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

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The Boston Globe names a new president and sets a paid circulation goal of 400,000

Boston Globe Media CEO Linda Henry just announced some pretty big news: chief operating officer and chief financial officer Dhiraj Nayar has been promoted to president; Henry herself will be less involved in the business side and more focused on “additional bandwidth to better support our world-class editors”; and she’s aiming for a “North Star” goal of 400,000 digital subscribers for the Globe, which would represent a considerable increase over its current level of about 250,000. Henry has also set a goal of 100,000 paid digital subscribers for Stat, which is Globe Media’s health and medicine publication.

The first thing that strikes me about the circulation goal is that Henry must be planning a significant expansion into parts of New England where the Globe isn’t especially visible. Currently the paper has digital editions focused on Rhode Island and New Hampshire, and has bolstered its coverage of Greater Boston as well. The second is that Henry, who has been fully in charge of the business side since 2020, is planning a significantly different role for herself. We’ll see how that plays out.

Here is the text of Henry’s email to the staff, provided to me a little while ago by a trusted newsroom source:

Hello everyone,

As CEO, my number one priority is to continue setting us up for long term success. Today, I’m excited to share changes that strengthen our leadership team for increased resilience and adaptability in our ever-evolving business landscape.

I am delighted to announce the elevation of Dhiraj Nayar to the role of President of Boston Globe Media.

Dhiraj joined the Globe in 2018 as CFO, bringing over 20 years of management consulting experience. In 2020, he also became COO and has demonstrated collaborative leadership and dedication to the company’s mission while supporting key areas of our business including printing, distribution, and operations. His strategic insight and ability to balance financial discipline while allowing for growth investments has played an instrumental role in shaping the success and stability of Boston Globe Media.

Before joining Boston Globe Media, Dhiraj worked as a management consultant, advising senior executives at media/information, financial, telecom and private equity companies. He led initiatives at multinationals such as Unilever, Wolters Kluwer, Telstra and American Express. His private equity work included initiatives with Francisco Partners and MacAndrews & Forbes among others. He was the managing director of Meritum Partners, a boutique management consultancy he founded, and was a partner at Opera Solutions (now ElectrifAi). He started his consulting career at A.T. Kearney (now Kearney), a global management consulting firm, after earning an M.B.A from Columbia Business School.

In his new role as President, Dhiraj will oversee our business functions, with a focus on setting us up for long term sustainability. He will continue leading finance and will work closely with me to set our organizational vision and strategy.

What changes for me?
I will continue to serve as CEO and will remain fully engaged in my work with all members of our Senior Leadership Team. With Dhiraj managing our business functions, I’m excited to have additional bandwidth to better support our world-class editors. I truly love working here. I am proud of the work that we do to serve our community and I am invested in remaining an active part of this organization for the rest of my career.

Why now?
After a transformative decade of growth and innovation at Boston Globe Media, the Senior Leadership Team and I have set North Star goals of 500K direct digital subscribers for Boston Globe Media, with 100K of those for STAT.  These targets underscore our commitment to the long term sustainability of this institution with a strong leadership team at the helm.

As CEO, I have been intentional in making sure our leadership team fosters a culture of innovation and maintains a steadfast dedication to our long term success. In the last four years alone, we have demonstrated remarkable resilience and innovation, navigating a global pandemic and expanding our reporting into critical areas. We have celebrated significant milestones: the Globe’s 150th anniversary and winning our 27th Pulitzer Prize. Our newsrooms have earned some of the most prestigious honors in journalism, including the Polk, Edward R. Murrow and Online Journalism Awards. We have been named Pulitzer Finalists every year. In addition, we are recognized for excellence in many areas of our work, including our digital products with top website design, our advertising solutions and our marketing campaigns. We were recently named among the top 100 most innovative places to work in the country. We have expanded our geographical footprint in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, we launched Boston Globe Today, we rebuilt and optimized Boston.com, and we have brought in fantastic new editors, Nancy Barnes and Jim Dao.  We are continuing to add to our newsroom teams, to invest in our journalism, and to improve our subscriber experience.

