Tag Archives: Brian McGrory

The Globe gets ready to unveil its life-sciences vertical

A couple of news briefs about The Boston Globe:

  • Benjamin Mullin has an interesting story at Poynter about the Globe’s life-sciences vertical, which is scheduled to begin a slow-roll launch this fall. The project already has a high-profile editor, Rick Berke, formerly of Politico and The New York Times. Berke tells Mullin that he expects the unnamed website will also have a “print component” — unlike (so far) Crux, the Globe’s vertical covering the Catholic Church. Like Crux and BetaBoston, which covers tech and innovation, it sounds like life-sciences stories of broad interest will also appear in the Globe itself.
  • Globe Magazine editor Susanne Althoff is leaving the paper to become an assistant professor in Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department at Emerson College. In a characteristically effusive email to the staff, editor Brian McGrory writes, “Her team consistently produces some of the highest quality journalism to come out of the Globe, beautifully portrayed in print. And the magazine’s creativity and savvy in story selection, execution, and packaging have routinely led to massive readership online. Look no further than the feature on being poor at an Ivy League school, guaranteed to be one of the most read Globe stories of 2015.”

The Globe drags its opinion pages into the 21st century

Of all the hoary traditions of 20th-century newspapering, few seem quite so hoary as the editorial and op-ed pages. Mixing editorials (unsigned because they represent the institutional views of the newspaper), cartoons, columns by staff members and outside contributors, and letters from readers, the opinion pages often seem anachronistic in the digital age — a bit too formal, more than a bit too predictable and way too slow off the mark.

Starting today, The Boston Globe is attempting to bring that nearly half-century-old construct up to date. No longer is the left-hand page labeled “Editorial” and the right “Opinion.” Instead, both pages are unified under “Opinion.” Content — some of it new, some familiar — is free-floating.

Much of it is what you’d expect: a pro-Olympics editorial (sigh) as well as staff columns by Joan Vennochi and Dante Ramos. Some is new: a roundup of opinion from elsewhere called “What They’re Saying,” a very short take by staff columnist Joanna Weiss on a much-delayed skate park, and an amalgamation of letters, tweets and online comments rebranded as “Inbox.” (The changes are outlined here.)

“You could look at this as a meal where you want snackable content and meatier content and the occasional dessert,” says interim editorial-page editor Ellen Clegg. Some of the ideas, she adds, were developed by experimenting with the opinion content of Capital, the Globe’s Friday political section.

Globe Opinion pages

Regular columns have been cut from 700 to 600 words. But op-ed-page editor Marjorie Pritchard says that the new Opinion section will also be more flexible, with pieces running from 400 to 1,200 or more words. (Coincidentally, this article in Digiday, in which Kevin Delaney of Quartz calls for the demise of the standard 800-word article, is the talk of Twitter this week.)

The Globe’s opinion operation has been on a roll under Clegg and her predecessor, Peter Canellos (now executive editor of Politico), with Kathleen Kingsbury winning a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing last month and Ramos being named a finalist in 2014. But the look and feel of the pages haven’t changed much since the 1970s.

And then there’s the whole matter of print in the digital age. Globe editor Brian McGrory recently told his staff that a print-first mentality still prevails, writing that “too many of us — editors, reporters, photographers, graphic artists — think of just print too often.”

McGrory does not run the opinion pages, as both he and Clegg report directly to publisher John Henry. But the redesigned print section, with its careful attention to art and graphics, has the look and feel of a print-first play. In fact, Clegg is pursuing a two-track strategy — an improved but tightly curated print section and a larger online Opinion site. “Brian as usual captured it beautifully,” Clegg says. “I think that captured the ethos of where we’re all going, where we’re all headed.”

For some time now Clegg herself has been writing an online-only “Morning Opinion Digest” with summaries and links to provocative content elsewhere. Opinion pieces often run online before they appear in print. And some pieces are Web exclusives, such as this commentary by editorial writer Marcela García on the cultural stereotypes surrounding Cinco de Mayo.

Says Pritchard: “We’ve run a lot of online exclusives in the past, and we’re trying to beef that up.” Clegg adds that “we certainly don’t want to shortchange the print reader, but we want to enhance the digital experience. There has to be a balance.”

It was a half-century ago that The New York Times developed the modern op-ed page. Times editorial board member John Oakes, the Ochs-Sulzberger family member who was largely responsible for the idea, once called it “one of the great newspaper innovations of the century,” according to this Jack Shafer piece.

By contrast, the Globe’s new Opinion section should be seen as a modest improvement. But at a time when newspapers, both in print and online, are fighting to maintain their relevance, the Globe deserves credit for trying something new.

Also posted at WGBHNews.org.

How the Globe is leveraging social to cover #FITN

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 8.22.18 AM

A recent Pindell piece in Medium.

