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

Tag: Ben Taylor

How Brian McGrory talked John and Linda Henry into buying The Boston Globe

John and Linda Henry have owned The Boston Globe for nearly nine years, but they have never hired an editor. Brian McGrory, who announced Wednesday that he’ll be leaving at the end of the year to become chair of Boston University’s journalism department, had been named to the top newsroom job during the final months of New York Times Co. ownership. In this excerpt from my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls,” I tell the story of how McGrory recruited the Henrys to stave off the possibility of corporate chain ownership.

Rumors that The Boston Globe might be for sale began circulating as far back as 2006, when a group headed by retired General Electric chief executive Jack Welch, who was a Boston-area native, and local advertising executive Jack Connors was reported to be nosing around. At the time, the Globe was said to be valued at somewhere between $550 million and $600 million, vastly more than the price John Henry paid seven years later. But the New York Times Co. wasn’t selling — at least not yet. The following year, Ben Taylor, a former publisher of the Globe and a member of the family that had owned it from 1873 until selling it to the Times Co. 80 years later, told me in an interview for CommonWealth magazine that he might be interested in returning to ownership in some capacity if the Globe were put on the market. But he added that he thought such a development was unlikely. “I can’t imagine a scenario where that would be an opportunity,” he said, “but you never know, I guess. Stranger things have happened.”

Ben Taylor and his cousin Stephen Taylor, also a former Globe executive, became involved in a bid to buy the paper in 2009 when the Times Co. finally put the paper on the market. So did a Beverly Hills, California-based outfit known as Platinum Equity. With the Taylors thought to be undercapitalized and with Platinum having gutted the first newspaper it bought, the San Diego Union-Tribune, Globe employees were understandably nervous about their future. Although it was not a matter of public knowledge at the time, there was also a third possibility. After the Times Co. put up the Globe for sale, Brian McGrory, a popular columnist who was then serving a stint as the paper’s metro editor, decided to call around town to see if any public-spirited business executives might be interested. Among those he contacted was John Henry.

“I asked him at that time why he wouldn’t flip the paradigm,” McGrory told me. “It used to be that newspapers would own sports franchises. Why not have a sports franchise owner own a newspaper? Because without a healthy Boston Globe, which causes community discussion about a sports team — I made the argument, right or wrong; I have no idea if it was right — the value of a sports team might be diminished. And I did it because I thought he would be a very thoughtful, steady owner.”

Read the rest at GBH News.

Why John Henry’s bid for the Globe makes sense

John Henry

John Henry

Maybe it’s because this has dragged on for such a long time, but Beth Healy’s report that Red Sox principal owner John Henry has decided to make a solo bid to buy the paper and its associated properties carries with it the ring of inevitability.

He’s got the money, which has always been the big question about local favorites Steve and Ben Taylor. If they had the cash, the New York Times Co. would have sold it to them in 2009.

Henry doesn’t have any obvious flaws, like San Diego businessman “Papa Doug” Manchester. He’s even restructured his bid — possibly at the request of the Times Co.?

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Henry introduced as the next owner of the Globe sooner rather than later — possibly to be followed by an announcement that Dan Shaughnessy has accepted a job at ESPN.

Photo via Wikipedia.

What to watch for as the Globe sale heats up

CA_SDUTBeth Healy today offers an update on who might buy The Boston Globe and its related properties, which include the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and She reports that eight potential buyers are circling, and that the deadline for submitting bids is June 27.

Three story lines worth following:

1. The Taylors are still in the mix. It would be a comeback of epic proportions if Steve and Ben Taylor were to repurchase the Globe 20 years after their family sold it to the New York Times Co. for $1.1 billion. And for those of us who want to see the Globe wind up in responsible local hands, it would probably represent the best outcome.

The question since 2009, when the Taylors made their first failed attempt to reacquire the Globe, is whether they can raise enough money to buy the paper and run it properly. Maybe the Taylors can combine forces with the Kraft family, who own the New England Patriots and are said to be interested.

