Globe editor McGrory talks numbers at First Amendment gathering

Because I get memos, this blog is perhaps more dedicated to the words and thoughts of Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory than is strictly necessary. But he does lead New England’s largest news organization, and we all care about the fate of the Globe at a time of economic uncertainty. So I thought I’d pass along a bit of what McGrory had to say at last week’s New England First Amendment Institute.

First, some numbers. McGrory said the newsroom currently employs about 225 full-time journalists, down considerably from its heyday of about 540 at the turn of the century. Last spring, when I was wrapping up reporting for “The Return of the Moguls,” my not-yet-published book on Globe owner John Henry, Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos and other wealthy newspaper publishers, the number I heard was 240. Counting bodies is more difficult than you might imagine. I don’t think there has been any significant change since last spring — just different ways of measuring the size of the staff.

McGrory also said that classified-ad revenue has dropped from $180 million a year when the newspaper business was at its peak to about $10 million today. Again, nothing that will surprise people who watch the newspaper business, but a reminder of why newspapers are not what they used to be.

On a more positive note, the Globe has signed up 92,000 digital-only subscribers, continuing its momentum from the spring, when it was around 80,000. Despite the Globe’s progress, McGrory acknowledged that it no longer has the largest number of digital-only subscribers among regional dailies. That distinction now belongs to the Los Angeles Times. But of course the LA area is far larger than Greater Boston, and digital subscriptions to the LA Times are much cheaper than they are to the Globe, which charges $30 a month.

McGrory attributed this rise to the Trump effect, which has driven paid subscriptions to The New York Times over the 2 million mark and another 1 million at The Washington Post. Though the Globe has focused mainly on local and regional news in response to the changing economics of journalism, it maintains a robust Washington bureau. In fact, McGrory said the bureau is actually adding a person, bringing it to six.

Finally, and perhaps of the greatest significance, he said that 87 people have different jobs in the Globe newsroom since the staff-led reinvention that went into effect earlier this year. The two ideas behind the reinvention: (1) to report the news online throughout the day and move away from the habits formed by the daily cycle of the print edition; and (2) to focus on being a “paper of interest” rather than a “paper of record” that dutifully cranks out stories that few people read.

Nothing about the Globe’s ongoing print problems, but McGrory had addressed that just a few days earlier in a memo to the staff. McGrory essentially described the problem as having eased. That comports with what I’ve heard, though there are still plenty of complaints from longtime customers about missed papers, early editions without scores from the previous night’s game, missing sections and the like.

Despite the difficulties facing daily papers, McGrory told the NEFAI crowd, “We have more readers of Boston Globe journalism than we have ever had in the history of the Globe,” an assertion that takes into account the paper’s print and digital readers, Boston.com and Stat, a health- and life-sciences vertical that’s part of Boston Globe Media.

As John Henry ponders the huge expenses he has no doubt incurred from the print fiasco, I hope he’ll keep in mind that people will not pay for a diminishing product. It could be disastrous if he offsets those expenses with another big cut in the newsroom. The upward momentum in digital subscriptions is the key to the Globe’s future. But that momentum will stall quickly if people start to believe that they’re not getting their money’s worth.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Advertisements

McGrory hails Globe’s EPPY Award, praises staff and says print woes are easing

Here is the latest newsroom memo from Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory, sent out a little after 6 p.m. on Friday. A kind soul passed it on to me a short time later. First, a few observations of my own:

  • Six years after its debut, the Globe’s website still stacks up very well against those of most newspapers, so the EPPY Award is deserved. I could quibble, but it’s cleaner and faster than almost any other newspaper site. But the lack of a decent mobile experience remains a huge problem. Yes, the website is responsive and looks good on a phone. But it only works when you have a strong internet connection, which often isn’t available, especially on public transportation. I was told in late 2016 that the Globe was working on developing or licensing a new mobile app. It’s long overdue. For many of us, great mobile would be more useful than the Globe’s solving its print problems. Speaking of which:
  • As McGrory says, indications are that the horrendous printing and delivery problems associated with the new Taunton plant are easing. But based on anecdotal evidence, the Globe still has a way to go. If you’re still not getting your paper, or you’re not getting part of the paper, or it’s too late for you to be able to read it, or the print quality is terrible, then that’s a 100 percent failure, at least for you.
  • I couldn’t agree more on McGrory’s fifth point. The journalism remains excellent and vital. I would particularly point to Yvonne Abraham’s column on sexual harassment at the Statehouse, which, as McGrory notes, led to instant action.