In his recent exhortation to accelerate the transition to digital, Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory singled out — among others — James Pindell, who’s covering the New Hampshire primary (or #FITN, as they say) as a digital-first reporter, “rapidly pushing webbier (sorry) stories that allow the site to look less like a digital reflection of that morning’s and the next morning’s print paper.”

Now Mashable has a close-up look at exactly how Pindell is accomplishing that. Jason Abbruzzese writes that Pindell has embraced a wide range of social media, including Twitter, Instagram, FacebookMedium and — shades of steam-powered presses from the 19th century — an email newsletter. (Not all of this is new. Pindell’s Twitter feed has been a must-read among political junkies for years.) Pindell’s work is gathered at a Globe site called Ground Game.

The approach has allowed Pindell to cover stories that are worth telling even if they’re not quite worthy of (or suitable for) print — such as his first-person account of covering Donald Trump and his hair during Trump’s recent foray into New Hampshire.

The idea, Abbruzzese reports, is to leverage Pindell’s coverage of across a variety of platforms in order to compete with national outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post:

“We’re putting him out there deliberately in a very focused way saying, ‘This is our guy. This is the face of our coverage,'” says David Skok, digital adviser at the Globe, who helped form their strategy of pushing content out on social platforms via a single, recognizable reporter.

The strategy also fits with the Globe’s embrace of digital verticals such as Crux, which covers “all things Catholic”; BetaBoston, which follows tech and innovation; and more that I’ve heard are in the works.

Alas, as smart a move as Ground Game may be journalistically, it’s unclear, as always, how it will make money. From the Mashable piece:

The main question dogging media organizations that want to embrace this strategy of social publishing is how it affects their bottom line. Reaching more people is great, but the benefits are quickly offset if it comes at the behest of revenue.

Skok said that Pindell’s work outside of the Globe did not have direct monetization opportunities yet, but that the broader impact would hopefully attract advertisers that want to be associated with the paper’s authoritative coverage.

The folks at the Globe deserve a lot of credit for understanding the value of pushing ahead anyway.

Baron joins McGrory in thinking digital thoughts

It’s interesting that during the same week Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory exhorted his journalists to keep pushing ahead on the digital side, Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron gave a speech on the same subject at the University of California Riverside.

Baron, who was McGrory’s predecessor as Globe editor, talked quite a bit about a discussion led by Clay Shirky at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center in 2009. As it turns out, I was there, and wrote about it at the time.

As with McGrory’s memo, Baron’s speech is worth reading in full. But here’s a taste:

If this pace of change unnerves you, there is no consolation. Things will only get faster. And for those who resist the change rather than embrace it, there will be no forbearance or forgiveness. Their destiny is to be pushed aside and forgotten. That is the brutal truth.

So journalism’s Big Move from print to digital comes with discomfort for those, like me, who grew up in this field well before the 21st Century. We just have to get over it.

We are moving from one habitat to another, from one world to another. We are leaving a home where we felt settled. Now we encounter behaviors that are unfamiliar. Our new neighbors are younger, more agile. They suffer none of our anxieties. They often speak a different language. They regard with disinterest, or disdain, where we came from, what we did before. We’re the immigrants. They’re the natives. They know this new place of ours well. We’re just learning it.

Welcome to the neighborhood!

McGrory and Baron may be the two luckiest big-city newspaper editors in the country. Both work for deep-pocketed owners who are willing to invest and take the long view. As always, it will be fascinating to see what they make of that opportunity.

McGrory tells Globe staffers they need to think digital

If it sometimes seems like The Boston Globe is still a print-first, digital-later news organization, editor Brian McGrory agrees.

Despite success in selling digital-only subscriptions and the hiring of several digital-first journalists, McGrory wrote earlier today in a message to the staff, “too many of us — editors, reporters, photographers, graphic artists — think of just print too often.”

McGrory’s renewed emphasis on the Web is good news for customers (like me) who pay for Sunday delivery of the print edition and read it online the other six days. And though McGrory doesn’t mention it, I hope the change in mentality he’s looking for is accompanied by some improvements in the Globe’s digital platforms.

The full text of McGrory’s message follows:

Hey all,

Just a heads up that, starting today, we’re moving the morning and afternoon meetings up by 30 minutes, to 10 and 3 respectively — a small change that is part of a larger effort to make us quicker and more nimble on the web.

The goal is, as mentioned before, to get everyone to think as much about our site as we do the paper. We are already in a very good place. It was this newsroom, in large part, that made boston.com the traffic monster that it is, built on the quality of Boston Globe journalism for the better part of two decades. We did it all over again a few years ago with the launch of bostonglobe.com, which already has more digital-only subscriptions than any metropolitan news organization in the country. Those subscriptions are growing at a clip of 200 to 500 a week, and page views were up in March by more than 40 percent over last year.

