Tag Archives: Boston.com

Big changes (and shrinkage) coming to Boston.com

Sounds like big changes are coming to Boston.com, the free website the Boston Globe launched in the mid-1990s and whose mission has shifted a number of times over the years.

The takeaway from the memo below, from Boston.com general manager Eleanor Cleverly and chief engineering and product officer Anthony Bonfiglio, is that the free site will get smaller (buyouts are being offered) and that the priority will be the paid BostonGlobe.com site. It also sounds like Boston.com is being repositioned as a lifestyle-and-entertainment site in a way that’s not unlike a suggestion I made a year and a half ago at WGBHNews.org.

The news comes just days after Linda Henry, wife of Globe publisher John Henry, was given oversight responsibilities for Boston.com.

I don’t like to see people lose their jobs, but beyond that, the changes might make sense depending on how they play out. There is no reason for Boston.com and the Globe to be in competition with each other; several people left the Globe just last week in response to the latest round of buyouts. If this pushes a few Boston.com readers to pay for the Globe, so much the better. And as a Globe reader, I’m glad to hear that the recently redesigned online sports pages may be a model for the rest of the site.

News of the memo was broken by Carly Carioli on Twitter.

The memo follows.

Hello all,

Boston.com is now more than twenty years old; and this year, Globe.com celebrates its fifth anniversary. These sites are the two most popular digital news and information destinations in New England. As the digital landscape continues to change, we too must change and evolve.

The number one, long-term priority of our organization is to significantly grow our digital subscriber base at Globe.com. In order to do so, we need for our two sites to become more complementary in their day-to-day content and businesses.

Boston.com will continue to be the region’s best free go-to site for things to do, where to live, what to drive, where to work, destinations for travel and so much more, while also evolving to more closely focus on the needs of our audiences in key demographic segments and advertisers who are trying to connect with our audiences. It will be the indispensable guide, resource, and forum for the region. Boston.com will also be a portal to news from The Boston Globe for millions of visitors every month.

The Boston Globe will continue to build on its remarkable Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism and its position as a leader in paid digital subscribers among metro dailies in the country. Globe.com will remain the foremost site for news, information, and journalism from our region. The recent launch of our in-depth, graphically enhanced sports site is just the beginning of what is in store for Globe.com.

There will be a clearer differentiation between the in-depth journalism of Globe.com and the community-centered resources of Boston.com. With resulting efficiencies anticipated, we are offering a voluntary buyout program for those who work in dedicated digital roles across Boston Globe Media Partners. A reorganization of the digital operation is under way. This will create fewer redundancies, increased collaboration, greater efficiency and cost savings across the company.

You will undoubtedly have questions about these changes, particularly how they will personally and professionally impact you. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will host Q&A sessions for departments across Boston Globe Media Partners, beginning this afternoon. We will also address, with more specificity, how this new vision will be reflected in our core digital products.

For those of you who are staying as we move ahead, know that you will be part of a team of smart, collaborative, digital-first thinkers who will generate stories of great relevance and innovative products we can all be proud of. For those who choose to take this buyout, thank you for making our digital experience such an important part of our future.

Eleanor and Anthony

Linda Henry, wife of Globe owner, will oversee Boston.com

Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.

Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.

Well, that was fast. Just a day after Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory announced that chief digital guy David Skok would be leaving later this year, two people who will take over some of his duties have been named. One is a real eye-opener: Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Globe owner John Henry, who will oversee Boston.com.

The other is Anthony Bonfiglio, currently the executive director of engineering, who’ll be in charge of engineering, development, product, and design.

When I gave a “Rave” to Skok on Beat the Press Friday, host Emily Rooney asked me if Skok’s departure was related to Linda Henry’s elevation. My honest answer is that I have no idea. It’s something I would certainly like to find out.

It’s also not clear how hands-on Linda Henry intends to be. Eleanor Cleverly, the general manager of Boston.com, has gotten good reviews for stabilizing the site after a rocky transition from being the Globe‘s online home to its current incarnation as a free standalone service. And Cleverly will remain.