The full text of McGrory’s memo follows.

Some quick and random thoughts to end the week:

1/ The Globe won Editor and Publisher’s EPPY Award for best daily newspaper website. This is a big damned deal, a tribute to everyone in this room and your tireless commitment to the distinctive journalism that fills the site hour after hour, day after day. Please take huge pride in this.

2/ Not for nothing, we added about 650 digital subscribers last week. We’ve roared past the 90,000 mark and are on our way to 100,000. This is yet more validation for your efforts.

3/ Our sports podcast, Season Ticket, continues to outperform all expectations — and is a flat out great listen. [Chris] Gasper’s fantastic, and our in-house guests — Nora [Princiotti], Pete [Abraham], Joe Sullivan, Alex [Speier], Fluto [Shinzawa], Ben [Volin] this week alone — are at once deeply knowledgeable and downright charming.

4/ The company is getting a higher quality paper on subscriber’s doorsteps with far greater consistency, such that we’ve been able to relax print deadlines in the room. It’s taken a lot of work on the second floor and in Taunton, and it’s really starting to show.

5/ The journalism continues to excel, and of that, you should be most proud. Yvonne today got a reaction from the House speaker within a couple of hours of posting her sharp and important column. There was Andrea [Estes] with another heart-breaking exclusive on the New Hampshire VA, Mark [Arsenault] on Vicki Kennedy, much of Sports with extraordinary deadline coverage of Gordon Hayward’s gruesome injury, our Amazon coverage (including the creative wrap), Shirley [Leung] excoriating Boston to appreciate itself, the DC bureau’s relentlessly fascinating coverage of all things Trump and Warren, and the Express Desk owning the moment, moment after moment. There’s much more that we’ve recently had, and there’s far more in the works. Thank you for it all, and as ever, please don’t let up.

Brian

Talk about this post on Facebook.

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

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Katie Kingsbury is leaving the Globe for a position at The New York Times

Kathleen Kingsbury, The Boston Globe’s managing editor for digital, is leaving the paper to accept a position as deputy editorial-page editor of The New York Times. This is a big one. Kingsbury is a Pulitzer-winning editorial writer, and she stepped into her current role last fall just as the Globe’s reinvention effort was heating up. She replaced David Skok, who was returning to his native Canada.

Ben Mullin of Poynter has editor Brian McGrory’s farewell note:

I interviewed Kingsbury for my forthcoming book last fall, and I found her to be smart in all the right ways. When we talked, she told me she was testing out various smartphone apps for possible adoption by the Globe — an effort that we long-suffering mobile readers certainly hope pays off soon.

Kingsbury announced her departure just as the Globe is settling in at its new headquarters at 53 State St. On Saturday, the Globe’s entire print run took place at its new Taunton facility for the first time, according to a message to employees from  Rich Masotta, the Globe’s vice president for operations.

Kingsbury proved to be a good internal candidate for the top digital position. It will be interesting to see if the Globe goes outside or inside for her successor. Globe owner John Henry has bet the farm on paid digital. If anything, the Globe needs to accelerate its efforts on improving its digital products.

The Globe moves ahead with restructured beats

As the staff prepares to move to its new headquarters on State Street, The Boston Globe is rolling out its new beat structure. Here’s a list of what many of the reporters, editors and columnists are up to.

It doesn’t strike me as hugely different from what the Globe was doing before (and that’s a good thing), but it is built more around the idea of clusters that cover different topics, such as “Business, Technology, and Consumers.” Others: “Education,” “Healthcare, Science, and Medicine,” “Living and Working in Greater Boston,” “Arts and Books,” and “Politics, Government, and Accountability.”

In keeping with editor Brian McGrory’s reinvention memos, the beats comprise areas of interest rather than institutions that need to be covered, whether anyone wants to read about them or not. There’s also a greater emphasis on publishing stories online when they’re ready rather than waiting for the print edition. According to a memo from McGrory, last week — the first for the restructured beats — was a good one for digital subscriptions.

Some kind soul sent me a copy of McGrory’s memo, sent out late Friday afternoon. (The “Super Department,” by the way, combines much of the paper’s metro, business and lifestyle coverage.) Here’s the full text:

So to be clear, nobody should be ready to declare victory after our first full week of reinvention. We all know there are many wrinkles to iron out, and we’re already identifying changes that need to be changed.

But, damn, I’m having a tough time containing my enthusiasm over how well it’s gone and the massive potential that it holds. The truth is, I’m more excited about it now than at any time before.

