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

Sulzberger speaks

Even as a third prospective buyer has emerged for the Boston Globe — and even as the New York Times Co. has finally acknowledged that the Globe is for sale, something that’s been clear for months — the company’s top two executives have broken their silence to say, well, not so fast.

In a story and interview in today’s Globe, chief executive Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (photo) and president Janet Robinson express the hope that the paper is back on the road to health, adding that they won’t sell unless they can find the right deal — both financially and with regard to “the impact of a potential sale on the community,” as Sulzberger puts it.

They also defend their record as stewards of the Globe since 1993, when the Times Co. purchased the paper for $1.1 billion. (The paper is thought to be worth barely a fraction of that today, though that’s also true of the newspaper business in general.) “I think this company has supported the Globe during a very, very difficult financial period. It has supported its journalism, it has supported its business-side operations,” Robinson says.

Sulzberger gets off the best line. Asked whether company officials regret having bought the Globe, he replies, “How far back should we go? Maybe we regret in 1896 that we bought the New York Times.”

My nickel’s worth: I think the Times Co. was a reasonably good steward until about a year ago, when the company’s own troubles, and fears about the fate of its flagship, the Times, led it to start treating the Globe — and Boston — with contempt.

There have, of course, been deep cuts, including the first layoffs in the Globe’s history earlier this year. But the Globe is hardly alone among large regional newspapers in losing its foreign bureaus and in scaling back most of its national ambitions. It remains just about the only paper in its weight class to have a fully functioning Washington bureau.

Still, the lack of communication on the part of the company — most definitely including Sulzberger and Robinson — during the months-long crisis over union concessions led to a sense that management was not willing to share in the sacrifices being asked of its employees. The $20 million in concessions, including $10 million by the Newspaper Guild, the paper’s largest union, were truly draconian, even if they were necessary.

The question, at this point, is how much credibility the Times Co. has left with the community. The best answer is to put out a good paper every day, and the Globe has risen to that challenge. Still, I have to believe that a new start under a new owner would be the best outcome, provided the owner wants to get into the business for the right reasons.

Like everyone else, I’m intrigued by the notion that Partners HealthCare chairman Jack Connors and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca might lead the Globe into some sort of non-profit ownership arrangement, which Jay Fitzgerald explained in the Boston Herald earlier this week. But Connors is a walking conflict of interest. No one knows if he could separate his own interests from those of the Globe’s journalistic mission.

In other news, the Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly has obtained a memo from the Guild reporting that publisher Steve Ainsley has told union official that the paper is heading in the right direction.

And the Herald’s Christine McConville reports that Ainsley told the Guild that the paper will soon start charging for access to the paper’s Web site,, confirming earlier remarks editor Marty Baron made in an appearance on “Greater Boston.”

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  1. Treg

    What does "heading in the right direction" mean? That things weren't quite that dire after all?Not so long ago, they were threatening to close the thing down. Dan, you're so right – whoever buys the Globe needs to be in it for the right reasons. Not that that matters one bit to the Times Co.

  2. Michael Pahre

    "But Connors is a walking conflict of interest."You hit the nail on the head, and not just about Partners HealthCare. His fingers and arms reach far, far deeper into many special interests throughout the greater Boston area.

  3. Amused

    One especially bad thing under the Times stewardship over the past few innings was letting McConville go from a correspondent for its zoned supplements to a Herald staffer.

  4. Amused

    As for Connors, he seems to think he's a one-man Vault.Look at the demise of Boston's traditional institutions over the past couple of decades through sale, takeover and influence transfer fo control out of Boston through acquisitions (First National Bank, New England Merchants, National Shawmut, John Hancock, Gillette, New England Tel & Tel, and a half-dozen law firms) or a general drift into irrelevance (Cabot, Cabot and Forbes; Boston Safe Deposit, Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce.)Things weren't all that rosy when The Vault ran things, but now we have a power and influence vacuum, and it's filled by … an Ad Guy.We are parochial here,and nobody talks much about it, but in case nobody's noticed, Boston is continuing a decades-long slide into national irrelevance. The Globe is fast becoming one of the best dailies among America's third-tier cities.Championship sports teams are the opiate of the people.

  5. Treg

    Amused – Talk about hitting the nail on the head!

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