Tag Archives: Brian McGrory

Big moves as Globe prepares to expand its business section

Some big media moves were announced a little while ago as The Boston Globe plans to ramp up its business section next month. First the email sent to the staff by editor Brian McGrory and business editor Mark Pothier. Then a bit of analysis.

Hey all,

We’d like to fill you in on some terrific developments in our Business department, all of them designed to build on the exceptional work that went into our Market Basket coverage and so many other news and enterprise stories over the past year.

First, we’re reconfiguring the paper to give Business its own section front on Tuesdays through Fridays, starting the first week of December. In fact, Business will get a free-standing eight-page section, somewhere between Metro and Sports. We’ve worked with Mark Morrow and Dan Zedek, as well as an entire team of creative editors and reporters, to conceive a bold new approach to business coverage, both in form and function. There’ll be a more contemporary look, a plethora of new features, and a renewed commitment to the most insightful and energetic business coverage in New England. We’ve got everything but a new name, which is currently, to my chagrin, “Business.” Please offer better ideas.

For this new section, we need additional talent, and that’s the best part of this note. We’ve locked in three major moves and we’re working on still others. To wit:

— Cynthia Needham, the Globe’s invaluable political editor for the past four years, the person who has taken us deftly from Brown v Warren to Baker v Coakley, and through so much in between, is heading to Business to help oversee a talented team of reporters and key parts of the new section. There’s not a better person in the industry to help the cause. Cynthia was a vital part of the conception and launch of Capital, our wonderfully popular Friday political section. She knows inherently that journalistic sweetspot where insight meets accessibility. And she is among the smartest, hardest-working, and best-connected editors in the building, all of which is why we asked her to undertake this crucial assignment. Cynthia will start at her new post, as one of Mark’s deputies, next week.

— Jon Chesto, the managing editor of the Boston Business Journal, is coming to the Globe November 24, as a reporter covering what we’ll describe as a “power beat.” It’s a great get for us. Jon’s among the absolute best connected reporters in the city, with a deep knowledge of how commerce works and the major figures who shape it. He’s also an energetic workhorse, an irrepressible reporter who will help breathe fresh energy into the department with smart stories. Before his stint at the BBJ, Jon spent a big chunk of time as the business editor at the Patriot Ledger, where he won a string of national awards for his weekly column, “Mass. Market.”

— Sacha Pfeiffer will arrive back home to the Globe the first week of December. There’s no way to overstate the significance of this. Sacha is legend here, which has nothing to do with Rachel McAdams, but everything to do with her exceptional reporting over a decade-long stint at the Globe, during which she shared in the Pulitzer Prize for the Spotlight series on clergy child abuse and a litany of national honors for other stories. She’s been a star at WBUR since 2008, recognizable for her expert reporting and authoritative on-air presence. The exact particulars of Sacha’s beat are still being worked out, but it will focus on wealth management and power, along with a weekly column tailored to the huge and vital nonprofit world in greater Boston. Sacha, like Jon, will report to Cynthia.

We’re aiming to make our business coverage a signature part of the Globe, both in print and online, which shouldn’t be hard, given that we’re starting from a very strong position. Our reporters have attacked their beats with gusto. Shirley [Leung] has proven to be a must-read columnist every time she taps on her keyboard. Our editors have poured creativity into the job, and it shows.

The reimagined section will launch December 4, give or take a day. We have mock-ups we’ll share with the whole staff early next week. In the meantime, please take a moment to congratulate Cynthia and to welcome Jon and Sacha to the Globe.

All best,
Brian and Mark

Now, then. This is great news for Globe readers, although I would express the hope that expanded labor coverage will be part of this as well. But for those of us who watch the comings and goings of local media people, the most surprising development is Sacha Pfeiffer’s return to the Globe.

When Pfeiffer joined WBUR (90.9 FM) several years ago, I thought it solidified ’BUR as the city’s most interesting and creative news organization. Of course, ’BUR remains one of the crown jewels of the public radio system. But Pfeiffer’s return underscores the extent to which the Globe is expanding these days under owner John Henry and editor McGrory. (Disclosure: I’m a paid contributor to WGBH, whose news-and-talk radio station, at 89.7 FM, is a direct competitor of WBUR’s.)

Chesto’s move is less surprising because it’s a step up. But the Boston Business Journal has been set back on its heels given that executive editor George Donnelly left at the end of last month.

Ben Bradlee and the importance of private ownership

471661184_d792d22c04_oPreviously published at WGBHNews.org.

Several months ago I re-read what David Halberstam had to say about The Washington Post in “The Powers That Be,” his monumental 1979 book about the rise of the Post, the Los Angeles Times, Time magazine and CBS News.

