Hilary Sargent responds to the Globe’s demand that she produce records

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.

Friday update

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On top of everything else, the Globe announces another round of downsizing

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.

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What we know so far about the Boston Globe sexual-harassment story

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.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

McGrory responds in memo to staff

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.

Brian

Globe executives address sexual-harassment accusation against Brian McGrory

Two top Boston Globe executives, managing director Linda Pizzuti Henry and president Vinay Mehra, sent this out to the staff earlier this afternoon. A source passed it on a little while ago. As you’ll see, the message concerns a charge by Hilary Sargent, a former top editor at Boston.com, that she was sexually harassed by Globe editor Brian McGrory in a text message, which she posted on Twitter this past Monday.

Emily Rooney, Adam Reilly and I discussed the situation Tuesday evening on “Greater Boston.”

The full text of Henry and Mehra’s message (except for an internal link for reporting employee concerns) follows.

As you may be aware, a former employee has publicly suggested that there was an inappropriate text exchange between Brian McGrory and her. As we discussed last fall and at the last newsroom Town Hall, we are deeply committed to creating a safe, comfortable, welcoming working environment for all employees. We have multiple avenues for employees to use to escalate concerns and will work to expeditiously address any issues raised going forward or looking back.

This issue is no exception. When we first learned about the social media discussion mentioned above, we began investigating to gather as much relevant information as we could. 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. We want to reiterate how important your work is, how important your contributions are to us and how seriously we take assertions of improper conduct.

If there is anything you would like to discuss related to this matter or any others, please do not hesitate to reach out to us or any member of the management or human resources team….

Thank you.

Linda & Vinay

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Book excerpt: How John Henry overcame his doubts about buying The Boston Globe

John Henry

WGBH News contributor Dan Kennedy’s new book, “The Return of the Moguls: How Jeff Bezos and John Henry Are Remaking Newspapers for the Twenty-First Century,” examines whether a new generation of wealthy owners can help solve the financial crisis that threatens the beleaguered newspaper business. In this excerpt, Kennedy, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, tells the story of how Red Sox Principal Owner John Henry decided to buy The Boston Globe from the New York Times Co.

Please join us either in person or via Facebook Live Tuesday May 15 at 4:30 p.m., when Kennedy will be interviewed by Beat the Press Host Emily Rooney at the WGBH studio at the Boston Public Library.

***

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.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

No, the Digital First approach to newspaper ownership is not defensible

Politico media columnist Jack Shafer has written, if you can believe it, a semi-defense of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital and its principal, Randall Smith, who are in the midst of running their newspapers into the ground. Alden owns the Digital First Media chain, whose Denver Post is the locus of an insurrection against hedge-fund ownership. The 100-paper chain also owns three Massachusetts properties: the Boston Herald, The Sun of Lowell and the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg.

Shafer’s argument is a simple one: the end is at hand for the newspaper business, no one has figured out how to reverse its shrinking fortunes, and so therefore Smith can’t be blamed for squeezing out the last few drops of profit before the industry collapses. “Smith may be a rapacious fellow,” Shafer writes, “but his primary crime is recognizing that print is approaching its expiration date and is acting on the fact that more value can be extracted by sucking the marrow than by investing deeper or selling.”

Now, it’s possible that Shafer is right. But I’m considerably more optimistic about the future of newspapers than he is. Let me offer a few countervailing examples.

1. I certainly don’t want to sound naive about GateHouse Media, a chain of several hundred papers controlled by yet another hedge fund, Fortress Investment Group. GateHouse, which dominates Eastern Massachusetts, runs its papers on the cheap, too, and I’ve got a lot of problems with its barebones coverage of the communities it serves.

But GateHouse, unlike Digital First, is committed to newspapers. That’s why both insiders and outsiders were hoping GateHouse would buy the Herald. I genuinely think the folks at GateHouse are trying to crack the code on how to do community journalism at a profit for some years to come — and yes, its journalists are underpaid, and yes, I don’t like the fact that some editing operations have been centralized in Austin, Texas. But it could be worse, as Digital First demonstrates. For some insight into the GateHouse strategy, see this NPR story.

2. Smaller independently owned daily papers without debt can do well. The Berkshire Eagle is in the midst of a revival following its sale by Digital First to local business interests several years ago. In Maine, a printer named Reade Brower has built an in-state chain centered around the Portland Press Herald that by all accounts is doing well.

3. Large regional papers like The Denver Post are the most endangered. Transforming The Washington Post into a profitable national news organization, as Jeff Bezos has done, was a piece of cake compared to saving metros. As I describe in “The Return of the Moguls,” billionaire owner John Henry of The Boston Globe is pursuing a strategy that could result in a return to profitability: charging as much as the market will bear for print delivery (now up to more than $1,000 a year) and digital subscriptions ($30 a month). Globe executives say the paper is on track to pass the 100,000 mark for digital subscriptions in the first half of this year, and that the business model will start to look sustainable if it can reach 200,000.

