Tag Archives: Brian McGrory

Globe to offer buyouts to some staff members

Here’s some late-Friday-afternoon-in-August news for you: Boston Globe chief executive officer Mike Sheehan says the paper will be offering buyouts to some employees. Sheehan says the buyouts will be “voluntary in nature, the terms of which are generous by any standard.”

No numbers are given in either Sheehan’s memo (posted earlier at Universal Hub) or in a follow-up from editor Brian McGrory (exclusive to Media Nation). “There’s no set number we’re trying to achieve,” McGrory writes. “Most significantly, it’s not meant as a cost-cutting exercise in the newsroom. In fact, when all is said and done, I don’t expect staffing levels here to change much, if at all. We’ll see growth in some areas as we’ll see cutbacks in others. Hiring will continue.”

But, McGrory adds: “That’s not to say there won’t be difficult moments in this process. We’ll undoubtedly be saying goodbye to talented colleagues who have committed themselves to this great institution.”

(Update: Craig Douglas of the Boston Business Journal reports that layoffs are possible if the Globe doesn’t achieve its buyout goal.)

First, Sheehan’s email to the staff:

Over the past two years, there have been a number of significant changes at the Boston Globe: a new owner, a new editor, and new leadership in a number of departments. Since January 2013, we’ve added a number of new people as well — 250, to be precise. These key hires are helping us create a media property whose commitment to excellence in journalism is second to none in New England, and on par with the best in the business globally. They’ve allowed us to improve the quality of our offerings across the board and to introduce initiatives like Address and Capital in print, a re-imagined boston.com, plus Betaboston.com and Crux, the new Catholic digital site which will launch in a few weeks. On the business side, our efforts are paying off — after the first six months of 2014, our circulation and advertising revenue are both ahead of plan, which reflects the enthusiasm of readers, visitors, and advertisers.

Our mission of creating award-winning journalism that’s “aggressively interesting” is only realized if we create a business model that’s sound and eminently sustainable. To reposition our business for the future, we have decided to offer some employees a buyout, voluntary in nature, the terms of which are generous by any standard. These employees will receive a letter at home over the next few days outlining specific terms.

We will continue to adapt and change, to stay ahead of the market and our competitors. We will continue to recruit and hire and explore new initiatives. But we will do so with financial discipline and rigor.

While the letters will be detailed and thorough, if you have any questions, feel free to ask me, your supervisor, or anyone in Human Resources.

All the best,
Mike

And here is McGrory:

Following up on Mike’s note, I’d like to offer my assessment on what this means for the newsroom.

Thankfully, this newsroom has embraced necessary change since the dawn of boston.com in 1995, right up through the new sections and sites we’ve introduced over the past year, with our most ambitious undertakings yet to come. This innovative spirit has allowed us to be one of the most successful papers in the nation in terms of digital subscriptions. It has allowed us to deliver our stories and images to readers in bold new ways. It has allowed us to rack up awards of every stripe. It’s also allowed us to beat financial forecasts over the first half of this year.

But change, as you well know, rarely comes easy, or at least not easily enough. It means making difficult decisions on what facets of our journalism we need to curtail to allow more investment in what we believe is most important to our readers. In other words, we can’t keep doing things just because we’ve always done them. We need to be ever bold in the way we think about the journalism ahead.

With that in mind, this buyout is different than many that have come before, in terms of what it means for our operation. For starters, it’s more generous (the details will be in the packets). There’s no set number we’re trying to achieve. Most significantly, it’s not meant as a cost-cutting exercise in the newsroom. In fact, when all is said and done, I don’t expect staffing levels here to change much, if at all. We’ll see growth in some areas as we’ll see cutbacks in others. Hiring will continue.  The goal of this buyout is flexibility, to allow us to devote people with just the right talents to the areas where we need them most.

That’s not to say there won’t be difficult moments in this process. We’ll undoubtedly be saying goodbye to talented colleagues who have committed themselves to this great institution.

My take, no spin, is that this is an exciting endeavor — certainly fortuitous for those inclined to leave for retirement or a new venture, and absolutely for the newsroom at large, as we continue to strategically invest in the excellent journalism that you produce every day. I’m available, as always, to talk this through, and so are your department heads. Don’t hesitate to come by.

Brian

The Globe’s Catholic website gets a name: Crux

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 11.37.01 AM

The Boston Globe’s Catholic website will be called Crux, according to an announcement the paper posted a little while ago. Also, Globe editor Brian McGrory and Crux editor Teresa Hanafin talk about Margery Eagan’s role as the site’s spirituality columnist.

