The Boston Globe marks 150 years as a growing and profitable news organization

There’s a bit of news in Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s message marking the paper’s 150th anniversary today: he writes that the Globe now has “about 250 staffers in its newsroom and on the editorial pages.”

That’s up significantly from a few years ago. In 2018, the Globe had a full-time staff of about 220 journalists, which means that the size of the newsroom has increased by nearly 14% over the past four years. Regular readers know that the paper has been boosting its coverage of climate change and technology, among other topics.

McGrory and owners John and Linda Henry deserve to take a bow for the Globe’s renaissance in recent years. After buying the paper from the New York Times Co. in 2013, the Henrys compiled an uneven record in rebuilding the Globe as a sustainable business. When I checked in with John Henry in mid-2018, the paper was still losing money and had fallen short of its goal of selling 100,000 digital subscriptions. Henry was forced to declare that he had no plans to sell.

Six months later, Henry said the Globe had finally become profitable. Today the paper has some 235,000 paid digital subscribers, making it a leader among large regional newspapers, and has far more reporting capacity than most of its peer news organizations, many of which are owned by cost-obsessed hedge funds.

I’ve been a Globe reader for nearly 50 years. It’s a very different institution compared to the pre-internet glory days, when it covered national and international news with its own reporters and had a staff — at its 2000 peak — of about 550 full-timers.

Yet it remains one of the best, most deeply staffed papers in the country. It’s also evidence that committed, deep-pockets local ownership can be the difference between a thriving journalistic enterprise and a decimated newspaper hanging on for survival.

The Boston Globe’s digital circulation rises to 235,000

The Boston Globe’s paid digital circulation keeps growing. According to an email that editor Brian McGrory sent to the staff Friday afternoon and that was passed on by a trusted source, the paper is now at 235,000. I won’t quote the whole thing, but here’s the relevant part:

In the past two months, what David Epstein would call the meteorological winter, we’ve added more than 8,500 new digital subscribers, bringing our total to about 235,000. It’s easy to take this massive achievement for granted, but you need to know, there’s not another major metro paper in the US that’s near this. And we’re retaining our existing subscribers better than any forecast. We’ve also had some of our biggest traffic days since the early pandemic in the past month.

Much of this is a tribute to the good work the Globe is doing. But some of it has to be a consequence of the high cost of a print subscription — a cost that will soon be rising even more. This showed up in my inbox several days ago:

I do wonder what the Globe sees as the future of its print edition. As recently as December, the paper reported that 55% of its revenue continues to come from print. I have to assume they have no intention of getting rid of it. But as I tweeted, I’m curious as to whether there’s a deliberate strategy to shrink the print run and move more readers over to digital.

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory thanks staff in his year-end memo

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s year-end message came in a little later than expected — he sent it out on New Year’s Eve, and I only received it just now from one of my trusted sources. It’s unusual for its brevity.

There is one tidbit worth flagging: McGrory says the Globe now has “more than 230,000 digital-only subscribers.” Just a few weeks ago, Tom Brown, vice president for consumer revenue, put the number at 226,000. I’ll chalk it up either to different counting methods or the possibility that McGrory was writing off the top of his head. I doubt that the Globe added 4,000-plus subscribers in two weeks.

Here’s the full text of McGrory’s memo:

It’s taken me a lot of years to realize that perhaps an overly long note from the editor is not exactly the thing you’re looking for on New Year’s Eve. So when I say again I’ll be brief, I mean it more than in the past.

If 2020 was the year in which we rode massive adrenaline waves to do the best and most important work that the Globe has ever done, which we did, then 2021 is entirely different. Whole stretches of this year felt like metal grinding against metal. Exhaustion ran deep. The pandemic, and all that came with it, got really old. Hope kept getting trampled by reality.

And yet you wouldn’t ease up — every hour, every day. Maybe it’s because of your commitment to each other, the craft, the organization, or the community. Probably it’s a lot of each. What you accomplished this year, every single aspect of this newsroom, is nothing short of remarkable. There’s a good argument to be made that it was somehow even more impressive than the year before.

It matters, to the region and to the Globe’s future. We now have more than 230,000 digital-only subscribers. We are financially healthy and investing in our journalism, which you know is rare in the world of major metro news organizations. Every part of the Globe, beyond the newsroom, is operating at peak performance, which is truly something to behold. And there’s simply no region in the country better informed than ours.

Amid the exhaustion and anxiety and remaining bits of hope, take more than a moment tonight and this weekend to allow yourself a big dose of pride. The Globe just had another year for the ages, and everyone in the newsroom played a vital role.

