Tag Archives: Pat Purcell

Why Rupert Murdoch probably won’t buy the Herald

Published earlier at WGBHNews.org.

Here’s the answer to today’s Newspaper Jeopardy question: “Maybe, if there’s a willing buyer and seller.”

Now for the question: “With Rupert Murdoch getting out of the Boston television market, is there any chance that he would have another go with the Boston Herald?”

Following Tuesday’s announcement that Cox Media Group would acquire WFXT-TV (Channel 25) from Murdoch’s Fox Television Stations as part of a Boston-San Francisco station swap, there has been speculation as to whether Murdoch would re-enter the Boston newspaper market. Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin raises the issue here; the Boston Business Journal’s Eric Convey, a former Herald staff member, addresses it as well. I’ve also heard from several people on Facebook.

First, the obvious: There would be no legal obstacles if Murdoch wants to buy the Herald. The FCC’s cross-ownership prohibition against a single owner controlling a TV station and a daily newspaper in the same market would no longer apply.

Now for some analysis. Murdoch is 83 years old, and though he seems remarkably active for an octogenarian, I have it on good authority that he, like all of us, is not going to live forever. Moreover, in 2013 his business interests were split, and his newspapers — which include The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and the New York Post — are now in a separate division of the Murdoch-controlled News Corp. No longer can his lucrative broadcasting and entertainment properties be used to enhance his newspapers’ balance sheets.

Various accounts portray Murdoch as the last romantic — the only News Corp. executive who still has a soft spot for newspapers. The Herald would not be a good investment because newspapers in general are not good investments, and because it is the number-two daily in a mid-size market. Moreover, the guilty verdict handed down to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson in the British phone-hacking scandal Tuesday suggests that Murdoch may be preoccupied with other matters.

On the other hand, who knows? Herald owner Pat Purcell is a longtime friend and former lieutenant of Murdoch’s, and if Rupe wants to stage a Boston comeback, maybe Purcell could be persuaded to let it happen. Even while owning the Herald, Purcell continued to work for Murdoch, running what were once the Ottaway community papers — including the Cape Cod Times and The Standard-Times of New Bedford — from 2008 until they were sold to an affiliate of GateHouse Media last fall.

There is a storied history involving Murdoch and the Herald. Hearst’s Herald American was on the verge of collapse in 1982 when Murdoch swooped in, rescued the tabloid and infused it with new energy. Murdoch added to his Boston holdings in the late 1980s, acquiring Channel 25 and seeking a waiver from the FCC so that he could continue to own both.

One day as that story was unfolding, then-senator Ted Kennedy was making a campaign swing through suburban Burlington. As a reporter for the local daily, I was following him from stop to stop. Kennedy had just snuck an amendment into a bill to deny Rupert Murdoch the regulatory waiver he was seeking that would allow him to own both the Herald and Channel 25 (Kennedy’s amendment prohibited a similar arrangement in New York). At every stop, Herald reporter Wayne Woodlief would ask him, “Senator, why are you trying to kill the Herald?”

The episode also led Kennedy’s most caustic critic at the Herald, columnist Howie Carr, to write a particularly memorable lede: “Was it something I said, Fat Boy?” Years later, Carr remained bitter, telling me, “Ted was trying to kill the paper in order to deliver the monopoly to his friends” at The Boston Globe.

Murdoch sold Channel 25, but in the early 1990s he bought it back — and sold the Herald to Purcell, who’d been publisher of the paper, reporting to Murdoch, for much of the ’80s. It would certainly be a fascinating twist on this 30-year-plus newspaper tale if Murdoch and Purcell were to change positions once again.

The challenge of counting digital subscribers

UnknownHow many digital subscriptions has The Boston Globe sold? According to Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg, there were 45,971 “digital-only subscribers” in September — an increase of nearly 80 percent over the 25,557 who had signed up a year earlier.

