Consider the humble newspaper editorial. Unsigned and often unread, these gray exercises in cautious chin-stroking — representing as they do the theoretically awesome power of the institution — assert, applaud, deplore, and urge. But only rarely do they leap off the screen or page and grab the reader by the throat.
For the past several years, though, The Boston Globe’s opinionators have been trying desperately to break free from that swirling vortex of irrelevance. A satirical front page imagining a Trump presidency drew applause, moans, and brickbats. More successfully, the paper published several digital editorials about gun violence that incorporated interactive data presentations and online tools for contacting elected officials. (Here’s the most recent example.)
Now the Globe has embarked on its most audacious campaign yet: a call for newspapers across the country to publish editorials this Thursday condemning President Trump’s repeated assertions that journalists are “the enemy of the American people.”
H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest didn’t want to run a newspaper. In 2014 the Philadelphia billionaire, who died last week at the age of 88, unexpectedly won an auction to buy the city’s paper of record, the Inquirer, and its sister properties, the Daily News and Philly.com, media outlets that he already owned in part and was hoping to unload. “He did not expect to have to write a check that day,” Joel Mathis, a former reporter for Philadelphia magazine, told me. “He thought he was going to be getting a check that day.”
Just a few weeks later, Lenfest’s business partner, Lewis Katz, was killed in a plane crash along with six others, leaving Lenfest as the sole, unhappy proprietor. Lenfest’s solution to his dilemma was an act of generosity that continues to reverberate, and that could serve as a possible blueprint for saving the shrinking newspaper business.
A source sent this to me a little while ago. It’s a message from Vinay Mehra, the president and chief financial officer of Boston Globe Media. Not a lot of news here. For my money, the most interesting revelations are that Stat, the company’s health and life-sciences vertical, continues to grow, and that Design New England magazine has been discontinued. (Confession: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an issue.)
For more on the Arc content-management system and the latest on the Globe’s digital subscriptions, see the email interview I did with publisher John Henry last week for WGBH News.
The full text of Mehra’s message follows.
Happy summer! As we go into the second half of the year, the Senior Leadership Team and I would like to share with you where things stand midpoint of this year. Here are some highlights:
The newsroom continues to hit it out of the park. The Spotlight Team was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for a series on race that spurred an unprecedented conversation in this region. Our recent TSA piece has made waves nationally. Day in, day out, there is uniquely compelling journalism on our site and print pages, including the launch of the latest reader advocacy initiative, the Help Desk.
We continue to invest in the future of the Globe. Our latest investment in our digital future is ARC, our new publishing platform that will result in the redesign of our Globe.com website, and the launch of an ioS and Android Boston Globe app in August. There has been great collaborative work across the company to get to this point, and I am grateful for everyone’s help.
We have been disciplined on reducing costs, from ensuring we establish a robust contract management process to more tightly managing expenses, and continue to push ourselves on creating new revenue opportunities and exploring new ways to meet readers where they are, leveraged by our entrepreneurial spirit.
While advertising sales continues to experience industry disruption, we are excited about the potential of BG BrandLabs and sponsored content — we have completed 21 customer campaigns since the beginning of the year and have 14 more in our pipeline. Leading companies across the region appreciate and seek out partnerships with us and we will continue to build on that momentum.
Subscription revenues are on budget with our digital subscriber base over 94,000, putting us #1 among U.S. major metros in terms of total digital subscription revenue. With Pete [Doucette]’s departure, I have made the decision to conduct a search for a new head of consumer revenues, and I am pleased with the initial results of the search and the caliber of candidates who are interested in the role.
After months of negotiation, we have an agreement with the Pressman, Mailers and the Drivers unions. We appreciated the partnership with the bargaining committees and these new contracts give us the flexibility we need to continue to meet the needs of the market and industry.
We made the difficult but necessary decision to discontinue publishing Design New England magazine in order to redirect resources into our growth. This was hard news for our colleagues affected by the change, but we were transparent with the decision making process and explored all options before coming to this decision.
STAT, our bold life sciences initiative, continues to see impressive growth – year over year growth in advertising by 59% and growth in subscribers by 308%.