In other words, reinventing the newspaper business is not a hopeless task. Randall Smith and Alden Global Capital have taken the easy, cynical route — but not the only route. There are better ways.

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What we know so far about the Kevin Cullen investigation

With Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen’s fate in the hands of outside investigators, I thought I would pull together what we know so far. I’ll begin with an internal memo that editor Brian McGrory sent to the staff late last week, a copy of which I obtained from several sources. We talked about the memo Friday on “Beat the Press” (above).

I hope you can understand our desire to seek facts before we address the assertions that have been publicly raised about the work of our colleague, Kevin Cullen. That said, I want to offer an update on the process. We’ve enlisted Kathleen Carroll and Tom Fiedler to oversee the review. Their involvement will help assure objectivity as well as speed. Kathleen is the former executive editor of the AP and someone universally respected across the industry. Tom is the dean of the BU College of Communication, the former executive editor of the Miami Herald, and someone whose calling card has always been his integrity. In addition, Daniel Okrent, the former public editor of the New York Times, has agreed to read their report and weigh in as necessary.

The review will consist of two-prongs. First, Kathleen and Tom will focus on marathon-related issues. Separately, we’re undertaking a broader review of Kevin’s work, initially in-house, but we’ll bring in outside help if needed. The first part I’m hoping will be completed within a couple of weeks.

You may see Kathleen and Tom around the newsroom. If they seek your help, please give it to them.

This work, unpleasant as it is, is important to our institutional credibility. I’ll be back to you again when I have more to report.

The investigation was prompted by Cullen’s April 14 column marking the fifth anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. The column has several problems. First, a reader would almost certainly think Cullen was claiming that he was at the finish line in 2013, even though he has said on other occasions that he was about a mile away. As I’ve said several times, the language strikes me as deliberately ambiguous, as though Cullen wanted to create that misimpression, even though he doesn’t come right out and say it. Second, there are apparent reporting errors as well, particularly regarding the actions and identities of the firefighters he mentions.

All of this has been fodder for two weeks on the “Kirk and Callahan” show on WEEI Radio (93.7 FM), which was the first to pick up on the discrepancies. The full details can be found in this blog post by Minihane, which combines fact, speculation (“It may be all true, though I seriously doubt it,” he wrote of a different Cullen column), and vitriol. But give Minihane his due. There are real problems with Cullen’s column, and we wouldn’t be here if not for WEEI. Cullen has been placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

We talked about the Cullen situation on “Beat the Press” last Friday, April 20, and again on April 27 (clip above). Last week my colleague Emily Rooney added her own analysis, reporting that WEEI deceptively edited a Cullen interview that appeared in an HBO documentary. In the more recent clip, we all agreed that the Globe should be more transparent in letting the public know what’s going on beyond this editor’s note, which was published a week ago online and in print.

Also last week, Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal reported on the investigation and spoke with Marcus Breen of Boston College and me. Make of it what you will, but I was struck that Bill Richard, father of the late Martin Richard, whose family is mentioned in Cullen’s column, declined through a spokeswoman to comment.

And that, for the moment, is where things stand. As for myself, I’m a longtime admirer of Cullen’s work. Though I don’t know him personally, we’ve exchanged a few friendly greetings over the years. We should all be willing to wait and see if the investigation finds that the April 14 column represents a momentary lapse — or is an example of something more pervasive.

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Pulitzer round-up: Race, #MeToo and the ever-present Trump story

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The 2018 Pulitzer Prizes are likely to be remembered as the Year of #MeToo, as courageous reporting on Harvey Weinstein and other predatory men sparked what may prove to be an enduring change in relations between the sexes. But the awards, announced Monday at Columbia University, covered a wide of subjects. And perhaps none of those is more difficult than race.

For The Boston Globe, the Pulitzers brought a near-win as well as a haunting voice from the past. The paper’s Spotlight Team was a runner-up in the Local Reporting category for its series on the city’s racial tensions, a painful part of our cultural DNA. And Patricia Smith, a lyrical African-American writer who left the Globe in 1998 after she was discovered to have fabricated characters and situations in her column, was herself a finalist in Poetry.

The Globe’s series, “Boston. Racism. Image. Reality.,” was a massive effort that explored the city’s troubled racial past and present from a variety of angles, including the nearly all-white Seaport District, our newest neighborhood; racial disparities in health care; and how African-Americans fare in higher education and in sports.

For those of us who urge news organizations to reconceptualize journalism as a form of civic engagement, the series was a landmark, sparking deep online discussion and forums at which members of the Spotlight Team met with members of the public. The Pulitzer judges called it “a poignant and illuminating exploration of the city’s fraught history of race relations.” I thought it might win a Pulitzer, perhaps in the Explanatory Reporting category. And though it fell short, it should nevertheless lead to conversation and follow-up stories for some time to come.