It’s way too early to assess what this will all mean, but I’ve heard from a number of insiders that Linda Henry is smart and generally a force for good. Still, it’s an unorthodox move.

The Globe still needs a journalist to replace Skok as managing editor for digital (he’s vice president for digital at Boston Globe Media Partners as well). But since Skok isn’t leaving right away, I suppose that can wait.

What follows is a memo from Mike Sheehan, chief executive of BGMP.

I want to let everyone know that Anthony Bonfiglio will now oversee digital operations, including engineering/development, product, and design across all of BGMP.

Anthony joined us two years ago from Visible Measures, where he was VP of Engineering. Since then, his impact has been immense. He oversaw the rollout of agile software development processes and best practices across the product and engineering teams. As a result, we’ve shortened time-to-market from weeks to multiple releases every week across all teams, creating a predictable and transparent development process. Anthony helped transition much of the business to WordPress and has overseen many of our digital redesigns. He was a key contributor in the launch of Stat.

On the business side, Anthony folded creative services developers into the overall engineering organization and greatly increased their productivity. He also successfully assumed management of our ad operations organization during a critical phase and has since transitioned it back to Advertising.

In short, Anthony has proven himself as a leader who can make a very complex organization faster, better, and more agile. He will continue to report to Wade Sendall.

Brian McGrory informed the newsroom yesterday that David Skok has decided to leave the Globe by the end of the year. Regarding David’s boston.com responsibilities, Eleanor Cleverly will continue day-to-day oversight and management of boston.com, but it will now report to Linda Henry in her current role as Managing Director.

I know I join everyone in wishing David Skok nothing but success and happiness in all his future endeavors and in expressing deep gratitude for all he’s done over the past three years. He has been a driving force in the success we’ve experienced on bostonglobe.com and, with Eleanor and her team, was key to stabilizing boston.com over the past six months. As he transitions out, the leadership of Anthony, Eleanor, and Linda will help us continue to be the region’s leading source of journalism that becomes more relevant and interesting by the hour.

Hilary Sargent leaves Boston.com

Hilary Sargent has left Boston.com, a free website owned by Boston Globe Media Partners. Sargent was instrumental in the relaunch of the venerable site two years ago as a mobile-friendly viral alternative for younger readers who didn’t want to pay for the Globe; she was featured prominently in this New York Times story.

Sargent’s tenure was rocky at times, and in December 2014 she was suspended, as the Globe put it, “for creating a T-shirt design mocking a central figure in stories she had recently written.” But she returned as a feature writer and has done good work. See, for example, this interview with Tom Brady’s chef, or her article on why some records were sealed in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev trial.

Before her return to the Globe in 2014, she was best known for producing the visual journalism site ChartGirl, chosen by Time magazine as one of the 50 best websites of 2013.

Best wishes to Hilary on whatever comes next. An email she sent to numerous people somehow wafted in through my window a little while ago, and I present it in full below.

Subject: It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you

I was 18 years old when I first worked at the Globe. It was at the State House bureau, and there were 5 or 6 of us packed into a tiny, messy room. My role wasn’t glamorous. I fixed printer jams, answered phones, and covered the state auditor’s race. It was the best job I ever had.

For a long time after, I went in a different direction career-wise. But the Globe remained—if not a goal—then an aspiration. In 2012, after a decade doing investigative work, I ended up starting a website that caught the attention of Teresa Hanafin and Bennie DiNardo, who generously offered me the chance to do a “community blog” on Boston.com.

I moved back to Boston and, in early 2014, started as a full-time Boston.com writer. It’s amazing how long ago that seems.

A lot has happened in the last two years. I’m proud of much of the work I did during my tenure. I wasn’t perfect, but I was given a second chance, and threw myself into trying to move and on and be a contributor in whatever ways I could—whether it be covering the Tsarnaev trial, the amazing winter of 2015, or Tom Brady’s eating habits.