The constant change we are experiencing is what it feels like to be in transformation, and frankly, it will continue. While it is no doubt challenging to navigate in a business as dynamic as ours, I can tell you that we are not alone in this challenge and I believe that our organization will be positioned for success. Since starting at the Globe, I have spent a lot of time out in the field speaking with CEOs in the greater Boston area, familiarizing myself with the unique perspectives within the region and forging relationships that will ultimately allow our organization to help tell the incredible stories of growth, disruption and innovation in our backyard. The good (and bad) news is that I hear the exact same set of challenges in all of these discussions. Everyone, in every industry, is experiencing the very real ups and downs of transformation. The key for us is to stay focused on why we do the work we do, because what I also hear in these conversations is that we, the Globe, are critical to this city.
Success will require that all of us — and particularly the Senior Leadership Team — work across boundaries as one Boston Globe and in harmony with our partners. In the coming month, the Senior Leadership Team and I will be engaging in a strategic planning process to determine our plans for long-term growth. Expect to hear more from us after some of that work is done.
Finally, I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will inform and improve other people’s lives. This is the opportunity that drives each of us at this company.
Thank you for your ongoing support and hard work. I recognize we wouldn’t be where we are without the contributions made by each and every one of you.
Nearly five years after the billionaire financier announced that he would buy The Boston Globe, there’s a low but persistent buzz within the city’s media and political circles that Henry is tired of losing money and looking to get out. But Henry, who is also the principal owner of the Red Sox, insists there’s nothing to it.
“I don’t think of selling any local assets during my lifetime,” Henry said in an email interview. “Linda and I love and are committed to this city.”
Henry holds the title of Globe publisher. His wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, is the managing director and, even more than her husband, is a regular presence at the Globe’s offices.
Henry responded to a range of questions I recently emailed to him. He declined to offer answers on two issues: whether he thought columnist Kevin Cullen could regain the trust of his readers after he returns from a three-month suspension for ethics violations; and how he plans to handle former Boston.com editor and reporter Hilary Sargent’s claims that she was sexually harassed by Globe editor Brian McGrory — claims that she has continued to assert even after the Globe’s recent announcement that investigators had interviewed Sargent and cleared McGrory. Henry did offer praise for McGrory’s performance as editor, saying, “Brian has done a terrific job of early on moving us primarily into local reporting and over the past year or so has really moved us to more and more relevant, interesting and compelling stories across New England. Every day there are ‘can’t miss’ stories.”
As is the case with many daily newspapers, the Globe has staked its future on its ability to sell digital subscriptions. The Globe missed its target of signing up 100,000 digital-only subscribers by the end of June — a crucial benchmark on the way to 200,000, which McGrory and other Globe executives have identified as one of the keys to long-term financial sustainability. Those efforts are about to get a significant boost. Earlier this year, it was announced that the paper would adopt The Washington Post’s highly regarded content-management system, Arc, both for internal operations and for re-energizing the Globe’s web and mobile platforms.
Globe spokeswoman Jane Bowman said the rollout would begin in August, with updates throughout the fall and full adoption by the end of the year. “The move to Arc will relaunch globe.com with a focus on site speed and driving user engagement,” Bowman said via email. “We will extend our mobile offerings, with Arc powering new iOS and Android apps for digital subscribers. The newsroom will have access to Arc’s advanced testing and analytics tools, giving us deeper insight into how readers engage with our content.”
Henry also had some provocative things to say about objectivity, telling me, “A news journalist (as opposed to a columnist) has an obligation to sift through whatever evidence he or she can find and give the reader what actually has happened or is happening to the best of his or her ability much like a juror in a courtroom is asked to do. Today we get the news interpreted far too often rather than reported.”
The financier-turned-publisher’s efforts to reinvent the Globe as a business have been mixed. Expanded print sections, for the most part, have not worked out, as advertising to support those sections failed to materialize. Crux, a free website devoted to covering the Catholic Church, was given away to its star columnist, John Allen. A new $75 million printing plant in Taunton got off to a slow start, resulting in poor quality, late and missed deliveries, and the loss of client publications such as the Boston Herald and USA Today. A revamped version of Boston.com, stripped of Globe content, never really achieved liftoff.
On the other hand, the standalone website Stat, which covers health and life sciences, keeps chugging along. The newsroom and business operations were moved from the paper’s hulking, outmoded plant in Dorchester (sold for about $80 million) to downtown Boston. The Globe’s journalism remains excellent, and the newsroom, with about 220 full-timers, is far larger than it would have been if the paper had fallen into the hands of a corporate chain — as we saw this week with New York’s Daily News, whose staff was cut in half by tronc, its bizarrely named owner.
