Tag Archives: Stephen Taylor

Some pressing questions for John Henry

Boston Globe InstagramThis commentary was published earlier at The Huffington Post and at WGBH News .

The speculation had been building since Wednesday, when The Boston Globe reported that Red Sox principal owner John Henry had restructured his bid to buy the paper.

It reached a peak on Friday afternoon, when legendary baseball reporter Peter Gammons — himself a Globe alumnus — posted a one-line item on his new website, Gammons Daily: “A source says the New York Times Corporation has chosen John Henry as the new owner of the Boston Globe.”

Confirmation came early today, as the Globe and The New York Times each reported that Henry had purchased the Globe and its associated properties — most prominently Boston.com and the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester — for $70 million. The Globe’s story led page one, whereas the Times’ version apparently didn’t even make it into today’s print edition.

The sale price represents a huge comedown from 1993, when the Times Co. purchased the Globe for $1.1 billion, half the company’s stock-market valuation at that time. As if by way of justification, the Times’ report on the Henry deal runs through several other pennies-on-the-dollar sales of major metropolitan newspapers in recent years, including those of Philadelphia’s daily papers, the Inquirer and the Daily News, as well as The Tampa Tribune.

Henry’s winning bid also thwarts an attempted comeback by members of the Taylor family, who owned the Globe almost from its founding in 1872 until the 1993 sale.

Among the would-be buyers was a group that included Stephen Taylor, a former executive vice president of the Globe, and Benjamin Taylor, a former publisher. A lot of people in Boston were rooting for the Taylors. But the money they got for selling the paper 20 years ago was split among dozens of family members, and their bid to repurchase the Globe was widely viewed as undercapitalized. You have to assume that if they had the money, the Times Co. would have sold it to them already — or in 2009, when the Globe was first put up for sale.

The ascension of a wealthy local owner may represent the best possible outcome for the Globe. Nevertheless there are questions Henry will have to answer soon — starting with the fate of publisher Christopher Mayer and editor Brian McGrory, well-liked Globe veterans who generally get high marks for the way they’re running the paper. Will they stay? Or will Henry bring in his own people?

Here are a few other questions for Henry.

1. Will he seek to improve the Globe’s bottom line by investing — or by cutting? Unlike newspaper owners who’ve financed their acquisition by taking on debt that they then have to pay off by slashing the newsroom, Henry has the luxury of being able to do anything he wants.

Although paid print circulation and advertising revenue have been dropping, the Globe is believed to be marginally profitable — a considerable improvement over 2009, when the Times Co. actually threatened to close the paper over mounting losses. The Globe today also has about 360 full-time editorial employees. That’s quite a drop from the 550 or so the Globe employed a dozen years ago, as my WGBH colleague Adam Reilly recently reported in Boston magazine, but it’s still enough to make the paper by far the largest news organization in Eastern Massachusetts. The Globe may no longer be the 800-pound gorilla, but a 600-pound gorilla can still accomplish a lot.

My guess (and hope) is that Henry will pursue a growth strategy, and that he has a healthy enough ego to believe he can succeed where others have failed. Perhaps he’ll emulate Aaron Kushner, the young greeting-card executive (and onetime Globe bidder) who’s attracted attention with his attempts to turn around the Orange County Register by hiring journalists and expanding coverage.

One aspect of Kushner’s stewardship I hope Henry doesn’t emulate is Kushner’s emphasis on print. The Globe has taken an innovative approach to the Internet with its two-website strategy (Boston.com, which is free, exists alongside the paid BostonGlobe.com site), a streaming music station, RadioBDC, and online coverage of Boston’s suburbs, neighborhoods and colleges through its Your Town and Your Campus sites. (Disclosure: Our students at Northeastern University contribute to Your Town and Your Campus as well as to other parts of the Globe.)

Henry could be a hero to the newspaper business if he can figure out new digital strategies. A print-first orientation would be a major step backwards.

2. What happens to the Globe’s Boston headquarters? The Globe occupies prime Dorchester real estate near the University of Massachusetts and the JFK Library, leading to considerable speculation that the next owner might want to sell the property and move the paper. Indeed, the Globe’s land and physical assets might be worth the $70 million purchase price all by themselves.

The challenge is that the Globe’s massive printing presses would have to be moved. And the paper has been able to build a nice business for itself by printing a number of other papers, including the city’s second daily, the Boston Herald, as well as some suburban papers.

Still, it would make all kinds of sense to move the presses to a low-cost exurban location and transfer the newsroom and business operations to a smaller space closer to the downtown.