The last two years have been a learning experience, and not always a pleasant one. But at the end of the day, this is where I always wanted to work. 

My last day at BGMP was Thursday, February 11. 

It has been suggested to me in recent days that I idolized the Globe too much. Maybe that’s true. But I hope not. I’ve worked at a lot of places, but I have never been prouder to work anywhere. The night I spent delivering papers earlier this year reinforced to me why I’ve idolized this place for so long. So did watching Spotlight, which I have now seen three times. 

I will miss the surprisingly affordable cafeteria food, the mice, the lack of natural light, the crumbling parking ramp, watching Chartbeat during a snowstorm, beating the Globe every now and then, Roberto’s encyclopedic knowledge of everything, Jack’s endless good mood, Adam Vaccaro’s fashion advice … I could go on and on … Hell, I will even miss Methode. (Just kidding, I won’t miss Methode.)

Most importantly, I will miss all of you. I feel so honored to have had the opportunity—however brief—to work with all of you. I’m incredibly proud of the work we did together at Boston.com

You were all incredibly generous with me (and with Dash) over the past two years and especially over the past several months, and I will never forget that. Thank you.

And now, onward. 

— Hilary 

P.S. Please visit the Globe library in my honor. Seriously. That place is the best.

The newspaper business’s long, ugly decline

Brendan Lynch for WGBHNews.org

Illustration by Brendan Lynch for WGBHNews.org

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Twenty years ago this month, The New York Times entered the Internet age with a sense of optimism so naive that looking back might break your heart. “With its entry on the Web,” wrote Times reporter Peter H. Lewis, “The Times is hoping to become a primary information provider in the computer age and to cut costs for newsprint, delivery and labor.”

The Times wasn’t the first major daily newspaper to launch a website. The Boston Globe, then owned by the New York Times Co., had unveiled its Boston.com service—featuring free content from the Globe and other local news organizations—just a few months earlier. But the debut of NYTimes.com sent a clear signal that newspapers were ready to enlist in the digital revolution.

Fast-forward to 2016, and the newspaper business is a shell of its former self. Far from cutting newsprint and delivery costs, newspapers remain utterly reliant on their shrunken print editions for most of their revenues—as we have all been reminded by the Globe’s home-delivery fiasco.

Not only do newspapers remain tethered to 20th-century industrial processes such as massive printing presses, tons of paper, and fleets of delivery trucks, but efforts to develop new sources of digital revenue have largely come to naught.

Craigslist came up with a new model for classified ads—free—with which newspapers could not compete. And there went 40 percent of the ad revenue.

Digital display advertising has become so ubiquitous that its value keeps dropping. Print advertising still pays the bills, but for how much longer? The Internet has shifted the balance of power from publishers to advertisers, who can reach their customers far more efficiently than they could by taking a shot in the dark on expensive print ads. The result, according to the Newspaper Association of America (as reported by the Pew Research Center), is that print ad revenues have fallen from $44.9 billion in 2003 to just $16.4 billion in 2014, while digital ad revenues—$3.5 billion in 2014—have barely budged since 2006.

And it’s getting worse. Last week Richard Tofel, president of the nonprofit news organization ProPublica and a former top executive with The Wall Street Journal, wrote an essay for Medium under the harrowing headline “The sky is falling on print newspapers faster than you think.” Tofel took a look at the 25 largest U.S. newspapers and found that their print circulation is continuing to drop at a rapid rate, contrary to predictions that the decline had begun to level off.

There’s a bit of apples-and-oranges confusion in Tofel’s numbers. For instance, he suggests that the 140,000 paid weekday print circulation that the Globe claimed in September 2015 was somehow analogous to the 115,000 it reported during the recent home-delivery crisis. In fact, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, the Globe had 119,000 home-delivery and mail customers in September 2015. (Another 30,000 or so print newspapers were sold via single-copy sales.)

But there’s no disputing Tofel’s bottom line, which is that print circulation plunged between 2013 and 2015 at a far faster rate than had been expected. The Journal is down by 400,000; the Times by 200,000; The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times by 100,000.