According to The Washington Post, the Daily News had as many as 400 full-time editorial employees in the late 1980s. After this week’s cuts, that number is now about 45 — an indication not only of how fortunate the Globe has been to have Henry at the helm, but of how bad it might get if he can’t turn things around.
A transcript of my email conversation with Henry follows.
Q: From time to time people tell me that you are considering selling the Globe. Lately that kind of talk has been more persistent — I’ve heard people say that you’re tired of losing money and perhaps tired of the recent controversies. So: Are you planning to sell the Globe?
A: We have had no discussions about selling nor is anything contemplated. I don’t think of selling any local assets during my lifetime. Linda and I love and are committed to this city.
The Globe cannot ever seem to meet budgets — on either the revenue side or the expense side and I am not going to continue that. This has always been about sustainability rather than sizable, endless, annual losses. That is frustrating and due to a combination of mismanagement and a tough industry.
Q: If you are not planning to sell the Globe, are you committed to keeping it for the foreseeable future, which I’ll define as the next three to five years?
A: There is no time frame, honestly. We want to do our part and will, but ultimately the community’s support and the excellence of the paper will determine the long-term future.
I believe this community will support a news organization of this caliber. Brian has done a terrific job of early on moving us primarily into local reporting and over the past year or so has really moved us to more and more relevant, interesting and compelling stories across New England. Every day there are “can’t miss” stories.
Journalism is under attack in this country. We all know facts are under attack. Facts. What should be under attack in journalism these days are not facts but the lack of objective reporting. Personally I reject the notion that you can’t have highly objective reporting although the media seems to believe it isn’t possible. To me that is a long-held myth that has no place in a democracy. A news journalist (as opposed to a columnist) has an obligation to sift through whatever evidence he or she can find and give the reader what actually has happened or is happening to the best of his or her ability much like a juror in a courtroom is asked to do. Today we get the news interpreted far too often rather than reported.
Q: When I was doing my reporting for my book “The Return of the Moguls,” you and others told me that the Globe’s revenues were about $300 million a year. Could you tell me what they are today? What is the gap between revenues and expenses — in other words, how much are you losing?
A: The annual losses are just not sustainable but even if I personally felt that it was acceptable to continue losing significant sums, it does not put the news organization on the road to sustainability. Sooner or later it must sustain itself and it will — again though it will require the Globe convincing the community that it is worthwhile to support.
Q: Do you have concrete plans to fill the gap and move to break-even? You’ve had some success in charging for digital subscriptions, but what can you point to beyond that? How many digital-only subscribers do you now have — did you meet the 100,000 target that had been announced for the end of June?
A: Bridging the gap will not be easy but we have been working on it all year. Last week [early July] we were at 94,797 digital-only subscribers. While the numbers continue to grow, advertising revenues across the country are being gobbled up by Google and Facebook. Bloomberg today reported, “Omnicom Group suffered its biggest decline in nine years after posting sluggish results, renewing concerns that the ad giant can weather media disruption spurred by the likes of Google and Facebook.”
Q: Do you believe the Taunton printing problems have been straightened out or are at least under control? Contracted work was supposed to be a big part of your strategy, but you have lost customers, including the Boston Herald and USA Today. Do you have a strategy to sign up new customers or to lure back old ones (or both)?
A: Yes, and everyone there has been doing everything they can to reduce costs while at the same time getting used to new equipment that initially was extremely challenging.
Whether or not we print other publications comes down to cost primarily. Our cost structure was such that the Herald could be printed more cheaply out of the area. Our costs also led to minimal profit from printing other papers. If we can get our costs in line and be efficient enough we will have almost certainly have more commercial clients than The New York Times.
Q: When will you name a successor to editorial-page editor Ellen Clegg, who recently announced her retirement? [Clegg and I plan to work on a project together. See this disclosure.] Have you chosen anyone? Can you say who that is?
A: This is an extremely important position so we will take our time. Ellen has done a superb job for us and we will miss her.
Q: What do you expect the Globe’s adoption of The Washington Post’s Arc platform is going to accomplish for you? When will that be implemented?
A: I’m not the best person to talk with about this, but it is exciting. Our number one issue is reader experience and having an app experience across platforms as well as a new site will be great for readers.
Moments ago a source sent me a copy of an email that went out to Boston Globe staff members today about an internal investigation into allegations by former Boston.com editor Hilary Sargent that she had been sexually harassed by Globe editor Brian McGrory. The email is signed by Claudia Henderson, the Globe’s chief human resources officer, and Dan Krockmalnic, the Globe’s general counsel.
