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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The Herald unloads on the Globe over its ongoing printing woes

Whoa. The Boston Herald has published a scorching statement on how it’s been affected by The Boston Globe’s printing problems. As you probably know, the Globe has been printing the Herald for the past several years. Here’s the conclusion: “We talk with the Globe on a regular basis but unfortunately the remedies they put forth to solve the production problems have failed miserably.”

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Herald reporter suspended for violating social-media policy

Boston Herald reporter Chris Villani was given a three-day suspension for violating the paper’s social-media policy. According to Chris Sweeney of Boston magazine, Villani tweeted out some breaking news on the Aaron Hernandez case without first seeking permission from the higher-ups. (Note: This post has now been updated with a message to the staff by Herald publisher Pat Purcell and a response to Purcell by the Newspaper Guild. Just keep scrolling.)

A number of Herald reporters are boycotting Twitter in response to Villani’s punishment. Here’s a statement from the union that represents Herald employees:

The policy is the policy. But having to get permission from a top editor before tweeting seems unworkable for a news organization hoping to make an impact in the digital space.

Adam Vaccaro of The Boston Globe has more. An interesting side note: Herald editor Joe Sciacca declined to comment to the Globe even after providing a rather fulsome statement to Boston magazine.

Update: Herald publisher Pat Purcell has weighed in.

Update II: The Newspaper Guild has now responded to Purcell.

Guild members are grateful to Pat Purcell for keeping the Boston Herald alive and thriving during a difficult time for the newspaper industry. We respect his leadership and his decades of experience.

No one is more concerned with matters of reputation and accuracy than his Guild employees. After all, our names go on the stories; our reputations are on the line if any of the information is wrong. The same holds true for our social media accounts, where our names, pictures, and occupations accompany every single post. We are well aware that if we were to use social media recklessly, we would lose the trust both of sources who help us do our jobs as well as our readers.

We agree with Pat that there is a need for a policy, but we have deep reservations about certain aspects that Herald Media Inc. has incorporated into its policy. In our view, the response our members have expressed about this recent enforcement is an opportunity to open the door to discuss making changes.

We remain committed to providing Boston Herald readers with the best quality journalism in the city and look forward to speaking with him.

The Guild

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Somehow, the Boston Herald keeps on keeping on

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Murdoch to the rescue: December 3, 1982

Chris Sweeney has written a sharp piece for Boston magazine on the state of the Boston Herald, the city’s number-two daily. As is generally the case with stories about the Herald, the overarching theme is: How much longer can the struggling tabloid cling to life?

And yet I wonder if that’s the right question. For a decade starting in the mid-1990s, I covered the Herald‘s ups and downs as the media columnist for the Boston Phoenix. If I had a dime for every person who told me the Herald had six months to live, I’d be a very rich man. Sadly, it was the Phoenix that didn’t survive.

As Sweeney notes, the Herald these days seems more like an extension of its online radio station than a standalone newspaper. Nearly two years ago editor Joe Sciacca gave me a tour of the paper’s new headquarters in South Boston, and I was impressed with what I saw—especially the amount of space devoted to multimedia and to the modern radio facilities.

My WGBH colleague Jim Braude tells Sweeney that not many people may be listening to Boston Herald Radio (OK, Braude’s actual quote is “I don’t think anyone listens”). But Braude also points out that it’s given the Herald a jolt of relevance in terms of high-profile guests like Mayor Marty Walsh, Governor Charlie Baker, and Donald Trump, whose appearances can then be written up and tweeted out.

Unfortunately, none of the top three executives at the Herald would speak with Sweeney, a group that comprises publisher Pat Purcell, Sciacca, and executive editor John Strahinich. It would have been useful to get some insights from them regarding the Herald‘s current business model. Not that I’m faulting Sweeney—I’ve been there. And his description of trying to get Strahinich to talk is pretty amusing.

But even though print circulation has shrunk precipitously and print advertising revenue is presumably scarce, the Herald does have some strengths. Sweeney does not report the size of the staff, but it’s small and therefore affordable. The sports section is very good. The website is slow and frustrating, but the third-party mobile app is excellent—and includes one-click access to Herald Radio. Purcell made a lot of money selling off the old headquarters in the South End; the Herald is now printed by the Boston Globe, which means that its larger competitor has every reason to keep its rival breathing.

So how long can the Herald survive? Keep those dimes rolling in.

Stanley Forman speaks about his iconic photo

Nice interview by Boston Herald photographer Mark Garfinkel with former Boston Herald American photographer Stanley Forman to mark the 40th anniversary of Forman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photo showing an African-American lawyer, Theodore Landsmark, being attacked by a white anti-busing protester wielding an American flag. Forman tells Garfinkel:

I took the image and followed the group to Post Office Square not realizing the impact the image had. Herald American reporter Joe Driscoll  caught up with me in the Square telling me about [what happened] via the AP wire and he was dispatched from the office. I said, “I have the photo of it!”  Of course I had no idea what I had gotten. I knew I had motor drive trouble and there was no instant looking at the back of your camera 40 years ago.