That sounds impressive. But it’s a pittance compared to the numbers compiled by the Alliance for Audited Media (AAM), which recently released a report claiming the Globe had an average of 86,566 digital readers for its Monday-through-Friday editions for the six-month period ending Sept. 30.

The difference is in how you count digital subscriptions. I’ve written about this before, but the AAM’s methodology is becoming increasingly controversial, as some readers are being double- or even triple-counted.

Here’s how it works. As Clegg says, the number reported by the Globe represents only customers who have signed up for paid online access through the BostonGlobe.com website, the iPhone app, the ePaper replica edition or an edition for e-readers like the Kindle.

If anything, that methodology undercounts digital readership. For instance, we pay for home delivery of the Sunday paper, which entitles us to digital access at no extra charge — and that’s how we read the Globe Monday through Saturday. Yet according to Clegg, because we have not specifically purchased a digital edition we are counted as Sunday-only print subscribers.

By contrast, under the AAM methodology you could sign up for seven-day home delivery of the print edition — and if you also regularly log on to BostonGlobe.com at work, you’d count as a digital subscriber as well. If you download and use the Globe iPhone app to check the headlines while waiting for the subway, well, there’s a good chance you’ll be counted again. Joshua Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab recently broke it down:

AAM wrote a blog post in May explaining that a paying print subscriber at a paywalled newspaper can actually count as two “subscriptions” if publishers provide proof that the subscriber activated their username and password for digital. And there’s no reason to stop at two: “each digital platform,” like an iPhone app, can count as its own sub too.

And in a considerable understatement, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon — noting that the AAM methodology allowed USA Today to claim a 67 percent increase in paid circulation — wrote that “the new figures make many comparisons challenging.”

The good news for the Globe is that paid circulation more or less held its own during past year even if you use the paper’s own understated figures. From September 2012 to September 2013, print circulation of the Monday-through-Friday edition fell from 180,919 to 166,807, according to the AAM. On Sundays it fell from 323,345 to 297,493.

But when you factor in  digital-only subscriptions, the Globe had a paid Monday-through-Friday circulation of 212,778 this September, up from 206,476 a year ago — an increase of 3 percent. On Sundays, total paid circulation declined from 348,902 to 343,464, or about 1.5 percent.

The picture looks considerably brighter if you use the AAM’s figures. By those measures, Monday-through-Friday paid circulation at the Globe rose from 230,351 to 253,373, an increase of about 10 percent. Sunday circulation rose from 372,541 to 384,931, or 3.3 percent.

What is the most accurate measure? The AAM figures may be exaggerated, but it’s also clear that the Globe’s measurements undercount paid subscribers — especially Sunday-only print customers who read the paper online during the rest of the week.

My best estimate is that paid circulation at the Globe is stable or growing slightly. And though digital advertising is not nearly as lucrative as its print counterpart, the far lower costs of digital publishing should help John Henry and company offset the loss in ad revenue.

Certainly Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell must be looking closely at the Globe’s strategy. According to the AAM, paid circulation of the Monday-through-Friday Herald dropped by 9 percent, to 88,052, over the past year. The Sunday edition fell by 7.5 percent, to 71,918.

Murdoch sells local papers to GateHouse investor

MA_CCTRupert Murdoch is selling The Middleboro Gazette, the weekly that covers the Southeastern Massachusetts town where I grew up. I’m not sure Murdoch ever knew he owned it in the first place. It’s just something that was thrown in when his News Corporation bought The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones in 2007.

Earlier today, Dow Jones’ chain of local newspapers — formerly the Ottaway group — was acquired by an affiliate of Fortress Investments, the majority owner of GateHouse Media, which will manage the papers. I’m not sure why GateHouse itself isn’t buying the papers, but perhaps we’ll learn more in the days ahead. Jim Romenesko has more.

Dow Jones’ regional properties include some high-quality, well-known dailies such as The Standard-Times of New Bedford, the Cape Cod Times and the Portsmouth Herald of New Hampshire.

