks are now likely to become overconfident, thus increasing the chance that he’ll blow it down the stretch.

Via Blue Mass. Group, which also has poll results showing Patrick ahead by 25 points and 24 points.

Patrick should ask his Internet supporters to send money to Healey so that she can buy some more ads.

Two things

I should be grading papers, so just two quick observations.

— Is Kerry Healey’s gubernatorial campaign now the dirtiest in state history? Oh, I suppose those orange-jumpsuit-clad demonstrators have nothing to do with her campaign. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.) I’m especially impressed with a new wrinkle: terrorizing the 12-year-old son of Deval Patrick’s campaign manager.

— Former Globe reporter Mitchell Zuckoff, now a Boston University professor, is right on the mark in his letter to Romenesko, in which he says that the Boston Newspaper Guild’s request that politicians write to the New York Times Co. on its behalf is “a textbook case of seeking favors from sources and subjects.”

The Globe reports on Zuckoff’s letter here, and quotes Guild president Dan Totten as saying that Zuckoff’s scenario is “an extreme stretch.” The article also quotes my colleague Steve Burgard, director of Northeastern’s School of Journalism.

Question: Is it relevant that Totten has an advertising background rather than one in news? Perhaps the potential conflict of interest never occurred to him. Granted, he doesn’t govern alone. But still.