Boston Globe publisher Chris Mayer was his usual affable self when we exchanged New Year’s greetings this morning at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. He knew something very few others knew — that he would be announcing his departure before the end of the day. But no doubt he’d come to terms with that as early as last August, when Red Sox principal owner John Henry agreed to buy the paper from the New York Times Co. for $70 million.
Mayer, like me and several hundred other people, had turned out for a breakfast speech by Henry before the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce. The soft-spoken Henry didn’t make much news. He talked about his soccer and baseball teams for so long that I wondered if he would ever get around to his newspaper. When he did, it was to say he planned to apply the same formula to turning around the Globe that he did to reviving the Red Sox — hard work and smarts, leavened, he hoped, with good fortune.
“No one has a magic bullet for newspapers,” Henry said. “We have to get it right at the Globe, and we’ll work as hard as we need to do to do that.” And though he talked about boosting the paper’s coverage in areas in which it excels — particularly in local coverage — he conceded that it meant cutting back in some other, unspecified areas as well.
If it’s smarts that Henry is looking for, Mayer has plenty. A longtime Globe veteran who got the top job in 2010 following a string of Times Co. executives, Mayer was a popular choice both inside and outside 135 Morrissey Blvd. Moreover, he deserves much of the credit for some key business-side decisions made in recent years, such as raising the price of the print edition and introducing the paper’s two-website strategy — the subscription-based BostonGlobe.com and the free Boston.com.
Still, it’s hardly a surprise that the new owner would want to pick his own publisher. Last week came word that the Globe was hiring Hill Holliday chairman Mike Sheehan as an advertising consultant, a move that seemed more Henry than Mayer. And this morning Henry announced that he was seeking a chief operating officer to run the Globe — a person who, one might assume, could be handed the title of publisher as well. (Craig Douglas of the Boston Business Journal covers Mayer’s departure here and Henry’s talk here.)
With Mayer leaving, it’s time to start wondering how committed Henry is to keeping Brian McGrory as the Globe’s editor. Owners hire publishers; publishers hire editors. And Mayer’s successor may want to put his or her mark on the paper by choosing the Globe’s top news executive. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could have done a better job than McGrory, who oversaw the paper’s Pulitzer-caliber coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings as well as important enterprise projects. But it’s hard to imagine how Mayer could have done a better job, either.
The message today, in case anyone had missed it before, is that Henry didn’t inherit the Globe — he bought it. And though he seems sincere in talking about the paper as a public trust, he’s making it clear that he intends to run it as he sees fit.