Two questions spring to mind:

  • In general, the Ottaway papers have been spared some of the cuts that the financially struggling GateHouse chain has implemented. Will downsizing now commence? Or will the Ottaway papers’ odd status as non-GateHouse papers spare them?
  • What happens to Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell, who’s been running the Ottaway papers for Murdoch since 2008? Will he content himself with running the Herald? Or will Murdoch come up with a new assignment for him?

The deal includes 33 publications, eight of them daily papers. Romenesko reports that financial terms were not disclosed. But given that The Boston Globe recently went for $70 million — not much more than the value of its land — I can’t imagine that a significant amount of money is changing hands.

Update: From Wednesday’s New York Times:

The details of the transaction were not released, but the money involved was evidently relatively small, because if it had been bigger (or, in financial terms, material to the company) News Corporation would have had to disclose more financial information.

Ouch.

Update II: Shows you what I know. Fortress paid $87 million for the Dow Jones papers, which may be a fraction of what they were worth a few years ago, but is more than I had imagined.

According to Tiffany Kary of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, an enormously complicated reorganization is now under way. The long-in-the-making bankruptcy of GateHouse Media is now a reality, and the company will be absorbed into a new company to be created by Fortress called New Media.

Update III: Jon Chesto of the Boston Business Journal has posted a must-read analysis of what’s going on. Talk about failing up. GateHouse is going bankrupt and will become part of something bigger. And it looks like GateHouse chief executive Mike Reed isn’t going anywhere.

Purcell: Globe to print Herald for next 10 years

Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell sent the following announcement to his staff earlier this afternoon. A copy made its way to Media Nation.

TO: Boston Herald Employees
FROM: Pat Purcell
RE: Boston Herald/Boston Globe Printing Agreement
DATE: June 19, 2013

The Boston Herald and The Boston Globe will announce later today that we have reached an agreement that will allow the Globe to print the entire press run of the Herald. The agreement, which is in effect for 10 years, finishes a process begun in 2012, when we announced that the Globe would print and deliver about one-third of the Herald’s print circulation. The Globe will also handle our Sunday insert packaging.

The newspaper industry — as well as other traditional media companies — has undergone a radical transformation in recent years. In the face of that change, it has never been more important for us to implement ways in which we can be more efficient. While we will continue to compete for readers and advertisers, we also recognize that we can serve those audiences better and longer by cooperating in areas that are cost effective.

This arrangement will benefit our readers by offering editions with up-to-date sports scores and the latest in breaking news. The Herald will be as great a read as ever!

In latest circulation numbers, the difference is digital

Print circulation at the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald continues to slide, according to the latest data from the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations).

But the Globe’s success in selling digital subscriptions has led to a healthy 8.9 percent increase in its Monday-through-Friday paid circulation and a 4.6 percent increase on Sundays. The Herald’s paid circulation, by contrast, is down 11.6 percent on weekdays and 10.8 percent on Sundays.

The numbers are based on a comparison between the six-month periods ending on March 30, 2013, and March 30, 2012. Here are the topline figures:

  • Boston Globe: Weekdays, 245,572, up from 225,482. Sundays, 382,452, up from 365,512.
  • Boston Herald: Weekdays, 95,929, down from 108,548. Sundays, 73,043, down from 81,925.

The underlying totals tell an interesting story. The Globe’s weekday print circulation dropped from 195,947 to 172,048 (down 12.2 percent), and its Sunday print edition fell from 343,194 to 309,771 (down 9.7 percent). But the number of readers who use the Globe’s paid website, BostonGlobe.com, rose from 19,313 to 60,134 on weekdays and from 19,599 to 60,301 on Sundays.

(Note: Despite the seeming precision of these figures, there may be some minor discrepancies. The 2012 totals in the just-released “Newspaper Snapshot” do not perfectly match the audit reports posted elsewhere on the AAM site.)

