Tag Archives: Brian McGrory

On Saturdays, a magazine-like and shorter Boston Globe

IMG_0036If you get the print edition of The Boston Globe, you’ll notice something different today. The paper has undergone a considerable redesign — it looks much more like a magazine, and the Metro section starts on page two. A lifestyle section called Good Life comes after the A-section.

At 42 pages, the paper is 10 pages shorter than last Saturday’s. In a page-one message that does not appear on the Globe’s website, editor Brian McGrory writes, “Readers will still get all the news we always offer, compressed into the A section for a faster, hopefully easier reading experience.”

The opinion pages have been cut from two to one. Last Saturday, the right-hand page was filled with letters from readers.

The Saturday paper has always been the weakest for daily papers, with significantly lower circulation* and not much in the way of ads. As print advertising continues to wane, it makes sense for the Globe to put its resources into other areas, such as the Sunday print paper and digital.

Still, it will be interesting to see what customers who pay for Saturday home delivery have to say about this.

*More: I just looked at figures from the Alliance for Audited Media, and I learned that the Globe’s print circulation on Saturdays is actually better than it is on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This is a topic I’ll be revisiting, but for now I just want to put it up as a marker for future discussion.

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.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

The Globe’s Clegg gets a vote of confidence from John Henry

Ellen Clegg

Ellen Clegg

Ellen Clegg has been named editorial-page editor of The Boston Globe, less than a year after she was brought in to serve on an interim basis following the departure of Peter Canellos, now a top editor at Politico.

The move, announced by publisher and owner John Henry, strikes me as overdue. You don’t let an interim editor completely remake the pages, as Clegg was recently allowed to do. In an email to the staff obtained by Media Nation, Henry wrote:

When Ellen Clegg graciously accepted the challenge to take on the role of Editor, Editorial Page on an interim basis, she did so with enthusiasm, resolve, and a commitment to bring a fresh perspective and new voices to the section. I truly believe her leadership has brought vitality and relevance to the section, reflective of the improvements I’m seeing throughout the organization. From Day One, Ellen has acted as if the term “interim” was just a word, not her destiny. So it is my great pleasure to announce that as of Monday, Ellen Clegg is Editor, Editorial Page of The Boston Globe. No ifs, ands, buts, nor interims about it.

Thanks, Ellen. Keep up the great work.


Clegg has a closer relationship with Henry than Canellos did, having previously served as the top spokeswoman for the Globe — and, thus, for Henry. Before that she was a longtime Globe journalist, serving in a variety of editing positions. Among other things, she is the author of the award-winning book “ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind” (Prometheus Books, 2009). You can read more about her background here.

Today’s editorial pages — simply labeled “Opinion” since the redesign — are characteristic of Clegg’s graphics-intensive vision.

To my eye, the most interesting piece today is a short commentary by editorial writer Marcela García on a dangerous proposal to make it easier for Massachusetts families to opt out of mandatory vaccines. It’s accompanied by a large, data-heavy map. Online, you can find a chart showing the opt-out rate at every public school in the state. It should fuel follow-ups by community news organizations across Massachusetts.

Clegg is also soliciting short opinionated videos that will run in a new section to be called “Opinion Reel.”

I’ve heard laments from several Globe readers — older, but smart and engaged — who think the redesign represents a dumbing-down of the paper’s traditional editorial and op-ed pages. For Clegg, it’s going to prove to be a balancing act in trying to attract new readers while not alienating her most dedicated audience. One thing that would help: doing a better job of alerting print readers that there’s additional content online.

As editorial-page editor, Clegg is a masthead equal with editor Brian McGrory. Both report directly to Henry. It’s taken a couple of years, but it looks Henry’s team is finally in place.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

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.