3. How will the Globe cover the Red Sox? The jokes have already started (yes, I’ve done my best to help) about Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, a notoriously negative presence who wrote former Red Sox manager Terry Francona’s trash-and-burn memoir Francona: The Red Sox Years, which is highly critical of the Red Sox’ ownership.

In fact, the Globe and the Red Sox have been down this road before. Until a few years ago, the Times Co. was a part-owner of New England Sports Network (NESN), which broadcasts Red Sox and Bruins games and whose majority owner is the Red Sox. Henry’s sole ownership of the Globe, though, would represent full immersion in a way that the NESN deal did not.

The real issue is not how the Globe covers the Red Sox as a baseball team but rather how it manages the tricky task of reporting on a major business and civic organization that’s run by the paper’s new owner.

Earlier this year the Globe published a tough report on a sweetheart licensing deal the Red Sox have with the city to use the streets around Fenway Park before games — making “tens of millions of dollars” while “paying a tiny fraction in licensing fees.” (Further disclosure: Some of the Globe’s reporting was done in partnership with Northeastern’s Initiative for Investigative Reporting.)

I’d expect to see tough scrutiny of how the Globe covers the Red Sox in the months and years ahead. No doubt the Herald and other rival news organizations will pay close attention to the relationship. The problem isn’t so much that the Globe is likely to go into the tank for the Red Sox (it isn’t), but that it’s really in a no-win situation.

The answers to those and other questions will emerge in the weeks and months ahead. What matters today is that our largest and most important news organization has been purchased by a local businessman with deep pockets and a track record as a good corporate citizen. That’s good news not just for the Globe, but for all of us.

Photo (cc) by Dan Kennedy.

More pointless speculation on who will buy the Globe

There’s a name I left out in my earlier post on the possible sale of The Boston Globe: Rick Daniels, a former top Globe executive who, in December, left GateHouse Media New England, where he was president.

Not long after Daniels’ departure, I started picking up some buzz that he would emerge as part of a group interested in buying the Globe. And I see both the Globe and the Boston Herald mention him today.

No one has any idea what’s going to happen. But it strikes me that one possible scenario is an alliance joining Orange County Register owner Aaron Kushner; former Globe executive Stephen Taylor, part of the family that used to own the Globe; and Daniels. Kushner wanted the Globe at one time, still may, and has joined forces with Taylor in the past. Daniels worked for the Taylors. Why not?

Update: Your first must-read on the whole topic is Ken Doctor’s latest for the Nieman Journalism Lab, “The newsonomics of The Boston Globe’s sale.” Among other things, he guesses a sale price of $100 million to $150 million for the Globe and its related properties — 10 percent of what the New York Times Co. paid 20 years ago, not adjusted for inflation.

Globe publisher Taylor was both lucky and good

William Taylor

William Taylor, the former Boston Globe publisher who died Sunday, was both lucky and good.

Lucky because his time as publisher coincided with an era of enormous prosperity in the newspaper industry. Good because he used that prosperity to transform the Globe into one of the best papers in the country. Under Taylor and the late editor Tom Winship, the Globe grew into a national-class paper with its own correspondents overseas and around the country.

For those who needed reminding, today’s obituary, by Bryan Marquard, explains why Taylor had to sell. With the paper on the verge of devolving to about 120 heirs, the only way Taylor could preserve the Globe’s legacy was to leave it in the hands of a good steward. He chose the New York Times Co., which paid an astounding $1.1 billion — half the Times Co.’s stock-market valuation at the time.

And if the Sulzbergers haven’t been quite the magnanimous owners Bill Taylor might have hoped for (especially when his second cousin Ben Taylor was sacked as publisher in 1999), they still have maintained the Globe’s quality to a far greater degree than a bottom-feeding chain like Gannett or a bankrupt behemoth like Tribune would have.

Bill Taylor’s death comes at a time when Ben Taylor and his cousin Steve, himself a former Globe executive, are seeking to return to some sort of ownership role as part of a group put together by local businessman Aaron Kushner.

The Taylor brand gives Kushner instant credibility — and it was Bill Taylor who was largely responsible for creating that brand.

Also: The Nieman Foundation pays tribute to Taylor.

Kushner bid to buy the Globe keeps inching along

A lightly publicized effort to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. continues to inch forward.

Casey Ross, writing in the Globe, reports that businessman Aaron Kushner is prepared to offer more than $200 million for the Globe, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and Boston.com. That’s considerably more than the $35 million figure that was bandied about two summers ago, which the Times Co. ultimately chose to walk away from.

