The Globe hires a Gannett executive to run its printing operations

The Boston Globe has hired a new top executive to oversee print operations, according to a memo to staff members from Vinay Mehra, the Globe’s new president and chief financial officer. Dale Carpenter, who’ll be a senior vice president, previously held a top print position with Gannett. He sounds like the sort of person who should have been hired before the Globe opened its troubled Taunton printing facility. Maybe he’ll be the guy who straightens it out.

The full text of Mehra’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

I am happy to announce the following additions to our Executive Team.

Dale Carpenter joins us as Senior Vice President of Print Operations where he will oversee the production, distribution, and customer service functions. Dale was most recently Vice President of Operations at Gannett Publishing where he had oversight of more than 70 print locations across the country and had responsibility for national printing and packaging. Dale is a nationally known print and production expert and we are delighted to have him join our team. He will start on October 23.

Dan Krockmalnic will join us at the end of this month as our new General Counsel as Maura McAuliffe has chosen to step into a part-time role. Dan was most recently Assistant Attorney General at the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office where he focused on consumer protection cases. He began his career at the law firm of Ropes & Gray.

Please join me in welcoming them to Boston Globe Media.

Vinay

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At the Globe, an innovative approach to funding public-interest journalism

In case you didn’t look closely at the provenance of today’s big Spotlight Team investigation in The Boston Globe, it was the result of an initiative that grew out of the movie “Spotlight.” You’ll find the full explanation here, but essentially three of the groups that funded the film created the Spotlight Investigative Journalism Fellowship to tell important stories that might otherwise go unreported.

The two-parter that debuted today is the first result of that effort. Reporters Kelly Carr and Jaimi Dowdell report on “lax oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration [that], over decades, has made it easy for drug dealers, corrupt politicians, and even people with links to terrorism to register private planes and conceal their identities.”

The story begins with a harrowing anecdote and features great photography, an excellent video, and a first-rate digital treatment. It’s an innovative approach to paying for public-interest journalism, and it will be interesting to see what else it yields.

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Questions remain as The Boston Globe tries to solve its epic printing woes

Photo by WGBH News

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The big unanswered question about The Boston Globe’s printing woes is whether they are merely serious — that is, they remain an agonizing pit of misery for months to come but are ultimately fixable — or if, instead, they are so catastrophic that they will require publisher John Henry to get rid of his new used presses and start over.

No one other than a few insiders knows for sure. But the Globe took a good first step toward providing its increasingly disenchanted customers with some answers by publishing an in-depth story by staff reporter Mark Arsenault over the weekend on what we know, what we don’t know, and what we still need to find out.

It was about time. Before Arsenault’s story was posted on Saturday night, the Globe’s only published acknowledgment of the problem came in the form of a front-page note from Henry on Aug. 18 in which he wrote that the presses at the paper’s new Taunton printing facility “are operating too slowly and breaking too often.” He added: “We are embarrassed. We are sincerely sorry to all those affected.” He also said it was unlikely those problems would be resolved by Labor Day — an observation that proved to be prescient.

Arsenault did not address every aspect of what can now fairly be called a crisis. I would have liked to see him do some reporting on what by all accounts has been a terrible experience for customers trying to cancel their subscriptions for papers that often never show up. And though Arsenault reported union official Stephen Sullivan’s response to Globe president Vinay Mehra’s claim that the problems were due in part to employees who are “resistant to change” (Arsenault’s phrase, not Mehra’s), it struck me that the accusation deserved further exploration. I don’t think Mehra helped the situation by insulting the very front-line people who’ve been stuck trying to fix a mess created by the paper’s top executives — two of whom lost their jobs as a result.

Still, there was important information in Arsenault’s story, especially regarding a company in Lubbock, Texas, called West Texas Printing Center. The company reportedly installed a set-up similar to, though smaller than, the Globe’s, which led to a world of hurt before matters were finally brought under control. “First year, year-and-a-half, we struggled,” West Texas official Kristi Holt told Arsenault. “Finding the demons and eliminating the demons is a long, tedious process. I feel for y’all. I’ve been where you are.”

A year. A year and a half. Does the Globe really have that long to get it right? Probably not. The paper solved its previous self-created fiasco over home-delivery vendors in a few months, but it’s not likely the Globe’s customers can wait until 2019 for the current mess to be cleaned up. And let’s not forget that those customers include not just readers but other newspapers that have entrusted their printing to the Globe, including the Boston Herald, The New York Times, and USA Today.

Then there’s the nightmare scenario. Last week a 38-year Globe pressman, Phil McColgan, sent me an email outlining what he thought needed to be done. With his permission, I forwarded his message to my colleagues at “Beat the Press,” and it was featured in our report last Friday. “In my opinion unless Mr. Henry is willing to dig deep into his pockets and install the correct presses such as the Goss presses that are sitting idle in Boston [at the former Morrissey Boulevard headquarters] we are going to continue to struggle to make deadlines,” he wrote.

When you take the long view, the idea that a newspaper could be laid low by printing problems in 2017 seems ludicrous. The Globe is doing well on the internet front, having signed up more than 80,000 digital-only subscribers, more than any other regional newspaper. The Globe’s website could use some updating, and it’s long past time for the paper to offer a usable mobile app. But, overall, the paper has made decent progress in its quest to become a digital-first news organization.