Additional Leadership Updates

    • Dan Krockmalnic will be assuming operational oversight of our printing and distribution operations. In this expanded role, Dan will work closely with Josh Russell, GM, Print Operations and his Taunton-based leadership team. He will continue leading the Legal and New Media teams as well as the company’s work on legislative and advocacy issues through his service on the board of the News Media Alliance and as Vice President of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.
    • Rodrigo Tajonar will be assuming oversight of the building operations team led by Lauren Rich. He will continue to lead the human resource function.
    • Tom Brown has been promoted to SVP, Consumer Revenue. Tom has served as the strategic leader of our consumer revenue and subscription strategy and built a highly functioning and talented team that is well regarded throughout our industry. Tom also oversaw consumer marketing from 2018 – 2020 when he and his team pioneered a new acquisition approach with a long trial period that propelled significant subscriber growth and has been widely adopted throughout our industry. As a result, we are the clear leader among all major metro publishers in the number of digital subscribers and revenue from those subscriptions.
    • Michelle Micone has been promoted to SVP, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives. Michelle started our Innovation practice in 2020. Since then, she has grown Hack Day into Innovation Week and led the establishment of the Innovation Platform, which has increased our employee engagement around new idea generation and implementation, including the launch of the B-Side. Michelle will continue to lead Innovation and will partner with various leaders at BGM on Strategic Initiatives such as Globe Rhode Island, Globe New Hampshire, Tech Powers Players, AI, and more. Michelle and her team are currently leading the development of Games, scheduled to launch next month on com [BostonGlobe.com].

The changes announced today move us forward, keeping us focused on fulfilling our critical mission and positioning our organization for long term sustainability.

Please join me in congratulating Dhiraj, Dan, Tom, Michelle and Rodrigo. I look forward to connecting with you at our next Town Hall on Monday, March 4th.

Thanks all,
Linda Henry

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Illinois seeks to bolster community journalism. Plus, a local news round-up.

The Illinois Statehouse. Photo (cc) 2023 by Warren LeMay.

Illinois lawmakers this week unveiled a massive package aimed at bolstering local news. According to Mark Caro of the Local News Initiative, based at Northwestern University in Chicago, the package comprises two separate bills:

The Journalism Preservation Act would require Big Tech companies such as Google and Facebook to compensate news organizations for the content that they share, display or link to on their platforms. The Strengthening Community Media Act offers a broad array of incentives, tax breaks and scholarships intended to repopulate local newsrooms. Included in that bill is a provision that calls for 120 days’ written notice before a local news organization may be sold to an out-of-state company.

As I’ve said before, I’m less than enthusiastic about going after the tech platforms, which presupposes that they are somehow stealing journalistic content without paying for it. Facebook executives have made it clear that they can live quite nicely without news. With respect to Google, media outlets find themselves in the awkward situation of demanding compensation while at the same time depending on the search giant to drive traffic to their websites. Indeed, any one of them could insert a simple line of code in their sites that would make them invisible to Google. None of them does. I would like to see Google and Facebook do more for local news, and maybe it ought to be mandated. But this bill seems like too much of a blunt instrument, as does similar legislation being pushed by Sen. Amy Klobuchar at the federal level.

The second Illinois bill includes a number of different ideas. I particularly like the proposed requirement for a 120-day notification period. As Steven Waldman, the president of Rebuild Local News, said recently on the podcast “E&P Reports,” a mandatory delay can give communities time to rally and prevent their local newspaper from falling into the hands of chain ownership.

Other provisions of the Strengthening Community Media Act would mandate that state agencies advertise with local news outlets, provide tax credits to publishers for hiring and retaining journalists, enact additional tax credits for small businesses that advertise with local outlets, and create scholarships for students who agree to work at a local Illinois news organization for two years or more.

It’s good to see action taking place at the state level given that several federal proposals in recent years have gone nowhere despite bipartisan support. It’s also notable that the proposals were drafted by Illinois’ Local Journalism Task Force, which was created in August 2021. Here in Massachusetts, legislation was signed by then-Gov. Charlie Baker way back in January 2021 to create a commission that would study local news. I had a hand in drafting that legislation and would be one of its members, but the commission has yet to get off the ground.

There are several other developments in local news that are worth taking note of.

