Category Archives: Media

Globe seeks buyouts as it extends digital push

The Boston Globe is once again seeking buyouts, even as it ramps up to launch its life-sciences vertical, Stat, later this year. Editor Brian McGrory lays out the rationale in a memo to the staff, and warns that layoffs may follow if the unspecified goal isn’t reached. (Romenesko beat me, as I was on the road most of Wednesday.)

There’s a lot to chew over here, but let me make one observation. McGrory writes:

We’re proposing a new job category of “multiplatform editor,” someone who can copy edit, post to the web, and design web pages, morning through night. Some editors and producers will roll into that category quickly, but we expect all copy editors and layout/makeup/slot editors to take on significant web responsibilities in the very near future.

No one without these skills should have been hired after, oh, let’s say 2003. Yet here we are in 2015, and the Globe — as well as the newspaper business in general — are still wrestling with these issues. Though the copy-editing is bound to deteriorate to some extent, as McGrory himself acknowledges (“most stories will get fewer reads”), I see this mainly as a sign of how difficult it is to turn around a battleship such as a major metropolitan newspaper.

Here’s the full memo.

Dear colleagues,

In the worst kept secrets category, the Globe is launching another buyout program next week, this one specific to the newsroom. Similar to last year’s, we’ll use it as an opportunity to direct more resources to digital, a vital undertaking. Different than last year, it will also help us cut costs as we continue our transformation into a predominantly digital, subscriber-based news operation that will thrive for many years to come. If we fail in our savings goal through buyouts, we’ll be faced with the difficult prospect of layoffs in September.

Everyone in the newsroom will receive a buyout letter as early as next week. There’ll be nothing terribly fancy about the math. It’s two weeks for every year of service – the same as severance. I think the following line is on the save/get key of every editor in America: This may be the last buyout we offer. At some point, good or bad, that statement will be true.

Over the coming weeks, the plan is to focus change, in part, on the production end of the newsroom, including our copy editing, page layout, and web production functions. We’re proposing a new job category of “multiplatform editor,” someone who can copy edit, post to the web, and design web pages, morning through night. Some editors and producers will roll into that category quickly, but we expect all copy editors and layout/makeup/slot editors to take on significant web responsibilities in the very near future.

Our copy and layout desks have served this organization exceptionally well over many, many years. Every reporter and line editor at the Globe can point at specific instances where eagle-eyed desk editors have spared us from unspeakable embarrassment. Night after night, the desk improves our copy and makes the paper gleam. The issue, though, is that we can’t afford the kind of print-centric copy editing operation that we have maintained for too long. We can’t afford it financially, and we can’t afford what it does to our larger enterprise, which is to implicitly put an undue focus on print when we’re otherwise making such significant strides emphasizing digital.

So what does it mean, practically? Details are being worked out, but it will mean a streamlined copy editing operation. It will mean that most stories will get fewer reads, placing more responsibility on reporters and line editors to make sure they’re in good shape. It means that rather than a copy desk, we will have a multiplatform production desk where stories are copy edited, posted on line, perhaps placed in the social stream, and later set on pages for print. The Sports desk is already doing this. Now we need to bring it to the Universal and Features desks.

Since we spoke about our digital ambitions in April [see this], progress has been steady. We’re up about 15 percent in page views from this time last year, when we had a record-breaking summer. We’re posting far more stories far earlier in the day, including hefty enterprise stories slated for the next day’s print front page. Our digital first reporters have made a deep and meaningful mark in terms of tone, speed, and quality. Our newsletters in sports and politics are uncommonly well done and popular. And in truth, ever more reporters and editors are seeing themselves as digital first, which is exactly as it should be. This talented newsroom needs to focus even more on the journalism, not the platform. Readers will consume us in whatever form they choose.

But we need to do more. We need to be crisper in our execution of stories. We need to continue to hire more reporters and graphic artists who are native to the web. We need to go department by department, looking to redirect our talent and focus to digital – meaning that jobs will likely change in the coming weeks and months. We need to further break the long-held rhythms of a print operation. We need to be more thoughtful and structured in how we roll out our enterprise, our most widely read work. On that last point, [BostonGlobe.com editor] Jason Tuohey has developed a release schedule that will help guide us every day, dictating when enterprise is put online and in the social stream to maximize readership. Jason and [managing editor for digital] David Skok will be meeting soon with department heads and web editors to elaborate.