As you will see, we don’t learn much. But it sounds like, from the Globe’s point of view, it’s over. The key sentence: “While the investigation revealed a series of exchanges and interactions between Mr. McGrory and Ms. Sargent that were of a personal nature, the investigator found that they were initiated by and reciprocated by both parties, and did not violate our anti-harassment policy.”
The email in full is as follows.
We write to let you know that the investigation conducted by outside counsel into the matter regarding Brian McGrory that was raised by Hilary Sargent has concluded. Over the past several weeks since these allegations first surfaced, the investigator has conducted a thorough review that included multiple interviews of both Mr. McGrory and Ms. Sargent. While the investigation revealed a series of exchanges and interactions between Mr. McGrory and Ms. Sargent that were of a personal nature, the investigator found that they were initiated by and reciprocated by both parties, and did not violate our anti-harassment policy.
We have addressed this personnel matter directly with Mr. McGrory, and will not comment further out of respect for the privacy of the individuals involved.
We very much appreciate that this has been a difficult time for the team. We are grateful for the complete cooperation of Ms. Sargent and Mr. McGrory, and we look forward to moving ahead
As you all know, earlier in the year, we introduced EthicsPoint, a confidential reporting tool to assist employees in addressing workplace misconduct or violations. We also conducted anti-harassment training for managers and will continue to host these on an annual basis.
Thank you for your patience and, most importantly, for the crucial work you do here every day.
Also, Sargent makes it clear on Twitter that the Globe’s announcement is far from an amicable resolution. For instance, she tweeted this morning: “If what I spent more than seven hours describing to the @BostonGlobe didn’t make them want to interview a SINGLE corroborating witness, you have to wonder why. What kind of investigation doesn’t have the truth as its goal? This kind.”
Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal reports that Boston Globe editorial-page editor Ellen Clegg has announced her retirement, and he notes that sports editor Joe Sullivan recently said he would retire as well.
I suspect the sports section will be just fine. Clegg’s shoes, on the other hand, may prove to be difficult to fill. A longtime Globe employee, Clegg followed Peter Canellos, an exceptionally thoughtful editor who took a top job at Politico after leaving the Globe several years ago. Clegg proved to be an innovator both online and in print. More important, she has a close working relationship with owners John and Linda Henry, which has really mattered given the Henrys’ ongoing interest in the editorial pages. You’ll find a synopsis of those innovations in an interview I did with Clegg for the Nieman Journalism Lab earlier this year.
And now for some personal news. For the past several months Clegg and I have been talking about working together on a project, probably a textbook about opinion journalism. I’ve known for a while that she was retiring — the project is not something I could take on if she’d stayed at the Globe given the conflict of interest with my work at “Beat the Press” and WGBH News. So I’m glad Clegg’s departure is finally out in the open.
Although we’ve sketched out a few ideas, we are a long way from producing anything. She’s not leaving the Globe until mid-August. I just wanted to let you know that Ellen and I will be working together before you heard it from anyone else.
The lawyer for Hilary Sargent, the former top editor of Boston.com who recently accused Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory of sexual harassment in several tweets two weeks ago, has filed documents in Suffolk Superior Court in response to the Globe’s demand that she turn over records about her claim. A judge has scheduled a hearing on the Globe’s case for this Thursday at 2 p.m.
Here is the case laying out her opposition to the Globe’s motion. And here is her affidavit.
I recently wrote a backgrounder for WGBH News that you may find useful.
As if there weren’t enough turmoil at The Boston Globe, president Vinay Mehra and editor Brian McGrory earlier today announced another round of budget cuts. Mehra and McGrory say they hope to find the savings they need through buyouts, but they won’t rule out layoffs. No word on how many people they are hoping will exit the building. The memos were obtained from a newsroom source.
In addition, the last vestiges of the Sunday zoned editions for local news are being all but eliminated, as Globe North, Globe South and Globe West are being combined into a Sunday section to be called Globe Local.
Both Mehra and McGrory claim the effect on the Globe’s journalism will be minimal. Obviously, though, this is a perilous route to take at a time when the paper is trying to offset an industry-wide decline in ad revenues with high-priced digital subscriptions. McGrory has previously said the Globe is on track to hit 100,000 digital subscriptions by the end of June, and that the paper may approach sustainability if that number can be doubled during the next few years. It’s encouraging that readers are willing to pay — but it remains to be seen if they will pay more for less.