• Gannett is making a $2 million investment in its Indianapolis Star aimed at bolstering the newsroom and the advertising sales staff. Two top Gannett executives recently appeared on “E&P Reports” about Gannett’s plans to reinvest in its properties. Unfortunately, Holly V. Hayes of the Indy Star writes, “This is the only site in the USA TODAY Network, which includes more than 200 local publications across the country, where such an investment is being made.” My hope is that if the investment leads to a boost in circulation and revenues, then it will serve as a model for what Gannett might do elsewhere.

• A new hyperlocal news project has made its debut in Boston. The Seaport Journal, a digital news outlet, covers the city’s newest neighborhood. Meanwhile, the Marblehead Beacon, one of three independent projects covering that town, has announced that it’s ending regular coverage but will continue to “pursue periodic and unique pieces, and shift away from daily, weekly, or otherwise regular articles.” A reminder: We track independent local news organizations in Massachusetts, and you can find a link to our list in the upper right corner of this website. Just look for “Mass. Indy News.”

• Local access cable television plays an important role in community journalism by carrying public meetings, providing a platform for residents to make their own media, and, in some cases, by covering the news directly. Unfortunately, cord-cutting has placed access television at risk since stations’ income is based on a fee assessed to cable providers for each subscriber. In CommonWealth Beacon, Caleb Tobin, a production technician at Holbrook Community Access and media and a junior at Stonehill College, argues in favor of Massachusetts legislation that would impose a 5% fee on streaming services. “While often viewed as a relic of the past,” Tobin writes, “the services that cable access stations provide are more important now than they’ve ever been.”

• Many thanks to Tara Henley, host of the Canadian podcast “Lean Out,” who interviewed Ellen Clegg and me about our book, “What Works in Community News.” You can listen here.

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Gannett is ramping up on the advertising and editorial sides — but will it last?

For a long time I’ve heard an alternative explanation for why newspaper advertising collapsed over the past 15 years. The argument goes something like this: Yes, Craigslist, Google and Facebook offered a better deal and took most of the ads that used to belong to newspapers. But newspapers themselves were to blame, too. Ad salespeople had become so accustomed to sitting at their desks and taking the orders that came pouring in that they actually had no experience or incentive to get out and sell. The tech platforms were going to have a devastating effect on them in any case, but it was worse than it needed to be, so this argument goes, because they couldn’t shake themselves out of the lethargy that came with many years of enjoying a monopoly or, at worst, a duopoly.

Which is why there’s some reason to be at least a little bit hopeful about the latest moves by a large media company that is hiring on both the business and editorial sides. At a time when many news organizations are in the midst of laying people off (CNN, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times) or shutting down (The Messenger), one media mega-corporation that is a household name is taking the opposite approach.

Would you believe it if I told you that the company is Gannett? The chain, which controls about 200 daily papers, anchored by USA Today, is rightly known for hollowing out newsrooms and using the savings to pay down debt and enrich their owners and top executives. These days, though, they are talking about trying something different.

Recently Mike Blinder of Editor & Publisher had two top Gannett executives on his podcast, “E&P Reports” — the chief content officer, Kristin Roberts, and Jason Taylor, the chief sales officer. After years of cutting at Gannett and the chain that it merged with several years ago, GateHouse Media, Gannett is now in expansion mode. Taylor said that Gannett has hired about two dozen local general managers since last August, with plans to hire more. These are the folks who are in charge of selling advertising, and they say it’s paying off with new accounts and with the return of some old accounts that left years ago.

Meanwhile, Roberts said that Gannett has hired 500 journalists since June of last year, with more to come in the months ahead. These are reporters, editors and visual journalists who, she said, will “bring strength back to local newsrooms, so that they can do the job of strengthening their local communities.” And yes, she mentioned the reporters that Gannett hired to cover Taylor Swift and Beyoncé, so make of that what you will.

Now, of course we should be skeptical. Axios has reported that the combined company eliminated fully half of its 21,000 employees after the 2019 merger, and the destruction it has wreaked in the communities it supposedly serves has been deep. I would love to hear from Media Nation readers whether they’ve seen any improvement in their Gannett paper’s coverage of local news in recent months.

The situation is especially dire in Eastern Massachusetts, where Gannett has closed and merged dozens of weekly papers and replaced local news stories with regional content from around the chain. Weeklies were at the heart of GateHouse, but the new Gannett doesn’t seem to have any interest in weeklies. If improvement is going to come, I suspect, it’s going to be at the dailies.