But we can do better – and we need to do better.

To that end, we’ve already brought in several digital-first writers, to such great effect that we’re looking to bring in several more. Evan Horowitz, Alex Speier, Steve Annear, and James Pindell have allowed us to live far more in the moment online, rapidly pushing webbier (sorry) stories that allow the site to look less like a digital reflection of that morning’s and the next morning’s print paper. Of course, virtually the whole room has been picking up the pace for years, led by the bullet-fast reflexes of Mike Bello, Martin Finucane and John Ellement in Metro.

Still, too many of us — editors, reporters, photographers, graphic artists — think of just print too often. In this view, the web is something that’s extra, an additional place to post print stories. This has to change, not overnight, and not even self-consciously, but gradually and naturally over the next few months. So if all goes right, the morning news meetings will allow for more time to be devoted to what we’re planning to publish on the site through the day. The afternoon news meeting will focus not just on the print front page, but the digital homepage through the evening.

We’ll look to reposition some high-profile editing talent to give stories a front-page-quality edit not just from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., but all through the day, allowing us to post our enterprise work from morning to evening. This may involve putting a senior editor on a devoted editing day shift, and another on an evening shift, so that the front page desk is essentially a 16- or 18-hour a day operation. David Dahl will be toggling back and forth in that role this week, supporting Chris. We’ll look to put more firepower in the pre-dawn hours to get us off to a quicker start. We’ll reallocate copy-editing resources so that the site is as carefully edited as the paper. We’ll commit far earlier in the day to running enterprise stories, whether we’re sure they’ll make the next morning’s front page or not, in the name of keeping the site fresh and lively.

All of this is predicated on each and every one of us breaking free of the rhythms that have been prevalent in this newsroom and our industry for the longer part of forever. The idea is to be part of the constant conversation that is taking place on the web – and in fact, to drive it.

Again, we’re already doing a great deal of this. Reporters are filing breaking stories immediately and effectively. We’re putting enterprise work on the site in the evening. We’re rolling out magazine stories and Sunday features through the week. And we’ve even splashed some Sunday projects on Thursdays and Fridays, with great success. More, please.

Allow me a moment here to say what this doesn’t mean. First and foremost, it doesn’t mean that we should work longer days. In fact, let’s demand the opposite. If we’re starting earlier, we’re finishing earlier. True success means that we’re getting rid of the tidal wave of copy from 5 to 8 p.m. My own belief is that far too many of us spend too much time in this building, to the detriment of ourselves, our families, and our work. Great journalism emanates from real life. Real life is that thing you see when you’re not under the glow of fluorescent lights on Morrissey Boulevard. One idea worth exploring is to stagger some shifts in the name of a steady flow of copy, with some editors and reporters working early and others coming in later. We’ll look at options in the coming weeks.

It doesn’t mean that we’re going to ignore the print paper. Lord knows, people dig deep for their subscription, and we will give them everything they pay for, including something fresh most every day. It doesn’t mean we’ll put out a mediocre paper on Mondays because we’ve spent all our enterprise through the prior week. In fact, editors will be encouraged to tuck stories away for this purpose.

In sum and in short, what we’re looking for is an even fuller, more vibrant, ever-knowing site for the hundreds of thousands of people who turn to our work every day. We’ll be more present in the social space. We’ll be even more robust with newsletters. We’ll let data inform our decisions, though never dictate them. And yes, we’ll continue to put out a world-class newspaper every morning.

I’ll keep you updated as more structural changes get made. More important, I’m eager to hear your ideas.

Brian

Here’s an idea for how to fix Boston.com

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

I have an idea for how to fix Boston.com, whose executives on Wednesday found themselves apologizing yet again — this time for some juvenile humor about House Speaker John Boehner’s alleged drinking problem following a death threat against him.

The screw-up has gotten widespread coverage from, among others, Politico, the Boston Herald (where the story landed on page one) and The Boston Globe.

First, some context on why John Henry and company find themselves in this situation.

When Boston Globe Media Partners decided to remove all Globe content from its free Boston.com site, a strategy that Justin Ellis explained at the Nieman Journalism Lab last April, they created a difficult challenge. Boston.com was one of the first and most successful newspaper websites, and had spent most of its existence primarily as a place where you could read the Globe for free. The challenge was to create a compelling news site without running anything from the Globe — and, at least based on what I’ve seen, to do it on the cheap.

The route that Boston.com has taken is a lot of aggregation, a lot of attitude and a lot of viral content — such as the phenomenon it had on its hands in December with Harvard Business School professor (and lawyer) Ben Edelman, who was revealed to have sent a series of legalistic, threatening emails to a Chinese restaurant owner because he’d been overcharged by $4 when he placed an online order.