According to the announcement, “In her column for Crux, Eagan will explore issues of spirituality, contemplation, and devotion, drawing on her personal experience with her Catholic faith, as well as that of other Catholics and those of various religious traditions.”

Earlier: “Boston Globe Edges Closer To Launching Catholic Site And Moving Downtown” (WGBHNews.org)

CEO Mike Sheehan says Boston Globe is profitable

Mike Sheehan

Mike Sheehan

CommonWealth magazine editor Bruce Mohl interviews Boston Globe chief executive officer Mike Sheehan in the just-posted summer issue. The most interesting takeaway is that the Globe, according to Sheehan, is currently profitable:

The Boston Globe is a profitable enterprise. I think it can be more profitable, but it’s a profitable enterprise. Look, we’re not going to run this like a hedge fund trying to raise crazy EBITDA. You could do that. You could cut. John’s [a reference to Globe owner John Henry] objective is to make the Globe sustainable, to come up with a model that makes it sustainable forever. The better we do on the revenue side, the more we’re going to pump into the content side.

I’ve heard it before, but it’s significant that the CEO would say it on the record. No specifics, though — under John Henry’s ownership, the Globe is a private company that doesn’t have to disclose its numbers.

The headline of the interview is “Mr. Sunshine,” and it fits the tone of the interview. If Sheehan was determined not to make news, then he succeeded. But it’s an interesting read, and there are some details I didn’t know about Sheehan’s longtime family relationship with editor Brian McGrory — who, Sheehan says, “was put on the face of the earth to be the editor-in-chief of The Boston Globe.”

Photo via Saint Anselm College.

Disruptive innovation and the future of news

type_cabinets

Photo via ElationPress.com.

Previously published at Medium.

Toward the end of The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen’s influential 1997 book about why good companies sometimes fail, he writes, “I have found that many of life’s most useful insights are often quite simple.”

Indeed, the fundamental ideas at the heart of his book are so blindingly self-evident that, in retrospect, it is hard to imagine it took a Harvard Business School professor to describe them for the first time. And that poses a problem for Jill Lepore, a Harvard historian who recently wrote a scathingly critical essay about Christensen’s theories for the New Yorker titled “The Disruption Machine.” Call it the Skeptic’s Dilemma.

Christensen offers reams of data and graphs to support his claims, but his argument is easy to understand. Companies generally succeed by improving their products, upgrading their technology, and listening to their customers — processes that are at the heart of what Christensen calls “sustaining innovations.” What destroys some of those companies are “disruptive innovations” — crude, cheap at first, attacking from below, and gradually (or not) moving up the food chain. The “innovator’s dilemma” is that companies sometimes fail not in spite of doing everything right, but because they did everything right.

Some examples of this phenomenon make it easy to understand. Kodak, focusing its efforts on improving photographic film and paper, paid no attention to digital technology (invented by one of its own engineers), which at first could not compete on quality but which later swallowed the entire industry. Manufacturers of mainframe computers like IBM could not be bothered with the minicomputer market developed by companies like Digital Equipment Corporation; and DEC, in turn, failed to adapt to the personal computer revolution led by the likes of Apple and, yes, IBM. (Christensen shows how the success of the IBM PC actually validates his ideas: the company set up a separate, autonomous division, far from the mothership, to develop its once-ubiquitous personal computer.)

Clay Christensen in 2011. Photo (cc) by Betsy Weber. Some rights reserved.

Clay Christensen in 2011. Photo (cc) by Betsy Weber. Some rights reserved.

Christensen has applied his theories to journalism as well. In 2012 he wrote a long essay for Nieman Reports in collaboration with David Skok, a Canadian journalist who was then a Nieman Fellow and is now the digital adviser to Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory, and James Allworth, a regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review. In the essay, titled “Breaking News,” they describe how Time magazine began in the 1920s as a cheaply produced aggregator, full of “rip-and-read copy from the day’s major publications,” and gradually moved up the journalistic chain by hiring reporters and producing original reportage. Today, they note, websites like the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, which began as little more than aggregators, have begun “their march up the value network” in much the same way as Time some 90 years ago.

And though Christensen, Skok, and Allworth don’t say it explicitly, Time magazine, once a disruptive innovator and long since ensconced as a crown jewel of the quality press, is now on the ropes — cast out of the Time Warner empire, as David Carr describes it in the New York Times, with little hope of long-term survival.

***

INTO THIS SEA of obviousness sails Lepore, an award-winning historian and an accomplished journalist. I am an admirer of her 1998 book The Name of War: King Philip’s War and American Identity. Her 2010 New Yorker article on the Tea Party stands as a particularly astute, historically aware examination of a movement that waxes and wanes but that will not (as Eric Cantor recently learned) go away.