“As to what it all means — well, a lot,” McGrory writes. “It means there was an unanticipated revenue shortfall heading toward the last half of the year and we need to stem it quickly. It means that this business hasn’t gotten any easier…. This does not mean there is a hiring freeze. This does not signal Draconian cuts. It gives us the most options, in the most humane way possible. We are absolutely hiring for key jobs, with a couple of offers out there as I write.”
What follows is the top of Mehra’s memo, minus a detailed explanation of how employees can apply for the buyout.
Every day The Boston Globe produces the best news report in the region and one of the best regional reports in the country. But as the news business changes, and more subscribers seek to read us on digital, our cost structure remains out of line with the realities of the industry.
While we have built a large and growing digital business, we still have an organization built on the profit margins and specific needs of the print era, where the economics continue to be challenging as advertising has shrunk across the sector. We’ve done much to change; we still have more to do. We can’t afford to slow down in our efforts to build The Boston Globe of the future, one in which subscribers play an increasingly central role in our revenue model.
So we are now announcing a buyout primarily designed for people in our newsroom, advertising, and marketing departments. We will use any savings to address the current economic realities and invest in our core strength — great journalism, with an eye toward our digital offerings.
We are optimistic that the buyout, the first in two years, will result in the savings we need to create a sustainable Globe. If we do not get enough takers, we’ll have to consider all other options, including layoffs.
We know the last few years have been a time of dramatic change, and that it has placed tremendous pressure on everyone in the organization. And we know that this latest buyout — like previous ones — will mean saying goodbye to cherished colleagues. But this is a good moment to take stock of how much we have already accomplished in growing our digital audience and telling stories in different ways. We must take this next step – so we can invest in our growth and enhance our stature as a news organization.
And here is the full text of McGrory’s memo.
No doubt that many of you have questions about the buyout, what it means generally, what it specifically means to those interested. I’d like to be helpful, and Jen [managing editor Jennifer Peter] can be as well.
Briefly, I’ll say that we haven’t done one of these in a couple of years, and I would advise against going into it assuming there will be another any time soon. This one, as you’ve likely noted, will differ in a few key ways from past practice. First, people will get two weeks for every year of service, but the total package will be capped at six months. Second, the company is asking that you declare your intentions within the first two weeks of the offer. Third, you won’t get personalized packages sent to your homes; rather, if you’re interested, you’re encouraged to make an appointment with human resources straightaway for a direct discussion.
As to what it all means — well, a lot. It means there was an unanticipated revenue shortfall heading toward the last half of the year and we need to stem it quickly. It means that this business hasn’t gotten any easier. It means that the company has agreed to take the most flexible approach to the newsroom and a couple of other departments. This does not mean there is a hiring freeze. This does not signal Draconian cuts. It gives us the most options, in the most humane way possible. We are absolutely hiring for key jobs, with a couple of offers out there as I write. The success of this organization is going to rise in no small part on the success of this room.
Will it lead to newsroom layoffs? I’m optimistic that it won’t, but can’t make guarantees. I don’t believe it would be a significant number under any circumstance. We need to see who puts in for it. I’ll be as open as possible about the need and our plans.
Cuts are being made elsewhere in the newsroom — and across the organization. We’re making some page reductions that we hope will have no major impact on our readers. These trims will give us cost savings from materials and freelance spending, and free up editing resources that can be devoted to other places. One change worth noting is to our regional editions — Globe North, Globe South, and Globe West. Our editors do great work putting out high quality sections week after week, but revenue-wise, they are on the verge of going under water. We are planning to create one edition that will run across all zones, called Globe Local, and zone the advertising, so that businesses still have a lower cost, more targeted option. In other words, if you’re a bank on the South Shore, you can advertise in the Globe Local edition that only goes to the South Shore, but the journalism in it will come from all over.
Again, feel free to come see me or Jen, individually, in small groups, or however you want. I am truly hopeful that this buyout will work well for a good number of people, and that the faster process will allow us to not lose sight of our vital work.
Many readers of The Boston Globe may not have heard that editor Brian McGrory had been accused of sexual harassment until they picked up today’s paper and cast their eyes to the bottom of page one. In fact, the story has been building since Sunday, when Hilary Sargent, a former top editor at the Globe’s free website, Boston.com, tweeted a text exchange she said she had with McGrory in which he asked what she wears when she writes. Sargent’s tweet was the most explosive development in a situation that extends back to December.