Patricia Smith, for those of you who weren’t around during the Globe’s Summer from Hell in 1998, was one of two star columnists who left in the midst of ethical lapses — Smith and Mike Barnicle for writing fiction, and Barnicle for plagiarism as well. Barnicle has remained an outspoken presence during the intervening 20 years, in recent years as a talking head on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” Smith, though, largely disappeared from public view.

To her credit, Smith did the hard work of rebuilding her career. In 2015, The New York Times published a profile of Smith, by then a prize-winning poet as well as a professor at the College of Staten Island. Her selection as a 2018 Pulitzer finalist is for her collection “Incendiary Art,” described by the Pulitzer judges as a “searing portrait of the violence exacted against the bodies of African-American men in America and the grief of the women who mourn them.”

Although perhaps less well-known to those of us whose main interest in the Pulitzers is journalism, the most striking prize of all may have been the one awarded to the rapper Kendrick Lamar, who won in the Music category for his album “DAMN.” According to NPR.org, “It’s the first time in the prize’s history that it has been given to an artist outside of the classical or jazz community.” The Pulitzer judges called the album “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

It is often said that the story of race is the story of America. At a time when our culture is becoming increasingly diverse, and when nearly half of our fellow Americans have made it clear that they fear that diversity, it’s heartening that the 2018 Pulitzers do so much to highlight it.

And congratulations to the Globe and to Patricia Smith.

The media and #MeToo

When considering the charged politics of gender in the workplace, it seems like the world began anew after the Times and The New Yorker exposed the violence-tinged depravity of the former entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein.

The list of once-powerful men who’ve been laid low since the Weinstein revelations is a long one, and includes Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Garrison Keillor, Louis C.K., Al Franken, and others. Locally, Tom Ashbrook of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) would probably still be at the “On Point” mic were it not for #MeToo, even though an investigation of his behavior found that he was a bully, not a sexual harasser.

The Globe has done good work in reporting the #MeToo story (such as columnist Yvonne Abraham’s exposure of former Massachusetts Senate president Stan Rosenberg’s husband, Byron Hefner) and has itself run afoul of rapidly changing workplace mores (consider editor Brian McGrory’s decision not to identify reporter Jim O’Sullivan after he left the paper — a decision McGrory later reversed).

The revelations have slowed down recently. It’s important that the momentum not be lost. By honoring Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey at the Times and Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker with the coveted Public Service Award, the Pulitzer judges have reminded us of how essential their work has been.

We live in a political world

I have made it to nearly the end of this column without mentioning President Trump. You’re welcome. Still, the overarching drama of our time is the chaotic Trump presidency, and the diligence with which that story is covered matters is of paramount importance to the fate of our democracy.

At a time when much of the news media is under siege because of its declining economic prospects, the Times and The Washington Post have both the resources and the competitive drive to try to get to the bottom of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The papers have been excoriated by Trump himself as “failing” and “fake,” but the Pulitzer judges awarded them the National Reporting prize for their “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage.” The Post also won the Investigative Reporting prize for a related story: its exposure of the Trump-backed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore as a probable child molester.

Every week, it seems, brings new evidence of confusion, falsehoods, and possible wrongdoing emanating from the Trump White House. The Times and the Post, fortunately, show no signs of backing down.

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Digital First to move Herald printing to GateHouse’s Providence Journal

When printing the Herald was not a problem. 1881 photo via Wikimedia Commons.

A key part of The Boston Globe’s strategy to reposition itself as a sustainable business has been to establish its printing operation as a regional hub for a variety of publications, including The New York Times and USA Today. That strategy has come under question since last summer, when its new Taunton printing plant got off to an exceedingly rocky start.

Now the Globe has suffered a significant blow, as Digital First Media, the incoming owner of the Boston Herald, will take the tabloid’s printing business to the Providence Journal, owned by GateHouse Media — ironically, one of the losers in the recent bidding to buy the Herald out of bankruptcy. Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal has the details.

The Globe’s business relationship with the Herald has been strained last September, when then-Herald owner Pat Purcell published a hotly worded statement in his paper blaming the Globe for the Herald’s printing woes. “We talk with the Globe on a regular basis but unfortunately the remedies they put forth to solve the production problems have failed miserably,” the Herald said at that time.

Although the Globe’s printing woes have by most accounts eased considerably (even if they have not been entirely solved), Digital First clearly wasn’t going to stick around. The Providence facility is well-regarded, and it was widely believed that GateHouse would move the Herald’s printing there if it won the bidding. Ironically, GateHouse will end up making money from the Herald even though its bid fell short. In a statement to the BBJ, Globe president Vinay Mehra said:

At present, we are unable to offer a competitive bid for that business. What this move affords us is the opportunity to continue to bring our production costs and efficiencies in line, take advantage of added capabilities for The Globe product, and deliver to our readers the best quality news product in the market.

I’m hearing reports from inside the Herald that the switch will require deadlines so early that evening sports stories may not make the print edition. Mehra, meanwhile, sounds like he’s just as happy to be rid of the Herald — something that would surely not be the case if everything was running smoothly.

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