It’s also fair to be skeptical about whether the current upsurge is sustainable. Roberts and Taylor were recruited at a moment when the executives at the very top of Gannett decided to see if a little expansion might bring in more money than round after round of cuts. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, well, we know that the cutting will resume. Gannett remains heavily burdened by the debt it took on when it merged with GateHouse, which led the new Gannett to cut half its workforce.

The hiring that’s taking place now doesn’t come close to making up for what has been lost. But if they succeed, perhaps the hiring will continue.

Blinder has been on a roll with his podcast. His latest features Steven Waldman, the president of Rebuild Local News, and Jeff Jarvis, a journalist, author and the retiring director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at City University of New York. The discussion was billed as debate over whether legacy media is worth saving or if instead it’s time to let them go. They agreed more than I thought they would, though they diverged when the discussion turned to government assistance and efforts to force Google and Facebook to compensate news organizations. It’s well worth a listen.

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Congratulations to this year’s Yankee Quill Award winners

Ellen Clegg

I am excited to share some big news about my friend and collaborator Ellen Clegg. Ellen has won a 2024 Yankee Quill Award, given by the Academy of New England Journalists, for her “contributions to the betterment of journalism,” which include a long and distinguished career at The Boston Globe; her work on our book about local journalism, “What Works in Community News,” and our podcast; and her co-founding and ongoing leadership of Brookline.News, a digital nonprofit startup.

Ellen is not the only journalist I’m associated with who won a Yankee Quill. Ed Miller, the co-founder and editor of The Provincetown Independent, has built a unique news organization — a  print and digital outlet that’s a for-profit public benefit corporation, with a nonprofit arm known as the Local Journalism Project that supports certain types of public interest reporting at the Independent. (Disclosure: I’m a member of the Local Journalism Project’s advisory board.)

There were three other winners as well: George Brennan, a longtime editor on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard who also worked a stint at the Globe; Izaksun Larrañeta, executive editor of The Day in New London, Connecticut; and Mark Pothier, a veteran journalist and Globe alumnus who helped start the nonprofit Plymouth Independent and is now its editor and CEO. (A further disclosure: I’m a proud member of the Yankee Quill Class of 2019, and yes, I had a hand in picking this year’s honorees.)

The five will be honored at the New England Newspaper and Press Association convention on March 23. Here’s the press release, including bios of the winners. Congratulations to everyone!

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We’ll be talking about ‘What Works’ at the Harvard Book Store on Monday, Feb. 26

If you’re in the Boston area, Ellen Clegg and I want to let you know about a book event we’ll be hosting on Monday, Feb. 26. We’ll be talking about “What Works in Community News” at the Harvard Book Store, right outside of Harvard Square, at 7 p.m. Our presentation will be followed by a book signing. The event is free, and registration is not required. More information here.

“[T]here are signs that things are looking up,” writes Serge Schmemann in The New York Times. “In their book, Ms. Clegg and Mr. Kennedy chronicle various ways in which local and regional news organizations — whether paper, digital or radio — are trying to restore local coverage. Most are nonprofits, often assisted by a number of foundations that assist news start-ups. It’s not a flood, but what is certain, they write, ‘is that the bottom-up growth of locally based news organizations has already provided communities with news that would otherwise go unreported.’”

We would love to see you there.

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Josh Marshall to Ezra Klein: Biden isn’t going anywhere

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo has written a long response to Ezra Klein’s fantasy idea of persuading President Biden to drop out of the campaign and throw the nomination open to the Democratic National Convention this August. The whole thing is worth your time, but here’s Marshall’s bottom line:

In life we constantly need to make choices on the basis of available options. Often they are imperfect or even bad options. The real options are the ones that have some shot at success. That’s life. Klein’s argument really amounts to a highly pessimistic but not unreasonable analysis of the present situation which he resolves with what amounts to a deus ex machina plot twist. That’s not a plan. It’s a recipe for paralysis.

Klein is smart and thoughtful, and his proposal is not a lazy one-off but, rather, well argued and evidence-based. But it’s not going to happen, and it almost certainly shouldn’t happen. Marshall has found the flaws.