Former Globe president Rick Daniels is in the mix as well. But he’s partnering with a private-equity executive, which raises all kinds of red flags.

2. The “face of hell” emerges. “Papa Doug” Manchester, as he likes to be known, bought the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2011 and renamed it U-T San Diego, which ought to be reason enough to disqualify him. But it gets worse. Manchester, a hotel magnate, is a conservative opponent of same-sex marriage who has shaped his paper’s coverage to serve his business interests. Here is a charming excerpt from a profile of Manchester by Voice of San Diego’s Rob Davis:

Few San Diegans could have evoked the visceral cancel-my-subscription-today reaction that Manchester did when he bought the Union-Tribune. He has a reputation: egomaniacal, short-tempered, litigious, unrelenting. Some fear him. Two politically connected people warned me not to write a negative word about him. “If there is a hell, Doug Manchester is the face of it,” one said.

And now he’s said to be interested in the Globe.

3. The Globe’s headquarters may be sold. Healy reports that several prospective buyers would sell the Globe’s Dorchester plant if they succeed in buying the media properties. This strikes me as odd, since the Globe has had some success in taking on outside printing jobs such as the Boston Herald, The Patriot Ledger of Quincy and The Enterprise of Brockton.

I don’t understand how the Globe can keep the presses rolling unless it stays put. On the other hand, space isn’t exactly at a premium at 135 Morrissey Blvd. these days. Maybe the idea is to sell the building, lease back part of it and rent out the rest.

No doubt we’ll learn more in the weeks to come.

Image via Today’s Front Pages at the Newseum.

The Globe, Jack Connors and Mike Barnicle

Mike Barnicle

I’m just catching up to this excellent analysis by Poynter’s Rick Edmonds of the Aaron Kushner group’s ongoing efforts to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. Edmonds’ bottom line: a sale is possible but unlikely.

With the Globe’s business having stabilized and the Times Co.’s debt burden eased, Edmonds writes, “It looks to me like a keeper for the company — unless someone comes forward with cash and is prepared to way overpay.”

Last week the Globe’s Brian McGrory reported that local advertising executive Jack Connors has joined the Kushner group, which already includes former Globe publisher Ben Taylor and his cousin Steve Taylor, himself a former top Globe executive. This isn’t the first time Connors has tried to become part of the Globe’s ownership.

It also raises the intriguing question of whether the specter of former Globe columnist Mike Barnicle can be far behind. Barnicle was involved in a bid by retired General Electric chief executive Jack Welch and Connors to buy the Globe several years ago, a bid that Barnicle told Boston magazine was “very serious.” In a 2007 Boston Globe Magazine piece by the legendary Steve Bailey, Barnicle’s wife, Bank of America executive Anne Finucane, was described as one of Connors’ “closest friends.”

It’s hard to know what to make of the Barnicle connection, but my guess is that it diminishes the likelihood that the Times Co. will sell the Globe. It would be the ultimate revenge for Barnicle. It’s also a victory that I suspect Times Co. chief executive Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would rather not let him have, given that Barnicle was let go by the Globe in 1998 — possibly with a push from New York — over a series of ethical transgressions.

Globe publisher Taylor was both lucky and good

William Taylor

William Taylor, the former Boston Globe publisher who died Sunday, was both lucky and good.

Lucky because his time as publisher coincided with an era of enormous prosperity in the newspaper industry. Good because he used that prosperity to transform the Globe into one of the best papers in the country. Under Taylor and the late editor Tom Winship, the Globe grew into a national-class paper with its own correspondents overseas and around the country.

For those who needed reminding, today’s obituary, by Bryan Marquard, explains why Taylor had to sell. With the paper on the verge of devolving to about 120 heirs, the only way Taylor could preserve the Globe’s legacy was to leave it in the hands of a good steward. He chose the New York Times Co., which paid an astounding $1.1 billion — half the Times Co.’s stock-market valuation at the time.