As we celebrate the life and career of the Post’s legendary executive editor, Ben Bradlee, who died on Tuesday, it’s worth pondering the economic environment that made Bradlee’s charismatic brand of leadership possible: private ownership.

The Meyer and Graham families had been the sole owners of the Post since the 1930s. But in the early 1970s, publisher Katharine Graham decided to take her newspaper public. Here’s Halberstam:

So Katharine Graham went public. In the end she did it because she felt she had no choice. It was that or sell one of the television stations, which would provide instant cash but would narrow the base of the company. During the months that they prepared the stock issue [Post lawyer and Graham confidant] Fritz Beebe, whose office was in New York, talked frequently with the Post’s New York financial writer, Phil Greer, who was unusually knowledgeable about the workings of the market. Greer was pessimistic about the entire enterprise, and consisted it a drastic mistake. Wall Street, he believed, was a brutal partner, it was not interested in journalism or good writing, and it demanded not just profit but a relentless kind of profit; Wall Street wanted systems, and cost accounting, and a monitoring of expense accounts and higher productivity and lower expenditures. None of these things had anything to do with talent or covering the news. Greer did not believe that the Post could embrace Wall Street without changing. The Post would inevitably become, if not far more conservative on its editorial page, then far more conservative as an institution. When editors thought about covering stories or opening bureaus they would think of the accountants and the costs. What had made certain family-owned papers like The New York Times and the Postspecial in the past was a certain obliviousness to materialism, the power of the editors over the accountants, a willingness to settle for less than maximum profit. Now, however, simply being in the black would not be enough, the margin of profit would have to be larger, 15 percent or more a year to satisfy the stockholders. That was a powerful weapon for the Post’s accountants, for they could go into budget meetings and when editorial expenses were being discussed they could argue, not that the paper was losing money, but that the margin of profit was too low and that the stock might fall. The stock fall? What editor could argue back against that? Was a bureau in Johannesburg worth endangering the stock? The old paternalistic norms, some of them good and some of them bad, would be replaced by new modern computerized ones, some of them good and some of them bad, and all of them cold.

The decision had instant ramifications after the Post joined The New York Times in publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971. As Halberstam writes, the Post could have been charged with a federal crime, which would have had serious negative consequences for the paper’s upcoming stock offering. Yes, the Post was on the verge of becoming a public company. But because Graham and Bradlee continued to run it as a highly personal institution, they held firm and went to press. Here’s Halberstam again:

Watergate, like Vietnam, had obscured one of the central new facts about the role of national journalism in America, a fact that helped explain the not entirely latent discontent at places like the Post and CBS and The New York Times, rich and powerful and successful as they were. Only very rich, very powerful corporate institutions like these had the impact, the reach, and above all the resources to challenge the President of the United States. Yet the price of that external influence was high to those institutions in an internal sense. The bigger and richer and more powerful the journalistic institution, the more bureaucratic its way of dealing with its own best people, the more distant and aloof its management. The Post was now part of a big rich corporation, 452nd in the Fortune list. Its standards and goals now resembled, not the standards and goals of small old-fashioned newspapers, but those of the other giant corporations on that list. For a highly individualistic profession like journalism there was an inherent contradiction in this. Even those Post reporters who were not entirely enamored of Bradlee, who thought his attention span too short, who objected to the fact that he sometimes preferred sexy stories to what they considered more serious ones, and who thought him too star-oriented, nonetheless welcomed his presence, highly personalized as it was, as a defense against the corporation. They believed that he was buying the newsroom time, that his connect to Mrs. Graham was so close that he could secure freedom of a sort that his successor could not.

In fact, the Post was often characterized as less engaging under Graham’s successor, her son Donald, and the executive editor who followed Bradlee, Len Downie. Whether that’s fair or not, there’s no disputing the reality that public ownership finally met its limits in 2013, when Don Graham sold the Post to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos.

Under executive editor Marty Baron, the Post is experiencing a revival, as Baron gets to expand coverage with the money that billionaire Bezos has proved willing to invest in the paper.

The New York Times Co.’s sale of The Boston Globe to financier John Henry in 2013 returned that paper to private ownership as well — and Henry and editor Brian McGrory have expanded the Globe’s coverage of politics and the Catholic Church, among other areas.

Neither Bezos nor Henry has been entirely benevolent. Bezos is trying to cut pension benefits for his employees. Henry has made reductions here and there, and some staff members continue to endure unpaid furloughs first instituted by the Times Co.

Yet there’s no question that both the Post and the Globe are better off in wealthy private hands than they were under the ownership of publicly traded corporations. News organizations are unique. The relentless focus on the bottom line that Wall Street demands inevitably hurts the journalism, which, in turn, harms the bottom line as the audience is driven away. Private owners can focus on the long term in a way that publicly owned corporations simply can’t.