Happy New Year might be a slight stretch on a day with 21,397 new cases. But I’m really proud of the whole organization and grateful to you all.

Brian

Bina Venkataraman to step down as the Globe’s editorial page editor

Bina Venkataraman. Photo (cc) 2019 by TED Conference.

Less that two weeks after sending out a memo to her staff looking ahead to the new year, Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman has announced that she’s leaving. She posted a thread on Twitter within the past hour that begins:

Her departure isn’t entirely unexpected, as she took a leave of absence during the fall in the midst of the Boston mayoral campaign. Nevertheless, it’s stunning that her tenure lasted such a short time. It’s also at least a temporary setback for the Globe’s efforts to diversify; having a woman of color as one of the top two journalists (along with editor Brian McGrory) reporting to Linda and John Henry sent a powerful signal.

Venkataraman isn’t leaving completely. She’ll remain as an editor-at-large, which she says will involve writing for the Globe and advising The Emancipator, a racial justice digital publication that the paper is launching in collaboration with Boston University.

Unlike the news side, where McGrory has been a fixture since 2012 (he actually helped recruit Henry to buy the Globe from the New York Times Co.), the opinion side has been in flux for a long time. Ellen Clegg replaced Peter Canellos as editorial page editor in 2014, less than a year after Henry completed his purchase. Clegg served until her retirement in 2018, followed by business columnist Shirley Leung on an interim basis. Venkataraman arrived in 2019. (Clegg and I are now research and podcast partners.)

Venkataraman was an unconventional hire — a science journalist and author who didn’t come from the politics and policy side where most opinion editors cut their teeth. It will be interesting to see what direction the Globe heads in next.

Pulitzer notes: A big win for the Globe; plus, ownership matters, and recognizing Darnella Frazier’s courage

Journalism is a field overrun with prizes. But the Pulitzers still matter — and the recognition shown The Boston Globe on Friday was impressive.

As you no doubt have heard, five current and former Globe journalists won in the Investigative Reporting category “for reporting that uncovered a systematic failure by state governments to share information about dangerous truck drivers that could have kept them off the road, prompting immediate reforms.” That’s the first time the Globe has been recognized for its investigative work since it won the Public Service Award in 2003 for its coverage of the pedophile-priest crisis in the Catholic Church.

The Globe was also a finalist in Editorial Writing for its commentary on a zoning battle in Newton, and its sister publication Stat was a finalist in Breaking News for its coverage of COVID-19. One of the three Stat finalists was Sharon Begley, who died of lung cancer earlier this year.

In a video accompanying the Globe’s own coverage, editor Brian McGrory addressed a topic of vital importance — the role of a regional news organization in the powerful to account. Here’s part of what he said.

I was asked last night at a panel I was on about the lack of relevance, and how major metro newspapers are becoming decreasingly relevant in a really tough media age. And I thought about it for a minute, and I came to realize — not for the first time — I’ve been here 30-something years, and the Globe has never felt more relevant to the community than it does now. And all you have to do is look at the work we do day in and day out. The work that’s unfolding right now on the police department, on City Hall, on state government. Name a topic, and it’s every department firing on all cylinders.

Indeed, the Globe is driving the conversation on all of those stories, even amid fine work by other news organizations, including my friends at GBH News, WBUR, CommonWealth Magazine, The Bay State Banner, The Dorchester Reporter, DigBoston, local TV stations and others.

Ownership matters

Unfortunately, the Globe is unusual by the standards of 2021. Take a look at the list of Pulitzer winners. Overwhelmingly, the prizes went to news organizations with solid ownership. The Globe, of course, has been owned for the past seven-plus years by John Henry and Linda Pizzuti Henry, who have steered it to profitability and stability while maintaining the paper’s reporting capacity.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis is owned by another wealthy business person, Glen Taylor, who has revived a paper that was on the ropes not too many years ago. The Tampa Bay Times is owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute — a situation that hasn’t been entirely happy, but that has resulted in more robust coverage than if it were owned by a for-profit chain.

The Marshall Project is a well-funded nonprofit. The New York Times, though a publicly traded company, has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. The Atlantic is largely owned by Laurene Powell Jobs, who inherited the late Steve Jobs’ fortune. BuzzFeed News is run as much for love as for profit.

I could go on, but you get the picture. All across the country, newsrooms at regional and local newspapers are being ravaged by corporate chains and hedge funds. The Pulitzers demonstrate, as I have said over and over, that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Speaking truth to power

There had been some buzz in recent weeks that a Pulitzer ought to be awarded to Darnella Frazier, the then-17-year-old who turned her smartphone camera toward George Floyd as he was being murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin.