And if the Sulzbergers haven’t been quite the magnanimous owners Bill Taylor might have hoped for (especially when his second cousin Ben Taylor was sacked as publisher in 1999), they still have maintained the Globe’s quality to a far greater degree than a bottom-feeding chain like Gannett or a bankrupt behemoth like Tribune would have.

Bill Taylor’s death comes at a time when Ben Taylor and his cousin Steve, himself a former Globe executive, are seeking to return to some sort of ownership role as part of a group put together by local businessman Aaron Kushner.

The Taylor brand gives Kushner instant credibility — and it was Bill Taylor who was largely responsible for creating that brand.

Also: The Nieman Foundation pays tribute to Taylor.

Kushner bid to buy the Globe keeps inching along

A lightly publicized effort to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. continues to inch forward.

Casey Ross, writing in the Globe, reports that businessman Aaron Kushner is prepared to offer more than $200 million for the Globe, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and That’s considerably more than the $35 million figure that was bandied about two summers ago, which the Times Co. ultimately chose to walk away from.

No one even knows if the Sulzberger family would consider selling the Globe at this point, and Kushner is just a guy with money. What makes his bid interesting is that he’s pulled into his group such people as former Globe publisher Ben Taylor, his cousin Stephen Taylor, a former Globe executive, and Ben Bradlee Jr., a former top editor. (The Taylors were also involved in one of the efforts to buy the Globe two years ago.)

As Ross notes, the Globe is doing better today than it was during the crash-and-burn summer of 2009, though it’s hardly out of the woods. A lot of us would welcome a return to local ownership as long as that wouldn’t presage either a wholesale dismantling or a diminution of news standards and values. Kushner sounds serious about wanting to reinvent the Globe, though I suspect he’s kidding himself if he thinks he’s got some secret formula.

Earlier this year, Katherine Ozment profiled Kushner for Boston magazine. He did not, shall we say, come across as the second coming of Gen. Charles H. Taylor. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing moment in the life of the region’s dominant media organization.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Taylors make another run at the Globe

News that Ben and Steve Taylor have signed on to businessman Aaron Kushner’s bid to buy the Boston Globe has changed the dynamic. The Taylors, of course, are prominent members of the family that owned and ran the Globe for more than 100 years. Ben was the publisher before he was ousted in 1999. Steve was executive vice president.

The Taylors, who are cousins, fell short in a bid to buy the paper back from the New York Times Co. in 2009. The reason was never announced, but the buzz was that their group was undercapitalized, and that the Times Co. would have had to accept a ridiculously low price in that year of economic crisis. The Globe would undoubtedly be worth more now, but how much more is hard to say.

The significance of the Taylors’ involvement is that there now will be support within influential circles for the Times Co. to return the Globe to local ownership.

Would Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger sell the Globe? By placing the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and their associated websites on the block in 2009, he made it clear that he would if the price was right and if he and other Times Co. executives were comfortable with the buyers.

I suspect the big question they’ll now have to answer is whether they can get the price they want — or if, instead, they think they can get more by hanging on to their New England properties for another few years.

The Globe first reported Kushner’s interest last October.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Show us the money

Will the Taylor group really be able to pull off a deal to buy back the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co.? Today’s Globe piece on Stephen Taylor’s quest to acquire the paper his family sold in 1993 reports that he’s having some trouble scaring up enough money. Beth Healy writes:

Some wealthy Bostonians spurned Taylor’s early overtures, wary of investing in what they consider a dying industry, according to people involved in the bid. With final offers due tomorrow, Taylor is still scurrying to raise money. He has to convince investors he has what it takes to make it in a radically shifting newspaper landscape, despite having been out of the business for nearly a decade.

That fits with information I reported two weeks ago, when I wrote that the Taylor group was still trying to line up investors.