No one even knows if the Sulzberger family would consider selling the Globe at this point, and Kushner is just a guy with money. What makes his bid interesting is that he’s pulled into his group such people as former Globe publisher Ben Taylor, his cousin Stephen Taylor, a former Globe executive, and Ben Bradlee Jr., a former top editor. (The Taylors were also involved in one of the efforts to buy the Globe two years ago.)

As Ross notes, the Globe is doing better today than it was during the crash-and-burn summer of 2009, though it’s hardly out of the woods. A lot of us would welcome a return to local ownership as long as that wouldn’t presage either a wholesale dismantling or a diminution of news standards and values. Kushner sounds serious about wanting to reinvent the Globe, though I suspect he’s kidding himself if he thinks he’s got some secret formula.

Earlier this year, Katherine Ozment profiled Kushner for Boston magazine. He did not, shall we say, come across as the second coming of Gen. Charles H. Taylor. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing moment in the life of the region’s dominant media organization.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

After tumult, status quo for the Times Co.

Downtown Worcester

Union Station, Worcester

With 2009 drawing to a close, it’s now possible to say something that would have been inconceivable six months ago: the New York Times Co. is still the owner of the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.

Was it all a dream? Starting last spring, and stretching well into the summer, there was nothing but tumult. First the Times Co. demanded — and ultimately got — $20 million in concessions from the Globe’s unions. The drama was high, as management threatened to shut down the paper if the unions refused to meet its demands, while the Boston Newspaper Guild — by far the largest union at the Globe — rejected one set of concessions before finally bowing to the inevitable.

Then the Times Co. put both papers on the market. And, for a while, it looked like a significant restoration was in the works. A group headed by former Globe executive Steve Taylor emerged as a leading would-be possible buyer for the Globe, and former T&G editor Harry Whitin looked like he might be moving into the publisher’s office at his old paper.

But Times Co. executives decided to hold on to the Globe. Then, yesterday, they announced that the T&G was no longer for sale, either.

No doubt the papers were pulled off the market for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. Costs are down, circulation revenue is up thanks to a hefty price increase and, overall, the financial picture at both papers appears to be brighter than it was a year ago. On the other hand, is there any doubt that both papers would have been sold if Arthur Sulzberger and company had been able to get what they considered to be a fair price?

With things more or less the same as they ever were, members of the community have a right to feel as though they’ve been jerked around. It would be a good idea if the Times Co. devoted 2010 to rebuilding the Globe’s and the T&G’s ties to the community.

Naming Chris Mayer to be the Globe’s next publisher (he’ll have responsibilities for the Telegram & Gazette as well) was a smart first step. He’s energetic, he’s rooted in Greater Boston and he seems far more likely to be a presence on the local scene than his recent predecessors have been.

But both papers have a long way to go if they are to recover from the wounds they’ve suffered — wounds that are largely characteristic of what the entire industry is going through, but some of which were self-inflicted. The best thing the Times Co. can do next year in these parts is to make itself invisible.

Photo (cc) by Bree Bailey and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Surveying the Globe-al manscape

Tom Gores

Tom Gores

A grateful Media Nation extends its thanks this morning to Tom Fielder, dean of Boston University’s College of Communication, for giving me an excuse to run this photo of Platinum Equity chairman Tom Gores one more time.

Fiedler cites the photo in explaining why Gores would have been all wrong for Boston if he had succeeded in purchasing the Boston Globe. Jessica Heslam and Christine McConville of the Boston Herald write:

Fiedler said if there was one story that signaled the sale wasn’t moving ahead, it was the Oct. 7 Globe piece on Platinum founder Tom Gores that included a photo of him “with his chest open, chest hair just puffing out.”

“This said to me, number one, the Globe editor who laid out this page doesn’t like this guy, and number two, this guy doesn’t understand Boston,” he said.

“Chest hair just puffing out”? Really? As I noted on Oct. 7, the day the Globe ran the photo, Gores was “[w]earing a flamboyantly pinstriped black suit jacket over a black shirt strategically unbuttoned to show off his smooth chest.” And I’ve had some serious and substantive discussions with fellow media analysts as to whether Gores may have partaken in some manscaping to achieve his smooth look.

It’s likely that Fiedler was too horrified to look closely.

In other Globe-related news, we learn in the Herald story that ballooning pension-liability costs were a major reason that the New York Times Co. ultimately failed in its attempt to sell the Globe either to Platinum or to a group led by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor. That was a story the Herald broke a week ago, so good on them.

In the Globe, Beth Healy and Robert Weisman report that Globe publisher Steve Ainsley would not rule out further cuts when he and Times Co. president Janet Robinson met with employees yesterday.