Amid this transition, the realities of the industry dictate that more cuts be made, and we’re looking around the newsroom and across the company, always with an eye to protect our journalism. We’ve frozen most open positions, though not all, throughout the building. There have already been layoffs in other parts of the building, and those will continue. We’re looking at some modest page reductions in the newsroom. We’re cutting back on freelance spending, which the page reductions will make easier.

All of this is an effort not only to live within our means, but to create a sustainable news organization, one that depends far more on digital subscriptions, where revenue is rising, than on print advertising, where our industry faces inexorable declines. In this effort, we are well positioned for success. The company has no debt. We have no pension obligations, which were left with the New York Times. We don’t have an owner looking to ratchet up margins. We have an innovative spirit. We have a deep, deep reservoir of talent and ambition. We’re simply looking to turn a modest profit, which the ownership will then invest in the enterprise.

On so many fronts here, we’ve already seen significant progress. Print circulation has been largely stable, with nominal declines. In terms of digital circulation, we have more subscribers than any other news organization outside of New York – and those readers are paying more money for a subscription than any other place besides the Times or Wall Street Journal. The site reads and looks terrific, with an increasing emphasis on web-only graphics and stories, work that thrives in the moment and is geared to our online readership.

For that matter, your work in the paper has been equally compelling. In fact, many of our investments have paid off, not in jackpot fashion, but in upward movement. The standalone Business section has been a major hit with readers and advertisers. The premium Sunday magazines are leading to a major revenue increase from last year. Some big-ticket advertisers are pushing to bring Capital back to a freestanding section in September, which we’ll likely do. Sunday Travel and Address are two absurdly readable sections that have succeeded in stemming declines or are seeing category increases. Sunday Arts is a source of weekly pride and reader enjoyment. For the first time, regional and national brands are partnering with us in novel, cross-platform advertising campaigns that include event sponsorships.

And then there’s the daily journalism – accountability reporting, narrative writing, elaborate beat reporting, stories that inform and entertain. We have set the agenda with our even-handed yet penetrating coverage of the Olympics bid, from birth to this week’s death. Nobody’s been better at chronicling the downfall of the Red Sox and the meaning of Deflategate. Nobody has more accessible and insightful critics. Our DC bureau has reported and written like a dream, from Vienna to Iowa. Our Tsarnaev trial coverage caught the attention of the world. Exceptional online presentations and graphics, from Pedro Martinez to the impact of global warming on the Arctic Ocean, are becoming wonderfully commonplace. The list could go on. Which is to say, again, the business model for journalism may be broken, but the journalism, specifically your journalism, is not.

Change is exciting, but the nasty sibling of change is uncertainty, and that can be scary as hell. Please remember that this newsroom has accomplished extraordinary journalism in the face of enormous uncertainty for many years running. We’ve been threatened with closure. We’ve been twice put up for sale – before fortunately landing with a deeply committed owner. We, like everyone else, have seen significant staff reductions. And through it all, you’ve created cutting edge and thriving websites. You’ve won Pulitzer Prizes and every other award under the sun. You produce one of the most thoughtful and provocative daily reports in the nation. The next couple of months will carry another dose of pain, again in the departure of prized colleagues. But please don’t doubt that we’ll emerge as a healthy and forward-looking enterprise, primed for continued excellence.

I’ll be in the Winship Room next Tuesday at 11, 2, and 6 to hear your thoughts and take your questions. I’m of course available any time before then; just reach out. Meantime, thanks as always for all you do.

Boston Herald lays off six, according to union

Update, July 27: Just got word that four, not six, Boston Herald employees were laid off last week, none in editorial.

Awful news coming out of the Boston Herald this afternoon. The Newspaper Guild tweets:

Let’s keep the heat on for public-records reform

In case you missed it, Todd Wallack has a tremendous article in Sunday’s Boston Globe on our broken public-records system in Massachusetts.