Lepore pursues two approaches in her attempted takedown of Christensen. The first is to look at The Innovator’s Dilemma as a cultural critic would, arguing that Christensen popularized a concept — “disruption” — that resonates in an era when we are all fearful of our place in an uncertain, rapidly changing economy. In the face of that uncertainty, notions such as disruption offer a possible way out, provided you can find a way to be the disruptor. She writes:

The idea of innovation is the idea of progress stripped of the aspirations of the Enlightenment, scrubbed clean of the horrors of the twentieth century, and relieved of its critics. Disruptive innovation goes further, holding out the hope of salvation against the very damnation it describes: disrupt, and you will be saved.

The second approach Lepore pursues is more daring, as she takes the fight from her turf — history and culture — to Christensen’s. According to Lepore, Christensen made some key mistakes. The disk-drive companies that were supposedly done in by disruptive innovators eating away at their businesses from below actually did quite well, she writes. And she claims that his analysis of the steel industry is flawed by his failure to take into account the effects of labor strife. “Christensen’s sources are often dubious and his logic questionable,” Lepore argues.

Jill Lepore. Publicity photo from her Harvard bio.

Jill Lepore. Publicity photo from her Harvard bio.

But Lepore saves her real venom for the dubious effects she says the cult of disruption has had on society, from financial services (“it led to a global financial crisis”) to higher education (she partly blames a book Christensen co-authored, The Innovative University, for the rise of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, of which she takes a dim view) to journalism (one of several fields, she writes, with “obligations that lie outside the realm of earnings”).

Christensen has not yet written a response; perhaps he will, perhaps he won’t. But in an interview with Drake Bennett of Bloomberg Businessweek, he asserts that it was hardly his fault if the term “disruption” has become overused and misunderstood:

I was delighted that somebody with her standing would join me in trying to bring discipline and understanding around a very useful theory. I’ve been trying to do it for 20 years. And then in a stunning reversal, she starts instead to try to discredit Clay Christensen, in a really mean way. And mean is fine, but in order to discredit me, Jill had to break all of the rules of scholarship that she accused me of breaking — in just egregious ways, truly egregious ways.

As for the “egregious” behavior of which he accuses Lepore, Christensen is especially worked up that she read The Innovator’s Dilemma, published 17 years ago, yet seems not to have read any of his subsequent books — books in which he says he continued to develop and refine his theories about disruptive innovation. He defends his data. And he explains his prediction that Apple’s iPhone would fail (a prediction mocked by Lepore) by saying that he initially thought it was a sustaining innovation that built on less expensive smartphones. Only later, he says, did he realize that it was a disruptive innovation aimed at laptops — less capable than laptops, but also cheaper and easier to carry.

“I just missed that,” he tells Bennett. “And it really helped me with the theory, because I had to figure out: Who are you disrupting?”

Christensen also refers to Lepore as “Jill” so many times that Bennett finally asks him if he knows her. His response: “I’ve never met her in my life.”

***

CHRISTENSEN’S DESCRIPTION of how his understanding of the iPhone evolved demonstrates a weakness of disruption theory: It’s far easier to explain the rise and fall of companies in terms of sustaining and disruptive innovations after the fact, when you can pick them apart and make them the subject of case studies.

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The Boston Globe doubles down on political coverage

Capital section front

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The message last night was straightforward: The Boston Globe was launching a new weekly political section, Capital, in print and online.

It was the messaging, though, that really mattered. About a hundred invited guests mingled in the lobby of the historic Paramount Theatre, elegantly restored by Emerson College, helping themselves to free food and an open bar. Owner/publisher John Henry joined the minglers, working the room like one of the politicians his reporters might write about.

And if you didn’t quite get the messaging, chief executive officer Michael Sheehan and editor Brian McGrory were there helpfully to explain.

“You can’t cut your way to success. You can only grow you way to success,” Sheehan said while introducing a panel discussion. Added McGrory in his closing remarks: “We are investing in our political coverage at a time when virtually every other paper is retreating.”

If you’re a news junkie, a political junkie or both, enjoy it. The newspaper implosion that has defined the past decade may have slowed, but it hasn’t stopped.

Some 16,200 full-time newspaper jobs disappeared between 2003 and 2012, according to the American Society of News Editors. Just this week, about 20 employees — one-fourth of editorial staff members — were let go by the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, recently sold by Henry to Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida. Aaron Kushner, whose print-centric approach was hailed as the salvation of the newspaper business just a year ago, is now dismantling the Orange County Register and its affiliated Southern California properties as quickly as he built them up.