They say it’s better to be lucky than good. Ben Bradlee was both. And we were the beneficiaries.

Photo (cc) by John C. Abell and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

 

The church, the Globe and cognitive dissonance

Crux cardPreviously published at WGBHNews.org.

Some two decades ago Cardinal Bernard Law invoked the wrath of God in denouncing The Boston Globe for its coverage of the pedophile-priest scandal. “We call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe,” Law told a crowd. Ten years later the Globe had Law himself on the run with a series of reports revealing the cardinal’s role in covering up the scandal.

And now? Cardinal Seán O’Malley was the star panelist Thursday night at an event sponsored by the Globe to mark the debut of Crux, its website devoted to covering the Catholic Church. O’Malley thanked Globe owner John Henry and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, for launching the site. He praised John Allen, recruited from the National Catholic Reporter to write for both Crux and the Globe. And he expressed the hope that Crux would help foster “a better understanding of Catholicism.”

Among the crowd of several hundred: Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who led the Spotlight Team in its Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of O’Malley’s predecessor. Michael Keaton will play Robinson in the movie.

Needless to say, much has changed over the past dozen years. A lot of it has to do with the man who was the subject of the panel discussion: Pope Francis, whose openness, humility and charisma have given the church an infusion of energy, even as he struggles to deal with the sexual-abuse crisis — an effort in which Cardinal O’Malley is his principal lieutenant.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine a project like Crux without a catalyst such as Francis, the subject of endless fascination since his selection in 2013. “We saw a need for more reporting, more journalism about the church,” said Globe editor Brian McGrory in his introductory remarks.

Crux, as I wrote last week, is a free standalone website aimed at the English-speaking world, and intersects with the Globe only tangentially. How tangentially? Well, this morning Michael O’Loughlin has a story on the BC event in Crux, and Derek Anderson covers it separately for the Globe.

If you were looking for some critical analysis of Francis’ pontificate thus far, you didn’t find much on Thursday. O’Malley called Francis “one of the most extraordinary leaders of our day,” and there was no disagreement from panelists Allen; Mary Ann Glendon, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former ambassador to the Vatican; BC theology professor Hosffman Ospino; and Robert Christian, the editor of Millennial, a website aimed at younger Catholics.

On a range of hot-button social issues such as LGBT rights, divorce and the role of women in the church, panelists talked about Francis’ compassion and outreach but played down the possibility of significant shifts in doctrine. As O’Malley said of the pope, “He hasn’t changed the lyrics, but he’s changed the melody.”

One of the more interesting lines of discussion began when Margery Eagan, who writes a column on spirituality for Crux (and who co-hosts Boston Public Radio on WGBH 89.7 FM), asked if Francis might bridge the gap between someone who is “a liberal Catholic” or “a cafeteria Catholic” such as herself and “a conservative Catholic” such as Glendon.

“I’m going to resist being called a conservative Catholic,” Glendon replied. “I think Francis helps us to explode those categories, which I don’t believe are relevant to Catholics.”

That led to a question from the audience, read by Crux editor Teresa Hanafin (audience members were instructed to write their questions on cards), as to whether Crux could help Catholics get beyond the liberal-conservative divide that Glendon believes is irrelevant.

“The purpose of Crux is to get the story right,” Allen replied, adding it was his goal to offer “an intelligent, thoughtful, serious presentation of the Catholic Church.” He described the divide as having a lot to do with a lack of contact with people outside their own groups: “I think we’re less polarized than tribalized. We live in affinity communities.”

He offered as an example his wife, whom he described as liberal, Jewish and suspicious of conservatives. Several years ago, when he was researching a book about the conservative Catholic organization Opus Dei, he said, his wife became friendly with some of the members.

“Friendship is the magic bullet when it comes to tribalism,” Allen said. “I want to create a space where all these tribes can become friends.”

Billionaires’ bash: Big moves by Henry’s Globe, Bezos’ Post

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 10.40.06 AM

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Tuesday may have been the biggest day yet for billionaire newspaper owners John Henry and Jeff Bezos. Henry’s Boston Globe launched the long-anticipated Crux, a free standalone website that covers the Catholic Church. And Bezos replaced Katharine Weymouth as publisher of The Washington Post, bringing an end to the 81-year reign of the Meyer-Graham family.

At a time when the newspaper business remains besieged by cuts (including 22 Newspaper Guild positions at The Providence Journal this week, according to a report by Ian Donnis of Rhode Island Public Radio), Henry and Bezos are taking the opposite approach.