Wallack begins with a killer anecdote: a $2.7 million price tag placed on Breathlyzer records a lawyer was seeking from the State Police. The lawyer, Thomas Workman of Taunton, says that other states charged him anywhere between nothing and $75.

“I was more disappointed than surprised,” Workman is quoted as saying. “I do work across the country, and I have more trouble trying to get information in Massachusetts than other places.” And oh, by the way: he never got the records he was seeking.

Right now is when you can make a difference, as I noted in a blog post reporting that the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA) is trying to derail reform. Rather than sending my legislators emails, I posted on their public Facebook pages. State Rep. Sean Garballey, D-Arlington, responded by telling me that he’s a co-sponsor of legislation that would significantly improve the law. I haven’t yet heard from state Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, but will let you know if and when I do.

And this just in: Bob Ambrogi, a media lawyer who’s executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, sent out an email a few minutes ago warning that the MMA may have already succeeded, as a House session to vote on the reform legislation — now House 3665 — has been canceled. Let’s keep pushing. Ambrogi writes that “the bill may now be effectively killed.”

Not yet. Let’s keep pushing. Not sure who’s representing you on Beacon Hill? Just click here.

Cities and towns seek to derail public-records reform

A serious attempt to reform the state’s broken public-records law — the shortcomings of which I described recently in the WGBH News Muzzle Awards — is on the verge of being derailed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association (MMA), according to advocates.

On Friday came word that the state Legislature was likely to pass the long-awaited reform bill, House 2772, according to The Boston Globe and State House News Service. The bill, though not perfect, includes key provisions to hit noncompliant government agencies with lawyers’ fees and to limit how much those agencies can charge for complying with public-records requests.

Now comes word that the municipal association, a lobbying group for the state’s cities and towns, is working to prevent final passage. Here is a statement sent out by the MMA in which the bill is denounced as an “unfunded mandate” that could be used to “harass” local officials.

The following is an email sent to me by Bob Ambrogi, executive director of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.

Hi Folks,

It is do or die time for MassFOIA, because our public records bill, which was on the move, is now under aggressive attack.

As of yesterday, the plan was for a House vote on our public records bill next Weds, with a Senate vote the following week. Now, the MMA is fighting back with everything they have [a reference to the document linked above] and we need to do the same or the bill may be dead.  In fact, it appears the House has cancelled their formal session for next week so our reform efforts are in mortal danger. If they kill the bill now, it will be all the more difficult to revive.

So, please:

1) Write to your members to get them to call or email their legislators. I’ve attached an email that Pam wrote to Common Cause members this morning. [Note: I have not included the attachment.]

2) Stay tuned as we develop materials over the weekend and early next week that you may need to sign onto — such as a coalition letter. We will need a quick turn around.

3) Keep your eyes open for updated talking points over the weekend.

Thanks for your support of this critical issue!

Best,

Gavi Wolfe, ACLU of Massachusetts
Pam Wilmot, Common Cause Massachusetts
Bob Ambrogi, MA Newspaper Publishers Association
Justin Silverman, New England First Amendment Coalition

A few thoughts on the Globe’s digital rate hike

CommonWealth Magazine editor Bruce Mohl reports that The Boston Globe is about to increase its digital-only subscription rate by 74 percent — from $3.99 to $6.93 a week, or about $1 a day.

As I told Bruce for a follow-up, it’s a bold move — maybe too bold. The Globe has had a lot of success with paid digital subscriptions, having sold around 78,000 of them as of last September, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. The AAM does a lot of double- and even triple-counting of digital (the Globe itself claims a more modest 65,000, according to Mohl’s article), but that’s still an impressive number.

I’m sure some subscribers will walk away rather than pay the higher fee, but probably not too many. If you’re paying to read the Globe, it’s most likely because you are a committed Globe reader of long standing. To invoke the old cliché, $1 is considerably less than the cost of a cup of coffee. Still, some will cancel:

Newspaper companies charge for content at their peril. News executives may chafe at giving away their journalism, but members of their audience don’t feel like they’re getting anything for free — not after paying hundreds of dollars a month for broadband, cell service and their various digital devices.