It’s worth noting that we started from a dead stop. There was no lineup of clever stories ready to roll out. Spotlight didn’t have anything on the runway. Reporters hadn’t been quietly prepping on their new beats. No, 10 days ago, just after a long holiday weekend, we launched from scratch — with, by my count, at least 87 people in substantially different positions than they held the week before.

What’s happened? The metabolism has quickened considerably. People are here earlier in the day. Our higher profile enterprise stories are receiving a final edit through the day, and introduced online at peak readership times. There are fewer logjams in the evening — reporters waiting for that last read on a story. Copy-edits are happening far more frequently across the day.

Because we’re factoring in the needs of digital more effectively, the print front is holding fewer stories back, which means we’re popping more enterprise on the site, much of which is rippling back to the Business and Metro fronts in print. The paper, as we hoped, has been the stronger for it. Calls for A1 and the Metro and Business print fronts are getting made sooner, allowing us to better plan for the next day’s site.

All of which is to say that things, in general, are going as planned — not always, but often enough. And Pete Doucette [the Globe’s chief consumer revenue officer] says it’s the best week we’ve had for digital subscriptions in a while.

In many ways, there’s something of a symphonic quality to it all. It starts early in the morning when the Express Desk arrives and begins posting newsy and clever stories. They hold a stand-up meeting in the middle of the newsroom at 8:30, swapping ideas and mapping out the rest of the day. Then we bring in the enterprise work, pitched and scheduled at the 9:15 news meeting, which already has a newly creative tone. Beyond that, the strike team, narrative, and Spotlight will soon be adding to the mix. Beat reporters across the Super Department will be quickly gaining authority in what, for many, are new areas. Of course, sports, DC, arts, travel, and the magazine are as vital as ever. It’s a matter of time — and not a lot of it — until the full band, every aspect, is playing to its potential.

There’s much credit to go around for great stories, smart edits, beautiful photography, brilliant designs, inviting graphics, expert planning — really, too much to include here. Please know that I’m grateful beyond words. I’d like to say take the summer off, given how utterly draining this has all been, but, well, you wouldn’t want that anyway. Right?

My sincere thanks to everyone for so much hard and excellent work.

Brian

Globe editor McGrory seeks to create a digital-first paper without neglecting print

Earlier today The Boston Globe published editor Brian McGrory’s latest update on the paper’s ongoing reinvention effort. For anyone who read his January memo, it shouldn’t contain too many surprises. Essentially it represents his and his staff’s latest thinking on how to build a digital-first news organization while not letting the print edition wither away. The idea, McGrory writes, is:

to once and for all break the stubborn rhythms of a print operation, allowing us to unabashedly pursue digital subscriptions even while honoring the many loyal readers who subscribe to the physical paper.

The main takeaways:

  • Managing editor for news Christine Chinlund, the newsroom veteran who’s overseeing the move to the paper’s new headquarters at 53 State St., may depart later this year, though McGrory writes that he’s trying to talk her out of it.
  • An “express desk” will push out “in-the-moment important, quirky and just plain fascinating stories that metrics show our readership craves.”
  • Much of the paper’s metro, business and lifestyle operations will be merged into what McGrory is calling a “super department” — an idea he says he first had when he was metro editor. “Admittedly, it was a failed power grab then, but now it’s just common sense,” he writes. The idea is that a big local story might cut across areas that have traditionally been divided by departmental lines. “Think the scourge of student debt, the era of political engagement, and a new consumer advocate, among many others,” McGrory writes. “Some beats are meant to last but a few months, others longer, but all will need to be constantly reassessed.”

Also of note: The Globe is looking to add a position to its Washington bureau, and may sell sports-only subscriptions outside New England in the near future. And, McGrory writes, “we are going to do whatever we can to put the 600-word incremental story out of its sad little end-state misery.” (Studies show that online readers prefer both shorter and longer stories, but that the medium-length story so beloved of newspapers because of the way they fit on a page no longer resonate.)

More Twitter reaction:

There’s a lot more to McGrory’s memo than I’m highlighting here. If you’re interested in the future of the Globe, you should definitely read the whole thing.

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Globe editor McGrory defends placement of BMC ad atop front page

The print edition of today’s Boston Globe includes a banner advertisement that appears above the nameplate at the very top of the page. The ad, for Boston Medical Center, promotes that institution’s addiction services. The placement is unusual enough to have prompted a message to the staff late Monday night from Globe editor Brian McGrory.

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