Earlier:

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Jack Shafer and Margot Susca dish over media ownership

Good Jack Shafer interview in Politico with Margot Susca, the author of “Hedged,” on how private equity helped destroy the newspaper business. I reviewed “Hedged” for The Arts Fuse last month.

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Talking about the local news crisis, media trust and our book with Jon Keller

Many thanks to old friend Jon Keller of WBZ-TV (Channel 4) for featuring the book that Ellen Clegg and I wrote, “What Works in Community News,” on his Sunday “Keller at Large” program. You can watch our two-part conversation here.

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Shaughnessy on the DL

Best wishes to Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who’s recovering from heart surgery. Spring training isn’t going to be the same without him.

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Is Ezra Klein’s call for Biden to stand aside realistic or desirable? Probably not.

Then-candidate Joe Biden. Photo (cc) 2019 by Matt Johnson.

You may have heard that Ezra Klein has called for President Biden to pull out of the campaign and let a younger generation of Democrats compete for the nomination. Klein, who hosts a podcast and writes commentaries for The New York Times, is someone I look to for guidance. This isn’t just the Times being the Times; Klein was a prominent thinker and commentator before coming to the Times, and he will continue to be long after he leaves.

You can listen or read what Klein has to say here. There’s not a lot of analysis I want to add except to say that he’s thought through most of the objections. He believes Biden has been an effective president and could continue to be in a second term, but that his age has become a real obstacle to his re-election — and that the stakes are way too high to take the chance that Donald Trump could return to the White House. Yes, Trump is nearly as old, far more addled, and, unlike Biden, faces 91 criminal charges and has all but pledged to rule as an authoritarian. Klein believes that anything that keeps Trump out of power is worth doing, even if it means somehow persuading Biden to call it a career.

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Probably my main objection to Klein’s idea is that it’s so late. If Biden had pulled out a year ago, we could have had a proper primary campaign. So what is Klein’s alternative? Throwing it to the Democratic National Convention in August, a truly risky move. “There is a ton of talent in the Democratic Party right now,” Klein writes, and he offers a long list that, intriguingly, omits California Gov. Gavin Newsom and includes Georgia Sen. Ralph Warnock. I’m skeptical of Newsom, and I have to say that I like the idea of Warnock.*

Another problem that Klein has given some thought to is what to do about Vice President Kamala Harris. His answer is that she is a better and more appealing politician than she’s generally given credit for, and that she could compete at the convention like everyone else. If she wins, she wins; if she loses, that’s not a reason to believe that the party would be torn apart. I’m not so sure about that, but Klein puts it this way:

Could it go badly? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it will go badly. It could make the Democrats into the most exciting political show on earth. And over there on the other side will be Trump getting nominated and a who’s who of MAGA types slavering over his leadership. The best of the Democratic Party against the worst of the Republican Party. A party that actually listened to the voters against a party that denies the outcome of the elections. A party that did something different over a party that has again nominated a threat to democracy who has never — not once — won the popular vote in a general election.

I’d say my biggest objection is that Klein would reward special counsel Robert Hur, who recently cleared Biden of criminal wrongdoing in his retention of classified documents but then gratuitously smeared him by suggesting that the president is senile. It was a gross example of prosecutorial misconduct. But that doesn’t mean concerns about Biden’s age aren’t real. As Klein notes, he may be sharp and focused in private (just ask Kevin McCarthy), but he’s slowed down in public, and his own campaign seems to be trying to hide him from scrutiny.

The issues involved are difficult to sort out. In addition to Hur’s actions, which ought to be investigated, there is also the media’s wildly disproportionate coverage of Biden’s age. It’s a legitimate story, of course, but it’s gotten far too much attention when compared with more important stories, many of them having to do with Trump’s dangerous and outrageous pronouncements. In addition, the notion that Biden will stand down is almost certainly wishful thinking — that is, if you’re even wishing for it. “The sky is blue and Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic Party’s nominee,” as Josh Marshall puts it.

Anyway, Ezra Klein’s piece is worth a read or a listen at least as a thought exercise. It seems pretty obvious that if we’re going to stop Trump, it’s going to have to be with Biden. But Klein’s counter-factual is pretty interesting.

*Correction: I swear I can’t read. Newsom is on Klein’s list. I’m still skeptical of him, though.

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