The only major papers bucking this trend are Henry’s Globe and Jeff Bezos’ Washington Post, both of which are adding staff and expanding their portfolios. (The New York Times remains relatively healthy, but in recent years the ruling Sulzberger family has tended to define success by keeping cuts to a minimum.)

So what is Capital? Simply put, it’s a Friday-only section comprising features, think pieces, polling, commentary and lots of graphics. The debut consists of 12 pages, including three full-page ads — two of them advocacy messages of the sort that might not have made their way into the paper otherwise — and a smaller bank ad on the front of the section.

The lead story, by Jim O’Sullivan and Matt Viser, looks at the implications of a presidential race that is not likely to have a Massachusetts candidate for the first time since 2000. A poll (and Capital is slated to have lots of polls) suggests that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker is making some headway, trailing Democratic contender Martha Coakley by a few points and leading Coakley’s rival Steve Grossman by a similar margin.

Among the more intriguing pieces of content is a “social networks dashboard,” put together by SocialSphere of Cambridge, which tracks conversations and the “biggest influencers” on Twitter. The print version has the highlights; online, it goes into more depth. It could use some tweaking, though. For instance, it’s fine to know that Gov. Deval Patrick is +463, but I’d like to see an explanation of what that means.

And if the Globe is looking for suggestions, I’d like to see a more outward-looking orientation, at least in the online version. There are no few links to outside content. How about a curated reading list of the best political coverage appearing elsewhere? (Online, Capital does offer some outside links in an automated feature based on Twitter called “The Talk,” which combines mostly Globe content with a little bit of offsite stuff. I’m also told that a daily newsletter to be written by political reporter Joshua Miller will include non-Globe links.)

One challenge the Globe faces is to come up with compelling content that isn’t tied to the daily news cycle. Today, for instance, the paper’s two most important political stories appear not in Capital but, rather, on the front page: more questions about Scott Brown’s dubious dealings with a Florida firearms company and insider shenanigans involving Mayor Marty Walsh’s administration and the city’s largest construction company. Of necessity, Capital will have to focus on analysis and smart step-back pieces.

During the panel discussion, political editor Cynthia Needham said that a frequent topic of conversation in the newsroom is whether the Globe’s political coverage should appeal to “insiders” or to readers “who dip in every once in a while.” For Capital to work week after week, the answer needs to be both — and then some.

But seriously — how refreshing is it to be able to write about the Globe’s latest expansion instead of the cuts and layoffs that pervade the rest of the newspaper business? We’ll remember these times. Let’s hope they last.

Tom Farragher to leave Spotlight, return to newsroom

Tom Farragher

Tom Farragher

Tom Farragher is stepping aside as the editor of The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team. As Globe editor Brian McGrory points out, Farragher, who’ll become an associate editor, is leaving on a high note — the recently published “Shadow Campus” series, which documented dangerous housing conditions for college students who live off campus. McGrory’s full memo to the staff is below.

If we accept that all good things must come to an end, then I’ve now learned that all great things are finite as well. Tom Farragher has let me know that his eight years as editor of the Spotlight Team are enough. At his request, Tom will return to the newsroom to write high impact enterprise stories, report and help oversee projects, and contribute to our coverage of major news events, taking the well-earned title of associate editor in this new role.

Tom’s decision closes out a spectacular run in Spotlight, one which saw an ambitious expansion of the reach and scope of our elite investigative unit. Under Tom’s leadership, there were no sacred cows, no targets too big or powerful, no topics too unwieldy or complex. The results were immediate and deep — state reviews, Justice Department investigations, IRS raids, and grand jury indictments. When Tom writes (he’s a stellar wordsmith, by the way), systems change and officials are often at risk of jail.

Consider for a moment the series on the state Probation Department. The Supreme Judicial Court suspended the agency head by lunchtime the following day. Federal indictments followed state indictments, and the project provided the blueprint for the criminal trial that is unfolding in US District Court.

Consider, too, the series on Partners HealthCare. When we published, health insurance premiums were rising at more than 10 percent a year. Municipalities were laying off teachers and cops to afford coverage. Spotlight exposed the monopolistic practices of our elite hospitals, spurring a state attorney general’s review, a federal probe, and vows by Partners to hold down costs — promises that have, for the most part, been fulfilled.

The series on lenient dispositions of operating under the influence cases, which involved the laborious sifting of thousands of documents, won the Polk Award, among the most prestigious in investigative reporting. Last year’s taxi series revealed fundamental injustices in a system right in front of all of our eyes. The prison suicide series, Tom’s first, literally saved lives.