“Nearly everyone in publishing with whom I shared the 2015 paid figures found them surprisingly low,” Tofel wrote, adding that “if print circulation is much lower than generally believed, what basis is there for confidence the declines are ending and a plateau lies ahead?”

If advertising is falling off the cliff and print circulation is plummeting, then surely the solution must be to charge readers for digital subscriptions, right? Well, that may be part of the solution. But it’s probably not realistic to think that such a revenue stream will ever amount to much more than a small part of what’s needed to run a major metropolitan newspaper.

Not everyone agrees, of course. The journalist and entrepreneur Steven Brill, in a recent interview with Poynter.org, said newspaper executives find themselves in their current straits because they were not nearly as aggressive as they should have been about building paywalls around their content.

“I always had a basic view … that if you weren’t getting revenue from readers, you ultimately weren’t going to put a premium on your journalism,” said Brill, a founder of the paywall company Press Plus, which he later sold. “You couldn’t just rely on advertisers because they would then be your only real customers.”

Brill’s views are not extreme. For instance, he thinks it’s reasonable to give away five to 10 articles a month, as newspapers with metered paywalls such as the Globe and the Times do. But Brill does not mention what I think are by far the two biggest hurdles newspapers face in charging for digital content.

First, customers are already paying hundreds of dollars a month for broadband, cell service, and their various digital devices. It’s not crazy for them to think that the content should come included with that, as it does (for the most part) with their monthly cable bill. Those who wag their fingers that newspapers never should have given away their content overlook the reality that customers had none of those extra expenses back when their only option was to pay for the print edition.

Second, paywalls interfere with the way we now consume news—skipping around the Internet, checking in with multiple sources. To wall off content runs contrary not just to what news consumers want but to the sharing culture of the Internet. The Globe has had quite a bit of success is selling digital subscriptions—about 90,000, according to the September 2015 audit report. But what will happen when the paper ratchets the price up to $1 a day, as the newspaper analyst Ken Doctor recently reported for the website Newsonomics?

As I write this, I am on my way to Philadelphia, where I’ll be learning more about the transfer of that city’s newspapers—The Philadelphia Inquirer and the tabloid Daily News—to a nonprofit foundation. Ken Doctor, writing for the Nieman Journalism Lab, isn’t optimistic: “Sprinkling some nonprofit pixie dust won’t save the newspaper industry. Only new ideas can do that.”

For the beleaguered newspaper business, the walls are closing in and the oxygen is being pumped out of the room. Clay Shirky, who writes about digital culture, once said, “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.”

Trouble is, 20 years after NYTimes.com staked out its home on the web, newspapers are still the source of most of the public interest journalism we need to govern ourselves in a democracy.

The Globe’s Saturday shrinkage and its digital future


Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I thought The Boston Globe and other metropolitan dailies would still be printing news on dead trees in 2015, I’d have replied, “Probably not.” Even five years ago, by which time it was clear that print had more resilience than many of us previously assumed, I still believed we were on the verge of drastic change — say, a mostly digital news operation supplemented by a weekend print edition.

Seen in that light, the Globe’s redesigned Saturday edition should be regarded as a cautious, incremental step. Unveiled this past weekend, the paper is thinner (42 pages compared to 52 the previous Saturday) and more magazine-like, with the Metro section starting on A2 rather than coming after the national, international and opinion pages. That’s followed by a lifestyle section called Good Life.

The larger context for these changes is that the existential crisis threatening the newspaper business hasn’t gone away. Revenue from print advertising — still the economic engine that powers virtually all daily newspapers — continues to fall, even as digital ads have proved to be a disappointment. Fewer ads mean fewer pages. This isn’t the first time the Globe has dropped pages, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. (The paper is also cutting staff in some areas, even as it continues to hire for new digital initiatives.)