Meanwhile, the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam reports that the price of purchasing the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette may have risen substantially. Both Taylor and Platinum Equity, the only other serious bidder, have reportedly offered to pay $35 million and to assume $59 million in pension liabilities. Now, though, Heslam quotes anonymous “insiders” who say that the esimate of pension liabilities has nearly doubled, to $115 million.

Hard to tell what’s going on here. Heslam quotes a Times Co. spokeswoman who says something that sounds vaguely like a denial, but not really. So, for the moment, let’s proceed under the assumption that Heslam’s sources are right. Will this kill the deal? Especially with the under-capitalized Taylor bid?

It’s possible that the Times Co. will be forced to eat some of that $115 million, like Theo Epstein getting rid of another overpaid, under-performing shortstop. Even though the Globe carefully notes that it’s “conceivable the Times Co. won’t sell the paper,” Poynter Institute media analyst Rick Edmonds recently noted that the Times Co. would lose substantial tax advantages if it doesn’t sell by the end of 2009.

It will be fascinating to see what gets announced tomorrow. That is, if there’s an announcement.

Stayin’ alive with Platinum Equity

Tom Gores

Tom Gores

One can only imagine the glee that folks at the Boston Globe must have felt when they came across a photo of prospective owner Tom Gores looking like he’s starring in the community-theater remake of “Saturday Night Fever.” The photo leads a long piece on Gores’ tenure at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Wearing a flamboyantly pinstriped black suit jacket over a black shirt strategically unbuttoned to show off his smooth chest (and don’t miss the black-and-white polka-dot handerchief), Gores comes across as an exceedingly unlikely candidate to stabilize the Globe’s finances while preserving its journalism. The story dwells in some detail on embarrassing facts about Gores’ personal life as well.

I should note that the photo is credited to Gores’ firm, Platinum Equity. So he must be quite proud of it.

Still, you never know. Platinum is one of two groups in the running to purchase the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from the New York Times Co. The other, favored by most people I talk with, is headed by former Globe executive Stephen Taylor and former Globe publisher Ben Taylor, prominent members of the family that sold the paper to the Times Co. in 1993.

Platinum Equity has been the subject of fascination since it acquired the Union-Tribune earlier this year. But as the Globe story notes, though the paper’s staff has been slashed to ribbons, the Union-Tribune is now on track to turn a small profit this year. Quality matters; but nothing is possible at a paper that keeps bleeding cash.

The non-profit news site Voices of San Diego, which has been keeping a watchful eye on Platinum, recently ran a piece containing what might be described as cautious praise. The story quotes an anonymous staff member following a meeting with management: “I went into the meeting not super-receptive, given that this is the management team that had laid off more than 100 people the day before. I came out feeling better about the future of the paper than I have in two years.” The story continues:

Two other newsroom workers agreed with that assessment, and all three said they were hopeful and impressed by the new management’s willingness to criticize the old regime. (The staff members requested anonymity for fear of antagonizing the new bosses.)

The positive feelings are remarkable considering how the U-T has been plagued by poor morale and severe financial troubles in recent years. The paper has physically shrunk by about half since 2006, and several rounds of layoffs and buyouts have eliminated about half of all jobs companywide.

To be sure, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit at the Union-Tribune. Employees still paste up pages manually, a labor-intensive practice that is now being eliminated. But for the Union-Tribune to achieve financial stability so quickly, and for management now to be talking about growth, is an impressive achievement given the dire straits in which the newspaper business finds itself.

Still, I’d certainly feel better if the Taylor group prevails. Yes, the Globe has to succeed as a business. But with the Taylors, I’m more confident that managers would seek to define the journalistic mission first, then figure out how to pay for it.

The Globe’s coming back tomorrow with a look at the Taylor group. I expect to see a photo of Steve and Ben dressed in tasteful, non-ostentatious business suits, their jackets off and their sleeves rolled up, serving meals at a homeless shelter before heading in to work.

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