Forman, who’s been a videographer with WCVB-TV (Channel 5) for many years, won two individual Pulitzers with the Herald American. (He was part of a team Pulitzer as well.) The two individual awards were for news photos that are among the most iconic in Boston’s history—the Landsmark image, taken in 1976, and, the year before, a picture of a 19-year-old woman and a 2-year-old girl falling from a fire escape. The 19-year-old later died.

You can see both photos here. Also, the Herald‘s Jack Encarnacao recently spoke with Landsmark about the effect of Forman’s photo.

Your daily update on the Globe’s home-delivery woes

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Photo (cc) 2007 by Steve Johnson

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

There’s a risk that updates on The Boston Globe‘s home-delivery woes are going to become repetitive. But the story is still unfolding, and there is news to pass along. I’ll try to keep this terse.

As you no doubt know, Globe chief executive Mike Sheehan has been making the rounds. He told Jim Braude on Greater Boston Monday that he does not expect the worst-case scenario—a four- to six-month delay before service is returned to normal—will come to pass. Instead, he put it at 30 to 45 days. That’s four to six weeks, still a significant lag. I’d say the Globe has four to six days before this really starts to hurt the bottom line.

Then again, it depends. Sheehan also told Barbara Howard on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) Tuesday that the new distributor, ACI Media Group, would be using updated software today and that he expects significant improvements almost immediately. If the Globe can solve most of the problem in the next few days (and based on Twitter reaction this morning, things have definitely not changed for the better yet), then getting the rest of it right over the next few weeks might be acceptable. On the other hand, several more weeks of utter chaos will be devastating.

Another aspect of the Braude interview worth noting: Sheehan vigorously disagreed with an assertion by columnist/paper boy Kevin Cullen that the switch will result in lower pay for carriers. “Whatever they pay the delivery people, it’s not enough,” Cullen wrote, “and it’s more than a little depressing to think this debacle has been brought about by a desire to pay them even less.”

Sheehan responded that the savings he anticipates would not come from paying the carriers less, pointing out that ACI is competing for workers with the Globe‘s previous carrier, Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, or PCF. And he repeated his claim that the switch was driven primarily for better service. Lower costs, better service? Seems to me that we generally get to choose one or the other, not both.

In other developments:

  • The Globe itself today reports that the paper may add a second vendor—possibly its previous vendor, PCF. The Globe also checks in with two other ACI Clients, The Dallas Morning News and the Palm Beach Post, and it sounds like both papers did a lot more advance planning than took place at the Globe. Executives at both papers say they are pleased with ACI’s performance, one of the few good signs in all this.
  • WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) has more on the new software. It includes some good quotes from friend of WGBH News Sue O’Connell, co-publisher of Bay Windows and the South End News.
  • The Boston Business Journal publishes an overview, including some interesting numbers on the Globe‘s reliance on print revenue.
  • The screw-up is affecting delivery of other papers as well, since ACI is now competing with PCF and forcing delivery people to decide which company to work with. Among the papers that are been harmed are The Daily Item of Lynn and The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham. Larger papers such as The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Herald—all of which continue to be delivered by PCF—have been affected as well.
  • As for the Herald‘s non-coverage of a story that it would have been all over a few years go, I can’t top what my friend John Carroll has been doing. (Yes, the Herald is printed by the Globe these days.) Here is John’s latest update, which includes a tip of the hat to Beat the Press host Emily Rooney.

Northeastern j-students expose flaws in public records law

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Still from a video produced by Northeastern journalism students. Click on the Globe version of the story to view it.

Our journalism students at Northeastern made a big splash over the weekend. Professor Mike Beaudet’s investigative reporting class partnered with The Boston Globe and WCVB-TV (Channel 5) to produce a story showing that the majority of the state’s 351 cities and towns failed to respond to public records requests.

Here is the Globe version of the story, written by staff reporter Todd Wallack. Here is the WCVB version, helmed by Beaudet, who was recently hired as an investigative reporter at the station.

Despite an intense focus on the state’s extraordinarily weak public records law (here is a letter written earlier this year by the Northeastern School of Journalism faculty and published by the Globe, the Boston Herald, and GateHouse Media community newspapers), 2015 is drawing to a close with the Massachusetts House having passed an inadequate reform bill and the Senate not having acted at all.

Let’s hope that in early 2016 the Senate fixes what the House got wrong. And congratulations to our students on a great job.