How bad is it? According to the Pew Research Center’s “State of the Media 2015” report, revenue from print advertising at U.S. newspapers fell from $17.3 billion in 2013 to $16.4 billion in 2014. Digital advertising, meanwhile, rose from just $3.4 billion to $3.5 billion. And for some horrifying perspective on how steep the decline has been, print advertising revenue was $47.4 billion just 10 years ago.

The Globe’s response to this ugly drop has been two-fold. First, it’s asked its print and digital readers to pick up more of the cost through higher subscription fees. Second, even as the print edition shrinks, it has expanded what’s offered online — not just at BostonGlobe.com, but via its free verticals covering the local innovation economy (BetaBoston), the Catholic Church (Crux) and, soon, life sciences and health (Stat). Stories from those sites find their way into the Globe, while readers who are interested in going deeper can visit the sites themselves. (An exception to this strategy is Boston.com, the former online home of the Globe, which has been run as a separate operation since its relaunch in 2014.)

“I don’t quite think of it as the demise of print,” says Globe editor Brian McGrory of the Saturday redesign. He notes that over the past year-plus the print paper has added the weekly political section Capital as well as expanded business and Sunday arts coverage and daily full-size feature sections in place of the former tabloid “g” section.

“There are areas where we do well where we’re enhancing in print and there are areas where we’re looking to cut in print,” McGrory adds. “It’s a very fine and delicate balancing act.”

Some of those cuts in print are offset by more digital content. Consider the opinion pages, which underwent a redesign this past spring. (I should point out that McGrory does not run the opinion pages. Editorial-page editor Ellen Clegg, like McGrory, reports directly to publisher John Henry.) The online opinion section is simply more robust than what’s in print, offering some content a day or two earlier as well as online exclusives. This past Saturday, the print section was cut from two pages to one. Yet last week also marked the debut of a significant online-only feature: Opinion Reel, nine short videos submitted by members of the public on a wide variety of topics.

All are well-produced, ranging from an evocative look at a family raising a son with autism (told from his sister’s point of view) to a video op-ed on dangerous bicycle crossings along the Charles River. There’s even a claymation-like look at a man living with blindness. But perhaps the most gripping piece is about a man who was seriously beaten outside a bar in South Boston. It begins with a photo of him in his hospital bed, two middle fingers defiantly outstretched. It ends with him matter-of-factly explaining what led to the beating. “It was because I stepped on the guy’s shoe and he didn’t think I was from Southie,” he says before adding: “It was my godmother’s brother.”

Globe columnist and editorial board member Joanna Weiss, who is curating the project, says the paper received more than 50 submissions for this first round. “It has very much been a group effort,” Weiss told me by email. “The development team built the websites and Nicole Hernandez, digital producer for the editorial page, shepherded that process through; Linda Henry, who is very interested in promoting the local documentary filmmaking community, gave us feedback and advice in the early rounds; David Skok and Jason Tuohey from BostonGlobe.com gave indispensable advice in the final rounds, and of course the entire editorial board helped to screen and select the films.”

But all of this is far afield from the changes to the Saturday paper and what those might portend. McGrory told me he’s received several hundred emails about the redesign, some from readers who liked it, some who hated it and some who suggested tweaks — a few of which will be implemented.

Traditionally, a newspaper’s Saturday edition is its weakest both in terms of circulation and advertising. In the Globe’s case, though, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday papers sell a few thousand fewer copies than Saturday’s 160,377, according to a 2014 report from the Alliance for Audited Media. No doubt that’s a reflection of a Thursday-through-Sunday subscription deal the Globe offers — though it does raise the question of whether other days might get the Saturday treatment.

“We have no plans right now to change the design or the general format of those papers,” McGrory responds. “But look, everything is always under discussion.” (The Globe’s Sunday print circulation is 282,440, according to the same AAM report. Its paid digital circulation is about 95,000 a day, the highest of any regional newspaper.)