Over at Beat the Press, Ralph Ranalli quotes Globe staff member Scott Allen’s downbeat take on the meeting: “I think people probably came away from that meeting feeling like well, we know who our owner is, but we don’t see any improvement in our working conditions for some time to come.”

Times Co., Globe renew their vows

I ducked into a Starbucks in downtown New Haven so I could write this. So, for now, just a few preliminary thoughts about the New York Times Co.’s announcement that it has decided against selling the Boston Globe.

Like most observers, I thought the happy talk last month from Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and president Janet Robinson was aimed mainly at driving up the price. So even though I had been hearing since last week that things were not going well with the two interested buyers (Platinum Equity and a group led by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor), it still struck me as plausible that the Times Co. would sell — at any price. In hindsight, it’s now clear there was a price below which Sulzberger and company were not willing to go.

I do think the Times Co. damaged its credibility in Boston this year by being so uncommunicative about its battle with the Globe’s unions (especially the Boston Newspaper Guild) and about the would-be sale. The company’s got some work to do on the community-relations front.

But there were certainly worse possible outcomes than this. Platinum Equity, by all accounts, would have relentlessly focused on the bottom line. I was rooting for a Taylor comeback, but if that group was as under-capitalized as I was hearing, then you can be sure that more cuts would have been the first order of business.

Besides, people who buy newspapers tend to want to bring in their own editor. I think Marty Baron has done a terrific job under incredibly difficult circumstances this year, and if this means he stays, then that’s a good thing.

Overall, today’s announcement is not bad news. Which is not quite the same as good news, but close enough.

More from the Times, the Globe, the Herald and Beat the Press.

And then there was one?

Venture capitalist John Ellis, a former Boston Globe columnist who’s been nosing around the Globe situation for months, posted an intriguing tidbit [update: but apparently wrong; see below] on Twitter a little while ago:

there’s a rumor about that Platinum Equity declined to make a “final” bid on the Boston Globe. I wonder if its true.

If Platinum is out of the picture, that would presumably leave the group put together by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor as the only remaining interested buyer. But do Taylor and company have enough capital to get the New York Times Co. to say “yes”?

I also wonder if this might pave the way for a comeback by Boston businessman Jack Connors, whose proposal to take the Globe non-profit was left by the side of the road a few months ago.

Wednesday morning update: Well, so much for that rumor. The Globe’s Beth Healey reports that both groups submitted bids for the Globe, and that a third group submitted a bid for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Deadline day for the Boston Globe sale

Tomorrow is the day that the New York Times Co. has set to accept final offers to sell the Boston Globe. And Media Nation is picking up some well-informed buzz that things are not going well with either of the two prospective buyers — a group led by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor or Platinum Equity, owner of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Like any reader of the Globe, I have a rooting interest in this. I’d like to see the Taylors make a comeback. But even if they can pull this off, you have to wonder if they’ll be so under-capitalized that the cutting will resume almost immediately.

Show us the money

Will the Taylor group really be able to pull off a deal to buy back the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co.? Today’s Globe piece on Stephen Taylor’s quest to acquire the paper his family sold in 1993 reports that he’s having some trouble scaring up enough money. Beth Healy writes:

Some wealthy Bostonians spurned Taylor’s early overtures, wary of investing in what they consider a dying industry, according to people involved in the bid. With final offers due tomorrow, Taylor is still scurrying to raise money. He has to convince investors he has what it takes to make it in a radically shifting newspaper landscape, despite having been out of the business for nearly a decade.

That fits with information I reported two weeks ago, when I wrote that the Taylor group was still trying to line up investors.

Meanwhile, the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam reports that the price of purchasing the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette may have risen substantially. Both Taylor and Platinum Equity, the only other serious bidder, have reportedly offered to pay $35 million and to assume $59 million in pension liabilities. Now, though, Heslam quotes anonymous “insiders” who say that the esimate of pension liabilities has nearly doubled, to $115 million.

Hard to tell what’s going on here. Heslam quotes a Times Co. spokeswoman who says something that sounds vaguely like a denial, but not really. So, for the moment, let’s proceed under the assumption that Heslam’s sources are right. Will this kill the deal? Especially with the under-capitalized Taylor bid?

It’s possible that the Times Co. will be forced to eat some of that $115 million, like Theo Epstein getting rid of another overpaid, under-performing shortstop. Even though the Globe carefully notes that it’s “conceivable the Times Co. won’t sell the paper,” Poynter Institute media analyst Rick Edmonds recently noted that the Times Co. would lose substantial tax advantages if it doesn’t sell by the end of 2009.

It will be fascinating to see what gets announced tomorrow. That is, if there’s an announcement.