The story went sour after the site published and then pulled a post falsely claiming that Edelman had sent a racist email. It then turned out that deputy editor Hilary Sargent, the lead reporter on all things Edelman, was selling T-shirts online making fun of him, which led to her suspension. (My former Boston Phoenix colleague David Bernstein, a WGBH News contributor, recently wrote a good summing-up of the Edelman affair, with links, for Boston magazine. We also talked about it on “Beat the Press.”)

It hasn’t helped that Boston.com has been without a top editor for most of its reincarnated existence. Globe Media chief executive Mike Sheehan told his own paper Wednesday that he hoped to have an editor in place soon, though he didn’t specify a timetable.

The deeper problem, though, is that Boston.com has a fundamentally different mission — maybe even an impossible mission — compared to the Globe’s other online verticals.

Both Crux, which covers the Catholic Church, and BetaBoston, which follows the local innovation economy, are free to excel and be the best that they can be. Stories that have broad appeal can be picked up and run in the Globe.

Boston.com, by contrast, is hampered by being a general news site that in some respects overlaps with the Globe but can’t really be allowed to compete in any serious way. There are exceptions, of course. For instance, the Globe — and news organizations around the world — picked up on the Edelman story, an entertaining morality tale about a hardworking restaurateur being harassed by an arrogant Harvard professor. And Globe editor Brian McGrory told Justin Ellis he expected to “compete like crazy” with Boston.com.

In the main, though, Boston.com has suffered by what we might think of as an imperfectly applied example of Clay Christensen’s disruption theory — by which I mean that the free Boston.com site can’t be allowed to disrupt the Globe’s business model, which is based on paid print and digital subscriptions as well as advertising. (Henry is known to be an aficionado of Christensen’s work. I wrote in some depth about disruption theory and journalism last summer for Medium.)

I disagree with critics who say Henry ought to shut down Boston.com (it still has great value, built up over nearly 20 years) or sell it (and let the Herald or another competitor grab it?). So what do I think the solution might be?

How about a first-rate arts-and-entertainment site with a truly comprehensive, searchable database of listings? It would fill a real need, and it might attract high-quality local ads. And it would be more like Crux and BetaBoston than the current Boston.com in that it could function as a Globe vertical rather than as a separate-but-not-quite-separate-enough enterprise.

I don’t know whether such an idea would work, and I would observe that the Phoenix didn’t have a lot of success with that model during the last few years of its existence. But the Henry ownership is supposed to be all about experimentation. And the Globe has two advantages the Phoenix lacked: great technology and a huge built-in audience. Some experiments will pan out; some won’t. This one strikes me as worth trying.

Boston.com 2.0 has been troubled from the start. Maybe the right editor can fix it. But maybe it’s not too soon to be thinking about version 3.0.

 

g, didn’t we say sort of the same thing in 2008?

Batman was unable to save g from its ultimate demise.

Batman was unable to save g from its ultimate demise.

After a little more than six years as a tabloid, The Boston Globe’s arts-and-features section returned to the broadsheet format on Monday. In case you missed it, here is an excerpt of editor Brian McGrory’s explanation for the shift:

This seems like the right time to reveal a secret. For two years, we’ve been quietly plotting to convert the Globe’s daily features tabloid, g, into the section that you’re holding now — not because g wasn’t good. It was actually quite good. But given the insights of our arts critics (who’ve won three Pulitzer Prizes in the past seven years), the quality of our feature reporters, the mastery of our food writers and restaurant critic, and the depth of our photo journalists, we’ve wanted their work to spread across a full-throttle broadsheet section with greater ambitions and a bolder design. It seemed only fitting…. The goal is to give you more, in better form.

A better form. Hmmm … where have we heard this before? Maybe in the message the Globe posted to mark the debut of g in October 2008? Here’s part of that message, written when Marty Baron was the editor.

Our new magazine-style section will be called “g” — for Globe — and it reflects what you, our readers, have been telling us about how you prefer to receive your reviews, previews, profiles and arts, culture and features coverage.

You want to find stories of interest quickly and easily. You want it in a format that can be carried easily as you move about town — while on the train or on a lunch break.

The two messages do have a different emphasis. The Baron-era message stresses convenience, whereas McGrory sounds more interested in giving his journalists room to breathe. (The comics, though, don’t seem to have as much room to breathe as they did in g. Friend of Media Nation John Carroll thinks they’ve gotten smaller, though he’s still searching for a back copy of g and a ruler so he can be sure.) Still, the meta-message both times was the same: We’re doing this for you.

Mrs. Media Nation was a g fan; I was agnostic. In any case, our preferences were purely theoretical, since we’re digital-only readers except on Sundays, which was a g-free day.