Here I’ll confide that when I took this job in January 2013, Tom let me know that he hoped to leave Spotlight within months. “I’ve stared at the ceiling for too many sleepless nights,” he said. I asked him to stay for another project, and it was one of the smartest moves I’ve ever made. The result was the recently published “Shadow Campus,” a vital, sprawling series with multiple antagonists that revealed how overreaching universities, coupled with unethical landlords, are placing college students not only in squalor, but danger. And the city agency in charge of addressing problems just isn’t up to the task. The reforms have already begun.

Tom also shared in the Globe’s 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for our investigation into clergy sexual abuse.

One more thing about Tom, especially for those who haven’t gotten to know him since he descended to the mezzanine eight years ago: Tom is a world class colleague, something to which his charges in Spotlight will readily attest. He oozes kindness. He’s utterly hilarious. He’s deeply empathetic. You’re going to like having him back upstairs.

Before he arrives, though, I’ve asked Tom to finish a couple of critical follow-ups to the off-campus housing series. Tom will then take his prominent place among the four other editors emeritus who oversaw Spotlight in the forty-plus years since it was launched – Tim Leland, Steve Kurkjian, Gerry O’Neill, and Walter Robinson.

I’ll come back to you soon with word on the next editor. More important, though, please offer Tom your congratulations, best wishes, and sincerest thanks.

Brian

The Globe’s John Henry disclosures are a work in progress

Previously published at WGBH News.

Q: Does The Boston Globe disclose that John Henry owns the paper whenever it reports on one of his other business interests? Or does it omit that information, leaving less-savvy readers in the dark?

A: Yes.

Tuesday was a case in point. On page one, the Globe’s Brian MacQuarrie reported that the Stop Handgun Violence billboard on Lansdowne Street facing the Massachusetts Turnpike may be coming down by next March. The new owner of the property — Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Red Sox — declined to comment, according to the story. Nowhere did we learn that Henry is Fenway’s lead investor.

On the front of the Metro section, though, Travis Andersen disclosed the connection in an update on an elevator accident at Fenway Park that left a woman seriously injured. Andersen wrote: “A spokeswoman for the Red Sox, whose principal owner, John Henry, also owns The Boston Globe, declined to comment Monday, citing the ongoing review.”

And so it goes — the most prominent recent example being the Globe’s reporting on Jared Remy, who has been charged with murdering his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel. Remy is the son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy, and the Globe has weighed in with some extremely tough stories on the entire family (original here; most recent follow-up here). Those articles, though, omitted the Henry connection, even as op-ed columnist Alex Beam included it when he wrote a piece arguing that Jerry Remy should be able to keep his job in the broadcast booth.

I asked Globe editor Brian McGrory whether he thought the Henry connection should have been made clear in the Remy coverage and the billboard story. “Our disclosure policy would apply to the stories that you mention,” McGrory replied by email, saying he would “renew our vigor in terms of letting readers know.”

I also asked Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg whether there was any specific policy she could cite. Her response, also by email:

Our policy is to disclose John Henry’s business interests when it’s relevant to the story.

By now, we assume the vast majority of Boston Globe readers are aware of Mr. Henry’s ownership of the Red Sox and therefore do not feel the need to disclose it in every story about the team.

There’s an additional factor in the case of Jerry Remy’s ongoing employment: he works for New England Sports Network, not the Red Sox. Eighty percent of NESN is owned by Fenway Sports Group, so Henry is essentially the top executive. When I asked Clegg if she thought most Globe readers were aware of that, she responded, “No, I don’t assume that most people know about NESN.”

Disclosure may be good for the soul, but when you think about some of the larger conflicts of interest that news organizations have to navigate, the Globe-Red Sox connection can seem trivial. To take just one example: Wouldn’t it have been nice to know that the media companies that own all of our network news divisions and cable news channels were lobbying the FCC for deregulatory goodies at the same time they were providing supine coverage of the run-up to the war in Iraq? So yes, the Globe should disclose, but some perspective is necessary as well.

Few would argue that the Globe should run a disclosure when it covers the Red Sox as a baseball team (although columnist Dan Shaughnessy did this morning, jokingly calling Henry the “greatest person ever”). The paper’s coverage of the boss’ other businesses has been tough and independent. We’re still in the early stages of Henry’s ownership of the Globe, and it’s going to take a while to get the disclosure thing right.

And it could be worse. After all, Amazon.com, founded by Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, does business with the CIA.