For those of you who haven’t been following the story closely, or who are only learning about it now, I’ve put together a list of some of the key moments thus far. But, as they say, stay tuned.
1. The Globe botches its coverage of sexual harassment at the paper. A Globe article on the burgeoning #MeToo movement within the local media last December failed to identifypolitical reporter Jim O’Sullivan, who had left the paper for misconduct — including, reportedly, sexually harassing women on Beacon Hill. The story also did not identify several other former Globe employees who had been accused of sexual harassment.
After an uproar, McGrory reversed himself and issued a statement in which he identified O’Sullivan and took responsibility for making a “mistake” and for failing “to grasp the need for transparency by this organization,” though he did not apologize. During and after the O’Sullivan imbroglio, Sargent — who was an intern at the Globe in the late 1990s and then was hired to help run Boston.com in 2014 (she is also a former WGBH News staff member) — began tweeting about her own experiences with sexual harassment at the paper. She offered little in the way of detail, but repeatedly urged the Globe to dig more deeply into its own culture.
2. Sargent tweets that McGrory responded inappropriately to a text message she had sent him. On Sunday, Sargent’s long-simmering complaints got more detailed when she tweeted out the image of a text exchange she said she’d had with McGrory in which she asked for writing advice and he responded: “Got it. What do you generally wear when you write?” Sargent: “Seriously?” The response: “Well, not entirely.” Sargent explained why she had tweeted out the exchange this way: “If you’ve ever been sent a sext-type text from someone who was powerful enough that you felt you couldn’t do anything (other than panic/shake your head/cry), you’re not alone. The more we tweet these, the less they’ll send them. #MeToo.”
3. The media slowly begin to pick up on the story. The website Turtleboy Sports republished Sargent’s tweet and, on WEEI Radio (93.7 FM), longtime Globe antagonists Kirk Minihane and Gerry Callahan alluded to it as well. But the story got its first full airing Tuesday evening on WGBH News’ “Greater Boston,” when Adam Reilly, Emily Rooney, and I tried to make sense of what was going on. We urged the Globe to make a thorough accounting of what had happened and to report what action would be taken.
“Sargent has not made clear the timing of the text message from McGrory,” wrote Rooney in summing up our discussion. “We do not know if it was after she left the Globe in February of 2016 or while she worked there. Nor do we know the context of this one text, what was said before or after, or whether they regularly shared this kind of banter in text message exchanges.”
Neither the Globe nor Sargent would comment on the specifics, although both sides did issue statements. “We are aware of Hilary Sargeant’s [sic] tweets. We have no comment at this time,” said Globe spokeswoman Jane Bowman. Sargent’s statement said in full:
Women deserve to be treated professionally and taken seriously. It is crucial that individuals in leadership positions are held to the same high standard of conduct that the Globe would expect of any individuals in leadership positions at other similarly powerful institutions. Those in leadership positions at media organizations have significant influence over how the issue of sexual harassment is covered, and the coverage they oversee should never be tainted or colored by their own missteps and misdeeds.
We discussed the issue with Brian in an attempt to understand both the nature of any exchanges between the two parties and also whether or not these exchanges occurred during her employment. We also reached out to Ms. Sargent, the former employee, to ascertain the timing and context of the text in question. At this time it is still unclear when these exchanges took place. We expect to have resolution on this matter soon but did not want to wait another day to connect with you directly.
At about 8:15 p.m., amid whispers that a front-page story was on the way, McGrory himself issued a statement in which he said he could not remember sending the “what do you generally wear” text to Sargent and saying that he and Sargent had “dated many years ago. We did not work together at the time, and we’ve remained friendly over the years.” He added that “months after Hilary left boston.com, we would sometimes exchange text messages that included the kind of personal banter of two people very familiar with each other. I regret that very much for reasons that go far beyond the Globe.”
There is much to ponder in McGrory’s statement, and I urge you to read it in full. But the message he clearly wants to get across is this: “I can’t believe I have to write these words, but I have never harassed Hilary Sargent or any other women at the Globe or anywhere else — ever. I don’t believe I have ever acted inappropriately with anyone at this company.”
Finally, after 10 p.m., the Globe posted a story on its website reported by Mark Arsenault that also appears on page one in today’s paper. (McGrory’s statement is republished as well.) The story contains a jarring piece of news: The Globe either plans to sue or is threatening to sue Sargent in Superior Court. “That suit,” Arsenault writes, “would seek to compel Sargent under the terms of her 2016 separation agreement from the organization to provide the newspaper more information about the text in question, such as the date, and ask for unspecified damages.” It was a highly aggressive move, to say the least, and seems questionable from a public-relations point of view.