The challenge is that print remains vital to the business of publishing a daily newspaper. The value of digital ads has cratered in recent years, largely because of Google’s automated auction system for allocating advertising to websites. Revenues from print advertising are a fraction of what they used to be — but they remain far greater than online income. Then, too, newspaper readers tend to be older, and they still like print. According to the Globe’s most recent year-old figures, paid print circulation was 143,000 on weekdays and 243,000 on Sundays.

Cynics sometimes observe that Henry got the Globe more or less for free: the value of the property underneath the paper’s former headquarters should offset the $70 million he paid in 2013. But Henry has invested significantly, even as he has made cuts in the newsroom in an effort to stay ahead of declining revenues. The Taunton plant cost Henry $75 million. It may cost him a lot more before this is over.

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Trumping his measured rhetoric, president goes off at the United Nations

The morning print headlines:

  • “Muted Trump Embraces U.N. Before Speech” (New York Times)
  • “Trump plans pragmatic U.N. speech” (Washington Post)
  • “Trump shifts global tone, engagement” (Boston Globe)

The afternoon web headlines:

  • “At U.N., Trump Threatens to ‘Totally Destroy North Korea’” (New York Times)

  • “Trump threatens to ‘destroy North Korea,’ calls Kim ‘Rocket Man’” (Washington Post)
  • “Trump threatens to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea in UN speech” (Boston Globe)

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Print is the Globe’s albatross — and lifeblood

The shame about The Boston Globe’s printing problems (and it will be a tragedy, not a shame, if they’re not fixed soon) is that, online, the paper is doing just fine. Earlier this year the paper reported that it had signed up more than 80,000 digital-only subscribers, the highest number of any regional paper in the country. The website looks good and is regularly updated, although a real mobile app would be welcome. The fall arts preview, which did not arrive with many people’s papers last Sunday, has been posted online; just bookmark it.

Unfortunately, for the second time in a year and a half the dead hand of print has reached out from the grave and grabbed the Globe by the ankle as it attempts to escape the past. It’s not like John Henry and company can walk away from print — print ads still pay most of the bills, and printing other newspapers is an important part of the Globe’s business strategy. That’s why it’s so important that the current meltdown be reversed as soon as possible

Of course we’ll be talking about this on “Beat the Press” tonight.

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Globe editor McGrory addresses printing woes

The WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) program “Boston Public Radio” just aired an interview with Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory that was recorded earlier today. McGrory is a regular Wednesday guest on the show, hosted by Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. At the end of their half-hour conversation, McGrory briefly addressed the Globe’s problems at its Taunton printing facility.

“Look we’ve been on a difficult run over here,” McGrory said, adding that there have been good and bad nights. “It’s proven more difficult than we had anticipated,” he said, and the result was that the paper’s top executives had decided to make some changes in leadership. “Some very, very good high-quality people are no longer here at the Globe,” he said. McGrory was clearly referring to the departure of chief operating officer Sean Keohan and (so I hear) at least one other top executive as well. In addition, the Globe’s chief executive officer, Doug Franklin, left in July, although that was reportedly not related to the printing problems.

“We think we’re making progress,” McGrory said. “We’ve had some very good stretches, a week, two weeks at a time,” followed by “some significant setbacks.” One of those setbacks, he noted, affected this past Sunday’s Globe.

“Amid the progress there are setbacks, and it is really, really frustrating,” he said. “The overall trendlines are showing improvement,” he added, although those improvements need to be “faster and more consistent.”

Earlier

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It’s time for some answers on the Globe’s printing woes

In trying to think through what’s behind the crisis at The Boston Globe’s new Taunton printing facility, it seems logical that one of two things is going on. The first possibility is that the problems are fixable but that they have taken longer to resolve than anyone expected. The second is much worse: that the presses the Globe bought are not up to the task, will never be up to the task, and shouldn’t have been purchased in the first place. I certainly hope it’s the former and not the latter.

The Boston Business Journal’s Don Seiffert, citing “multiple sources,” reports that Boston Globe Media’s chief operating officer, Sean Keohan, has left the company — a departure that, Seiffert hastens to add, may or may not be related to the printing problems.

This comes within days of a tough statement from the Boston Herald — which is printed by the Globe — apologizing to its readers for the poor job the Globe is doing of printing its tabloid rival. “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. (My WGBH News colleague Emily Rooney praised the Herald on “Beat the Press” for speaking out.)

A number of sources have told me that printing woes have required the Globe to set deadlines so early that the print edition is often missing sport scores — even when the Red Sox play at home. Papers are going undelivered. In addition to the Herald, the Globe also prints The New York Times, and, needless to say, that is not a relationship that Globe owner John Henry wants to endanger.

The problem right now is that few people know for sure what’s going on. When the Globe endured its home-delivery fiasco about a year and a half ago, the paper itself published the definitive story about what had gone wrong. It was thorough and unsparing. This time, we haven’t heard much since Globe Media chief executive Doug Franklin left in mid-July. We need to see the Globe once again rise to the occasion and report on what has gone wrong and how it is going to be fixed.

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