Interestingly, while the Globe itself is becoming more expensive, John Henry and company are also making some big bets on free with sites like Crux, BetaBoston, Boston.com and the forthcoming life-sciences vertical, which will be called Stat according to several employment listings I’ve seen.

I wish the Globe success as its executives try to figure out how to pay for journalism in the 21st century. But at this point I think it would be wiser to focus on building their subscriber base than trying to squeeze more out of their existing customers.

Why newspaper apps still matter

IMG_0026

The Washington Post’s new iOS app.

Remember when the iPad was going to save the news business? How did that work out? But if the redemptive qualities of tablets turned out to be overblown, they are nevertheless a compelling platform for consuming all kinds of text and multimedia material, including news.

This morning I spent way too much time with The Washington Post’s new iOS app, which is detailed at the Nieman Journalism lab by Shan Wang. It is beautiful, with large pictures and highly readable type. I was already a fan of what the Post is now calling “Washington Post Classic.” But this is better.

So do I have a complaint? Of course. The Classic app is more complete; it includes local news (no, I have no connection to the Washington area, but it’s nice to be able to look in on occasion), whereas the new app is aimed at “national, international audiences.”

And both apps rely more on viral content than the print edition, a sluggish version of which is included in Classic.

Quibbles aside, this is a great step forward, and evidence of the breakthroughs that are possible with technology billionaire Jeff Bezos in charge. In fact, the new app is a version of one that was released last fall for the Amazon Fire. So it’s also heartening to see that Bezos isn’t leveraging his ownership of the Post entirely to Amazon’s advantage.

IMG_0024

The Boston Globe’s new app.

Another paper with a billionaire owner has taken a different approach. Several months ago John Henry’s Boston Globe mothballed its iOS replica edition — that is, an edition based on images of the print paper — and replaced it with an app that is still print-centric but faster and easier to use. It was developed by miLibris, a French company.

The first few iterations were buggy, but it’s gotten better. In general, I’m not a fan of looking at the print edition on a screen. But I find that the Globe’s website is slow enough on my aging iPad that I often turn to the app just so I can zoom through the paper more quickly, even if I’m missing out on video and other Web extras.

One big bug that still needs to be squashed: When you try to tweet a story, the app generates a link that goes not to the story but, rather, to the Apple Store so that you can download the app. Which, of course, you already have.

IMG_0025

The Boston Herald’s app.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Boston Herald has a pretty nice iOS app, developed by DoApp of Minneapolis. It’s based on tiles, so it’s fast and simple to use. It’s so superior to the Herald’s creaky website that I wish there were a Web version.

Do apps for individual news organizations even matter? We are, after all, entering the age of Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles.

My provisional answer is that the news organizations should both experiment with and push back against the drive toward distributed content. It’s fine for news executives to cut deals with the likes of Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg. But it would be a huge mistake if, in the process, they let their own platforms wither.

Also published at WGBH News.

Veronica Chao appointed editor of Globe Magazine

News from The Boston Globe keeps on coming. This press release just arrived in my inbox:

Boston (July 9, 2015) – The Boston Globe has announced the appointment of Veronica Chao as editor of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, effective immediately.

Chao, the former editor of the Improper Bostonian and the Globe’s City Weekly section, will direct all facets of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine’s operations, including setting its editorial direction, managing editorial staff, and developing special publications and supplements.

Chao has served as assistant editor for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine since 2011, editing popular features, columns, and special issues such as the award-winning “Your Home” issues. During her tenure, she has led noteworthy coverage, including a recent feature focused on low-income students enrolled at Ivy League schools, a fan’s perspective of the New England Patriots Deflategate controversy, the state of extramarital affairs, and Boston’s rising class of black politicians.

“There are so many exciting changes going on at the Globe, and a real spirit of innovation here,” said Chao. “For the magazine, it’s all about finding compelling stories – from regular columns to longform reporting – and smart new ways of telling them that surprise, delight, inform, and involve readers.”

Chao joined the Boston Globe in 2007 as editor of City Weekly, a regional supplemental section that was included in the Boston Sunday Globe. Prior to working at the Globe, she served as the editor of the Improper Bostonian magazine for five years.

A resident of Boston, Chao grew up in the Washington D.C. area and is a graduate of University of Virginia.