As I’ve explained before, the actual number of digital subscribers is about half that reported by the AAM, since its totals include print subscribers who also make regular use of BostonGlobe.com, which home-delivery customers can access for free.

The Globe totals also include readers who access the ePaper — that is, the digital replica edition, which looks exactly like the print edition. A year ago, the ePaper was just barely getting off the ground. Now it accounts for 13,390 paid weekday subscriptions and another 12,380 on Sundays.

The challenge for the Herald is that, as readers lose the print habit, the paper is not offering a compelling paid digital alternative. The Herald has free smartphone and tablet apps, and, like the Globe, it posts a paid replica edition (the Electronic Edition), which is how we do most of our Herald-reading at Media Nation.

But replica editions just aren’t that compelling. Currently the Herald’s e-edition attracts 9,810 paying customers on weekdays and 1,216 on Sundays.

BostonHerald.com remains free. In the past, publisher Pat Purcell has dropped hints that that could change. Certainly it would surprise no one if that change came sooner rather than later.

Boosting digital subscriptions. The Globe’s free website, Boston.com, began running brief summaries of Globe stories today in an attempt to boost digital subscriptions.

The move had been expected for some time, as editor Brian McGrory talked about it in an interview with Andrew Beaujon of Poynter.org in February. But the timing could prove to be interesting, since it follows the Globe’s widely praised coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The paper lowered the paywall during the worst of it, which, as Seth Fiegerman reported for Mashable, resulted in an enormous increase in Web traffic. It bears watching to see how many of those readers can now be converted into paying customers.

For the Cape Cod Times, the beginning of the trail

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Image via Today’s Front Pages at the Newseum

You may have heard that a journalistic scandal is unfolding at the Cape Cod Times. A 59-year-old reporter, Karen Jeffrey, left the paper after editor Paul Pronovost and publisher Peter Meyer concluded she had fabricated sources in at least 34 stories dating back to 1998. Jeffrey had worked at the daily since 1981.

According to the apology that the paper has published, the fabrications appear to be restricted to “lighter fare,” and that Jeffrey managed to stick to nonfiction when covering hard news. That might help explain how she got away with it for so long. Then, too, fictional sources don’t call up the editor to complain.

Still, you have to wonder if anyone either inside or outside the newsroom harbored suspicions. This is a big deal — as bad as Mike Barnicle, Patricia Smith and Jayson Blair. The only difference is that Jeffrey’s downfall is playing out on a smaller stage. Count me as one observer who would like to know more.

Jim Romenekso covers the scandal here; Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon has more here; Walter Brooks of Cape Cod Today indulges in a little schadenfreude here.

Rupert Murdoch, believe it or not, actually owns the Times, a consequence of his having bought the Wall Street Journal and its affiliated properties five years ago. Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell, a Murdoch protégé, is involved in managing the Times and other Murdoch-owned community papers.

Jeffrey’s reign of error began many years before the Murdoch era. But it will be interesting to see whether Purcell is heard from as this story unfolds.

At the Boston Herald, 30 years down the road

The Boston Herald has put together a video to mark the paper’s 30th anniversary of its current incarnation. In December 1982, Hearst nearly closed the doors before Rupert Murdoch swept in and rescued the tabloid in return for concessions from the paper’s union.

The video, featuring Herald columnists Joe Fitzgerald, Margery Eagan and Howie Carr, publisher Pat Purcell (who bought the paper from Murdoch in 1994) and others, is a self-celebration over Boston’s having remained a two-daily town — rare then and even more rare today. It’s accompanied by a column in which Fitzgerald remembers the emotional rollercoaster everyone was on.

I should add that Fitzgerald was the subject recently of a touching column by his colleague Jessica Heslam following the death of his wife, Carol. Heslam’s piece has slipped into the paid archives, but John Carroll recently excerpted parts of it. Media Nation extends its best wishes to Fitzgerald and his family.