Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory closed out 2017 with a characteristically upbeat message for his staff. Weighing in at nearly 900 words, his email — sent out at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday and passed along to me by a newsroom source — looks back on the paper’s journalistic successes of the past year and forward to continued progress on the business front.
There is no mention of how badly the Globe’s botched launch of its Taunton printing plant affected the bottom line. The situation has improved to the point where it’s no longer the talk of social media, but I continue to hear about delivery problems from time to time. Nor is there any mention of dark clouds on the horizon. But the Boston Herald, an important print customer of the Globe, has gone bankrupt and is likely to end up in the hands of GateHouse Media, which has several printing plants of its own in the region. In addition, a burgeoning trade war with Canada could drive up the cost of newsprint, according to a Bloomberg story that actually appears in today’s Globe.
On the other hand, McGrory writes that the Globe continues to make progress in selling $30-a-month digital subscriptions, John Henry’s make-or-break bet for saving the paper and possibly showing the way for other large regional newspapers as well. McGrory predicts that the Globe will pass the 100,000 mark during the first half of 2018 and says the paper currently has more paying subscribers — print and digital — than it had five years ago. Early last year, when I interviewed McGrory for my forthcoming book, “The Return of the Moguls,” he put it this way: “If we got to 100,000 things would be feeling an awful lot better. And if we got to 200,000, I think we’d be well on our way to establishing a truly sustainable future.”
The full text of McGrory’s message follows.
There was a stretch in early December when our homepage and print fronts were filled with stories of the state Senate president stepping aside because of Globe reporting, three Bridgewater State Prison guards on trial because of Globe reporting, and a federal indictment of a state senator based on Globe reporting. The thought hit me then, as it does tonight, that there’s not another metropolitan newspaper in this land that has the impact on its community that the Globe does on Boston. Really, name one. And if the question is why, as in why is the Globe so central to the civic life of this region, the answer in no small part is you.
I’m not going to spend time now trying to recap the year we just had; it would be futile to try to capture such an epic collection of once-a-generation events in an email like this. Suffice it to say that your response, your journalism, from January to December, Sports to Spotlight, the initial days of Trump to the burgeoning MeToo movement, was nothing shy of spectacular.
In terms of our DC bureau, have four reporters and an editor ever had such a profound impact providing desperately needed perspective to events unfolding with dizzying speed? The answer: No. Metro and Business, the backbone of our report, continued their stellar accountability reporting, beautiful narrative writing, and the kind of perfectly-timed features that gave readers a break from all things Trump.
This was the year when we finally realized the goal of publishing multiple Spotlight projects, without ever sacrificing quality, culminating in the vital series on race that launched a difficult but overdue conversation across the region. Our sports coverage is so great, so consistently, that it’s easy to take for granted — but please don’t. As strong as it always is, this year was better than any that I can remember.
There’s so much more. 2017 may well have been the year of the columnist, with ours breaking news and offering clarity. Photo, from its arresting daily hits to gorgeous project work, had a banner year again. Our weekly sections — Food, Travel, Address, the Globe Magazine, Sunday Arts — are recognized as among the absolute best in the industry.
This was the year that we enthusiastically ramped up our headline writing, print and digital. It’s the year we started to change the look and feel of our site, thanks to our great design team. It’s the year we broke convention in the ways we tell stories, most notably with two productions of Globe Live that were nothing shy of masterful, and our sports podcast, Season Ticket, which started with well-deserved fanfare and is rapidly gaining audience. WBUR, by the way, is a great partner.
And the most enduring part of the year I’ve yet to mention, which was our reinvention. We created new departments, new philosophies, new beats, new roles. It’s been hard, often anxiety-inducing work, but it’s paid off spectacularly. Our Express Desk, and all the urgent teamwork that goes into it, is a thing of beauty. Our Super Department is gelling now in the exact ways that we hoped. The audience engagement team has brought insight into our coverage decisions. Stories are getting edited earlier and posted at far more impactful times. Many of the new beats have been a huge hit. We are finally — finally — starting to break the stubborn rhythms of a print operation.
And the metrics bring nothing but good news. The key figure: We increased the number of digital-only subscribers by 26 percent in 2017, simply a phenomenal success. We’re closing in on 95,000, and will be at 100,000 in the first half of the year. Overall, we have more paying subscribers now than we did five years ago. It is impossible to overstate how important this is, and the enviable position that this kind of digital growth puts us in.
And one more thing: We moved from Morrissey Boulevard to State Street, in and of itself a huge accomplishment, which we basically fit between everything else. And it already feels like home, the Globe exactly where it belongs, in the heart of the city — even if everyone is still acting a notch too polite.
Yet again, wouldn’t it be great to rest on our successes for a year, but alas, no. The news is not about to slow down, not now, not for a while. Please don’t panic when I talk about Reinvention 2.0, but there is more work to be done, more beats to invent and refine, and better and more productive relationships to build between the newsroom and the rest of the building. We will do all of this in a far less disruptive fashion.
One more thought for 2018: Let’s rededicate ourselves, and by ourselves I mean everyone, to a better balance between work and the rest of life. Some of the most meaningful journalism isn’t conjured under the fluorescent lights of even a beautiful downtown newsroom. No, it’s discovered in our communities, by journalists living eventful lives. We should work hard, yes, but let’s commit to working a little less, and by doing so, I guarantee our work will improve.
For now, though, thank you for all that you did in a year unlike any other. You’ve been amazing, and it’s been an honor.