“You can’t shrink your way to success,” new Washington Post publisher Frederick Ryan told Michael Calderone of The Huffington Post. “Growth is the way to continue to build a strong news organization.” Ryan’s words were nearly identical to those of the Globe’s chief executive officer, Michael Sheehan, at the unveiling of the paper’s weekly political section, Capital, in June: “You can’t cut your way to success. You can only grow you way to success.”

First Crux. To my non-Catholic eyes, the site appears to offer an interesting mix of the serious and the not-so-serious. The centerpiece is John Allen’s deeply knowledgeable reporting and analysis, some of which will continue to appear in the Globe. (In late August, Publishers Marketplace reported that Allen is writing a biography of Pope Francis with the working title of “The Francis Miracle.” No publisher was named, but according to this, Time Home Entertainment will release it in March 2015.)

Crux national reporter Michael O’Loughlin has weighed in with features on Native American Catholics who blend tribal and Roman traditions and on the Vatican Secret Archives, whose contents turn out to be not as interesting as the phrase makes them sound. Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín covers stories such as Pope Francis’ call for peace in Gaza. WGBH’s Margery Eagan, a former Boston Herald columnist, is writing a column called “On Spirituality.” The events calendar makes it clear that Crux is a very Catholic venture.

There’s a lighter side to Crux, too, such as a trivia quiz on the saints and updates on football teams from Catholic colleges. Crux’s own reporters are supplemented with wire services, including the Associated Press, Catholic News Service and Religion News Service, as well as personal essays such as the Rev. Jonathan Duncan’s rumination on life as a married Catholic priest with children (he used to be an Episcopalian). Crux is also asking readers to write brief essays; the debut topic is illegal immigration.

Two quibbles. An article on the suffering of Iraqi Christians was published as a straight news story, even though the tagline identifies it as coming from “the pontifical organization Aid to the Church in Need.” When you click to “learn more,” you find out that Church in Need is an advocacy organization that is actively seeking donations. The disclosure is sufficient, but the placement strikes me as problematic. If Crux were a print newspaper, the article could have appeared on the op-ed page. Crux needs a clearly marked place for such material as well.

My other quibble is that content is undated, leaving the impression that everything is now. That can cause confusion, as with a John Allen Globe piece on immigration that refers to “Friday night” — and links to an Associated Press story published on Aug. 2. (Dates do appear on author bios.)

The site is beautifully designed, and it’s responsive, so it looks good on tablets and smartphones. There are a decent number of ads, though given the state of digital advertising, I think it would make sense — as I wrote earlier this summer — to take the best stuff and publish it in a paid, ad-supported print product.

Globe editor Brian McGrory, Crux editor Teresa Hanafin, digital adviser David Skok and company are off to a fine start. For more on Crux, see this article by David Uberti in the Columbia Journalism Review and this, by Justin Ellis, at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

***

A torrent of punditry has already accompanied the news that Frederick Ryan, a former chief executive of Politico, will become publisher of The Washington Post on Oct. 1.

The irony is thick. When Post political reporters John Harris and Jim VanDeHei proposed launching Politico under the newspaper’s auspices in 2006, they were turned down. Today, Politico often dominates the political conversation in a way that the Post used to (and, of course, sometimes still does). I’m not always a fan of Politico’s emphasis on politics as insider gamesmanship, but there’s no doubt the site has been successful.

As the Post’s own account makes clear, Ryan is a longtime Republican activist, and was close to both Ronald and Nancy Reagan. That shouldn’t affect the Post’s news operations, though it could affect the editorial page — hardly a bastion of liberalism even now. In another Post story, Ryan “endorsed” executive editor Marty Baron and editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt. Baron, a former Globe editor, may be the best newspaper editor working on this side of the Atlantic.

What concerns me is the strong scent of insiderism that is attached to Ryan. In an address to the staff, Ryan said one of his goals is “winning the morning,” according to a series of tweets by Post media blogger Erik Wemple (reported by Jim Romenesko). That might seem unremarkable, except that it sounds like something right out of the Politico playbook — um, make that “Playbook.”

A New York Times account by Ravi Somaiya dwells on Ryan’s obsession with the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, and quotes Ryan as calling it “an important event.” Those of us who find the dinner to be an unseemly display of Beltway clubbiness might agree that it’s important, but for different reasons.

Then again, if Ryan can fix the Post’s business model and show the way for other news organizations, all will be forgiven. The Post, like the Globe, has been expanding under new ownership. On Tuesday, the Post unveiled its most recent venture, The Most, an aggregation site.

Bezos’ track record at Amazon shows that he’s willing to take the long view. I suspect that he’s still just getting started with the Washington Post.

 

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.