By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Globe, Herald target each other

Boston Globe reporter Keith O’Brien today weighs in with a story about the financial problems being faced by the Boston Herald and GateHouse Media, which owns some 100 community papers in Eastern Massachusetts.

GateHouse’s problems are considerable and well-known. The Herald, though, is a bit of a mystery, as publisher Pat Purcell tends to play his cards close to the vest. What we know is that the paper and its reporting staff have gotten tiny, but that Purcell appears to have hit upon a formula for survival.

O’Brien, after chronicling shrinkage in the Herald’s staff and circulation, offers a quote from Sunday editor Tom Mashberg: “How are things now? It’s tough. We once had a newsroom filled with reporters and a commercial department filled with commercial staff. And it has definitely shrunk.”

Mashberg, upset that none of the positive comments he says he made got into O’Brien’s story, has fired back with an e-mail to the Globe, which I offer here in its entirety, with Mashberg’s permission:

To Globe Editors:

Tom Mashberg from the Herald here. I’m pretty disappointed at the way the reporter slanted this story. We spoke at length about how the Herald was performing miracles to survive and turn a profit in a terrible climate. When I asked him what he was going to use from me, he sent me this email:

“Here’s what I will be attributing to you: The total staff figures you sent me yesterday. Is that OK?

“And I will be quoting you regarding how the Herald has dealt with the cuts. And about how the Globe should have seen these changes coming. The quote at the end of our interview yesterday when you said it was puzzling that the Times allowed this to play out like this at the Globe.

“This could change, of course. Still haven’t filed my story. So e-mail or call if you have any questions.”

No one expects a puff piece, especially between competing newspapers. But it looks like the editors got hold of this and turned it into a hatchet job. I guess that explains a lot about where the Globe is headed. Sad.

If O’Brien or anyone else at the Globe would like to respond, I will post it immediately.

Meanwhile, Herald media reporter Jessica Heslam today reports that veteran media-watcher Michael Wolff believes neither Rupert Murdoch (about whom he wrote a book) nor New York Daily News publisher (and former Boston real-estate mogul) Mort Zuckerman has any interest in buying the Globe.

Heslam includes this toxic quote from Wolff: “I don’t think that anybody’s going to buy the Boston Globe. The Boston Globe is now an unbuyable property. It loses too much money and it has too many union obligations. No one will want it now. They might have wanted it. They did want it two years ago. Not now.”

Left unsaid is that (1) Murdoch can’t buy the Globe, since the Federal Communications Commission bans anyone from owning a television station (WFXT-TV, Channel 25) and a daily newspaper in the same market; and (2) Murdoch and Purcell are business partners.

Finally, the second of Herald columnist Howie Carr’s sneering pieces about the Globe’s missteps over the years prompts an observation. Carr actually found a way to poke fun at the 1998 departure of Globe columnist Patricia Smith, who was caught fabricating, without making any mention of the other, far better known Globe columnist who lost his job that summer: Mike Barnicle, caught making things up and plagiarizing by — among others — the Herald.

Anyone who listens to Carr’s talk show on WRKO Radio (AM 680) knows how much he detests Barnicle. But, after all, Purcell hired Barnicle to write a column a few years ago, and though it didn’t work out, Barnicle still pops up occasionally in the Herald. Since Carr can’t write what he’d really like to write, perhaps he should go cover a press conference or something.

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  1. Adam Gaffin

    Bonus fun: Mashberg also posted his e-mail as a comment on the Globe story.

  2. bob gardner

    This whole discussion is silly. Speculating that the Herald seems to have found a formula for survival while admitting that Pat Purcell is “playing his cards close to his vest” is tantamount to saying absolutely nothing. We have no idea how either of these papers is doing, and we have no idea whether either of them will be around in a month or a year. Until you have all the numbers you really don’t have any of the numbers.

  3. mike_b1

    Dan, I thought the FCC lifted that ban. that it ever stopped certain entities, like the Chicago Tribune, for example, which owned multiple TV and radio stations in Chicago.