One question many papers are dealing with is whether to continue offering print seven days a week. Advance Newspapers has experimented with cutting back on print at some of its titles, including the storied Times-Picayune of New Orleans. My Northeastern colleague Bill Mitchell’s reaction to the Globe’s Saturday changes was to predict that, eventually, American dailies would emulate European and Canadian papers by shifting their Sunday papers to Saturdays to create a big weekend paper — and eliminating the Sunday paper altogether.

The Globe and Mail of Toronto is one paper that has taken that route, and McGrory says it’s the sort of idea that he and others are keeping an eye on. But he stresses that the Globeisn’t going to follow in that path any time soon.

“Right now we have no plans to touch our Sunday paper,” he says. “It’s a really strong paper journalistically, it’s a strong paper circulation-wise, it’s a strong paper advertising-wise. We’re constantly thinking and rethinking this stuff. But as of this conversation, Sunday is Sunday and we don’t plan to change that at all.”

He adds: “We’re trying to mesh the new world with the printing press, and I think we’re coming out in an OK place. Better than an OK place. A good place.”

Memo Friday II: Boston.com GM addresses speed issue

Also on Thursday, The New York Times posted the results of a test showing that Boston.com loads slower than any mobile news site it measured — and that the way it handles advertising is the cause. According to the Times, it takes Boston.com 30.8 seconds to load all those ads, about three times worse than the next-worst offender.

Boston.com general manager Eleanor Cleverly responded with an email to the staff vowing to do better. A copy of her email wafted in through an open window here at Media Nation:

As you may have read, NYTimes.com published an article and related graphic, “The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites,” that profiles performance on many of today’s most trafficked destinations. An unfortunate, but accurate conclusion from their report is that Boston.com remains a standout in the time and data burden it places on users when loading advertisements and content.

This is not news to us at Boston.com. Optimizing our mobile and desktop load time and ad experience has been top-of-mind since the beginning of the year. We are in the process of one major project, the migration of Boston.com from our legacy CMS Methode to WordPress, that has allowed us to tackle some foundational improvements in an ongoing effort to solve the problem. Further, we’ve setup collaborative teams to address our mobile ad experience and ad blocking as a BGMP-wide [that’s short for Boston Globe Media Partners] concern. Key questions and applicable solutions will be relayed over the next quarter.

We’ll continue to keep the digital group updated, but it will take changes across the organization to realize real quantitative returns. We collectively got us to this point, and it will take a collective effort, putting the reader experience first, to make Boston.com the best-in-class website we envision it to be.

My door is open to additional conversations on the topic and creative solutions are always welcome.


Holding campus police departments accountable

Photo (cc) by xx. Some rights reserved.

Photo (cc) by jakubsabata. Some rights reserved.

Should police reports at private colleges and universities be considered public records in the same way that those at public colleges and in cities and towns are? You would think so. After all, as Shawn Musgrave reports for the public-records website MuckRock:

Sworn campus police may carry weapons, make arrests and use force, just like any other officer. Statute grants special state police “the same power to make arrests as regular police officers” for crimes committed on property owned or used by their institutions. Particularly in Boston, campus borders are difficult to trace, and some of the most populous areas lie within university police jurisdiction.

Yet because police departments at private institutions of higher learning are non-governmental agencies, they are not subject to the state’s notoriously weak public-records law, which requires police departments to show its log of incidents and arrests to any member of the public upon request.

Campus police departments do not operate entirely in the dark — as Musgrave notes, they must make certain records public under the federal Clery Act. And he found that many departments provided their logs when he asked for them. But privately employed police officers exercise the same powers as those working for the public, and they should be subject to the same disclosure laws.

Musgrave’s report, posted on Sept. 15, has been gathering steam. Today his story is on the front page of The Boston Globe, which has long had a relationship with MuckRock. Earlier it was flagged by Boston magazine and by Boston.com.

As Musgrave reports, state Rep. Kevin Honan, a Brighton Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would bring campus police departments and other privately employed police officers under the umbrella of the public records law. It’s a bill that has failed several times previously. But perhaps increased public scrutiny will lead to a better result.