Arsenault also quoted an email from Sargent in which she strongly pushed back on McGrory’s statement that he had never harassed anyone: “If Brian McGrory truly does not believe he has ever acted inappropriately with anyone at The Boston Globe, then he and I have a remarkably different understanding of what is — and is not — appropriate.”
5. Sargent publicly responds. Shortly after Arsenault’s story was published, Sargent tweeted: “For approximately six months I have reached out to the@BostonGlobe asking to discuss with them the extent to which sexual harassment has been an issue – long ago and not so long ago. My offer still stands. I have not refused to assist in their ‘investigation.’”
This morning she added: “With the @BostonGlobe threatening a lawsuit, I will only say this. This isn’t about one text. This isn’t about just him. And this isn’t about just me. I’m horrified that the newspaper that purports to shine a ‘Spotlight’ is doing everything in their power to do just the opposite.”
And there matters stand — for now.
6. McGrory strikes back. On Thursday evening, we recorded a special webcast of “Beat the Press” to discuss the latest. No sooner had we finished than we learned of another bombshell: a private attorney for McGrory had written a letter threatening to sue Sargent for libel, claiming that she had made “false and defamatory statements” about McGrory.
The lawyer, Martin Murphy of the Boston firm Foley Hoag, writes that Sargent has omitted context from her accusations that “falsely cast Mr. McGrory as a person who used his position to sexually harass Ms. Sargent, and falsely portrayed him as part of that group of men who have, in fact, used their positions to sexually harass and assault women. Ms. Sargent’s false and defamatory statements are and continue to be actionable, and they have already caused harm to Mr. McGrory.”
You can read Murphy’s letter in full by clicking here. The Globe’s Arsenault reported on the letter as well.
I’m doing this on my phone, so forgive the formatting. Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory send this to the staff a little while ago, and several sources provided it to me.
To the newsroom,
Hilary Sargent is someone I have known for a long time, been fond of personally, and respected professionally. To say the least, I was not anticipating the situation this week.
Hilary released on Monday what she said was an exchange between us. I have no recollection of it, which, admittedly, is embarrassing to me. I have asked Hilary to provide the date and a more complete version of the exchange. She has not addressed my request. I have told the Globe’s owners that the company should feel free to retrieve our text messages by whatever means possible, and I am trying myself.
Absent that information, I do think some context is needed.
First, Hilary and I dated many years ago. We did not work together at the time, and we’ve remained friendly over the years.
Second, when Hilary came to boston.com in 2014, I had no role, no say whatsoever, in her hire. She did not report to me, even indirectly. The site had a separate editor answering directly to the front office. We were on mutually friendly terms, and I do not believe I ever wrote, spoke, or acted in a disrespectful way to her.
Third, months after Hilary left boston.com, we would sometimes exchange text messages that included the kind of personal banter of two people very familiar with each other. I regret that very much for reasons that go far beyond the Globe.
I can’t believe I have to write these words, but I have never harassed Hilary Sargent or any other women at the Globe or anywhere else – ever. I don’t believe I have ever acted inappropriately with anyone at this company. I have been a manager two different times over my 29 years with this organization – from 2007 to 2009 as the Metro editor, and from 2013 to now as the editor. I cannot think of a time, not one, when I treated any female colleague with anything but respect. I have never faced any sort of complaint, formal or informal, whether as a manager or not. I have consistently put women in leadership positions, such that newsroom management is split equally by gender, with talented women holding many of the most pivotal jobs – managing editor, news editor, innovations editor, Spotlight editor, just to name a few. I devoted myself to the issue of gender pay equity from the first months that I took this position, and I’m proud to say that in key categories in the newsroom, we have achieved it. Tough decisions that have affected women and men have been made during my tenure, inevitable in an industry that is losing revenue each year. But I have always tried to address these challenges with a basic sense of decency.
I have no desire to argue with Hilary Sargent, publicly or privately. In fact, I very much respect her abilities as a journalist. But I do think that it’s important to have the broader context known.
Finally, I fully realize the toll this has taken on the newsroom, the distraction it has caused and the questions it has understandably raised. My one request is that everyone remains focused on the vital work of the Globe each and every day.