  4. endangered coffee

    umm, just a thought, but I was always under the impression that reporters don’t typically run their quotes past sources before a story goes to press. I don’t argue the fact that it may be slanted, but Mashberg really expect to get a clear sneak peek at the story just because he is in the same business?

  5. mike_b1

    One other nit, Dan. You wrote “Pat Purcell tends to play his cards close to the vest,” but earlier this week wrote, “Herald owner Pat Purcell universally wins high marks for being open with his employees…. [And] the secrecy-obsessed New York Times Co. could learn much from the way Purcell has kept the lines of communication humming.”I’m confused.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: Purcell doesn’t talk about his finances in any detail with anyone. However, he does have a reputation for gathering his staff together and being fairly straight with everyone about what challenges they face and what he’s going to have to do.I know what you’re saying, and it does sound kind of odd. But I don’t think those two propositions are mutually exclusive.

  7. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: Also … can’t find the definitive link, but I’m pretty sure the FCC’s action regarding the cross-ownership rule — described at the time as a slight easing rather than an overturning — never went into effect.The Senate passed a resolution to stop it last year, and the House took action to stop it as well. As I understand it, even if it had become official, you couldn’t own a daily newspaper and a top-four television station. Channel 25 would surely be no lower than #4.Frustrating … couldn’t find what the final action was, even on LexisNexis.I will admit I had no idea the FCC had taken any action at all. I don’t know how I missed that.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    OK, here’s the answer: the FCC’s vote to ease the cross-ownership ban is tied up in court, according to Broadcasting & Cable.

  9. ron-newman

    The Wolfe family has owned The Columbus Dispatch and WBNS-AM-FM-TV since forever, and I’ve never heard of the FCC objecting to that arrangement. Maybe this example and Tribune/WGN predate the cross-ownership rule and are grandfathered? I also recall a time when the Washington Post owned the WTOP group of stations in DC.

  10. Howard Owens

    Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised is GateHouse is the last one left standing.

  11. Amused

    Mashberg ought to start acting like a big boy and stop whining ‘I didn’t mean it that way’ to curry favor and keep out of trouble with his bosses for blowing their cover about how thin the reporting ranks are at Wingo Square.I find his commentary intellectually dishonest and journalistically naive. Another reporter asked Mashberg, an employee of the close-to-the-vest Purcell, about what’s happening at the paper and he responded by talking about cutbacks and how the newsroom is no longer filled with reporters.It is ironic that Mashberg believes that editors “got a hold of” the piece. That’s clearly how things work at the Herald, where one may logically presume that the copy desk, on orders from on high, inserts all sorts of adjectives in the ledes of straight news stories to fit the Herald style of characterizing events rather than merely reporting on them.Look, too, at the coverage of the Globe’s present circumstances. The Herald has been on a story-a-day binge, determined not to let the Globe’s condition stray from public consciousness. The Globe’s reporting has been more thoughtful, more carefully researched,and with a greater sense of the overall context of the story. The Herald seems to be willing to grab any quote from anyone to keep the story alive.When Mashberg claims that “the editors got hold of this and turned it into a hatchet job,” he obviously writes from the perspective of the way things work at the Herald, where playing up the more sensational aspect of stories is the coin of the realm and the voices of the reporters’ copy seem to be routinely steam-rollered into breathless prose where everything is shocking and every criminal defendant a presumed-guilty thug.It is just as clear that his breast beating is an attempt to keep himself from Purcell’s woodshed, as it’s difficult to imagine Mashberg’s bosses being thrilled about him running his mouth about the man behind the curtain employing a smaller news staff when the paper is doing everything possible to make it appear that the Herald is everywhere when it clearly must resort to working the phones rather than legwork. Mashberg revealed the depth of the Herald’s own woes as it revels in the Globe’s problems and I’d doubt it puts him among the publisher’s candidates for employee of the month.If you’re a reporter or editor and you start bitching that the postives you claim to have uttered during an interview didn’t make it into print, it’s time to turn in your press hat and go work in PR.

  12. NewsHound

    Amused! You’re darn right. Years ago copy editors removed adjectives and embellishments.If any of it is not true how does the Herald correct this now?

  13. mike_b1

    Few things are more amusing than a reporter claiming their words were taken out of context.

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