The Pulitzer judges were thinking the same thing. Frazier was awarded a Special Citation “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.”

Rarely has a Pulitzer been more deserved. But it will be for naught if that’s the end of it. Frazier’s work should inspire people everywhere to stand up for what is right. Without her bravery, Chauvin might still be on the beat, terrorizing the citizens of Minneapolis.

You can now ask the Globe to remove an embarrassing story about you from Google search

There’s a difference between rewriting history and making some of it more difficult to find. Which is why I think The Boston Globe is doing the right thing with its “Fresh Start” initiative, more commonly known as the right to be forgotten. The proposal was announced by Globe editor Brian McGrory last July, and is being formally put into effect today. In a Globe story, McGrory says:

It was never our intent to have a short and relatively inconsequential Globe story affect the futures of the ordinary people who might be the subjects. Our sense, given the criminal justice system, is that this has had a disproportionate impact on people of color. The idea behind the program is to start addressing it.

The idea is that the Globe might have reported on some past embarrassment about you — a minor arrest, or an arrest that led to a conviction that was not reported. You can appeal to the Globe to have the story updated or removed from Google search. The story would still exist. It couldn’t be removed from the print edition, obviously, and many libraries still carry newspaper microfilm archives. It wouldn’t even be removed from the Globe’s servers. But no longer would one of your less stellar moments rise to the top of a Google search about you, interfering with employment prospects and other aspects of your life.

In some ways, Fresh Start is similar to Gannett’s move in 2018 to take down mugshot galleries from its newspaper websites, which it extended to the former GateHouse Media sites in 2020 after that chain was merged with Gannett. “Mugshot galleries presented without context may feed into negative stereotypes and, in our editorial judgment, are of limited news value,” the company said in explaining its reasoning.

The Globe’s Fresh Start is a good step because it solves a problem without going too far. It merely restores the situation that prevailed before the internet, when you had to put some work into finding information that had been published about someone. That tended to separate those with a legitimate interest from the voyeurs.

It’s also a better solution than the mandatory right-to-be-forgotten laws in effect in Western Europe, where Google under some circumstances can be ordered to remove information about certain people. The First Amendment would make that impossible in the United States.

Thus it’s up to the media to take voluntary steps. As the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics puts it, “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.”

More: Arun Rath of GBH Radio (89.7 FM) and I kicked it around on Friday.

3 reasons why it matters that Linda Pizzuti Henry was named CEO of the Globe

Previously published at GBH News.

Surprising though the news may have been, there was a certain inevitability to Linda Pizzuti Henry’s being named chief executive officer of The Boston Globe’s parent company.

She had long held the title of managing director, and it has become increasingly clear over the past few years that she and her husband, publisher John Henry, were determined to impose their will on the media properties they own. Indeed, the Henrys have been calling pretty much all the shots on the business side since the summer, when Vinay Mehra exited as president and was not replaced.

These are the best and worst of times for media organizations. The COVID-19 epidemic and the presidential campaign have resulted in renewed interest in the news as well as growing audiences. But advertising, already in long-term decline, has fallen off a cliff.

The Globe is no exception to those trends. Earlier this year, the Globe passed the 200,000 mark for digital-only subscriptions, a long-sought-after goal. Another Globe Media property, Stat News, has established itself as one of a handful of go-to sites for news about COVID.

Yet the paper, reportedly profitable before the pandemic, has been forced to trim its budget to adjust to the pandemic economy, cutting back on its use of freelancers and paid interns, for example, as well as implementing some business-side reductions.

Time will tell what the Linda Henry era will bring. But here are three thoughts that I think are worth keeping in mind:

There is no longer any middleman. With co-owners John and Linda Henry holding the top two positions, all the heat will now be directed their way, for better or worse. When Mehra was in charge — and, before him, Doug Franklin and Mike Sheehan — both credit and blame could be deflected.

Now the Globe is the Henrys’ paper in every respect. That extends into the editorial operations as well given that editor Brian McGrory was actually involved in recruiting John Henry to buy the paper and that editorial-page editor Bina Venkataraman was hired by the Henrys.

For a useful contrast, consider The Washington Post. Although owner Jeff Bezos does involve himself in business strategy to a degree, he hired a publisher, Fred Ryan, to run the paper on a day-to-day basis, and left the executive editor (Marty Baron), the editorial-page editor (Fred Hiatt) and the top technology executive (Shailesh Prakash) in place after he acquired the paper.

The Henrys must now settle an ugly labor dispute on their own. Earlier today the Boston Newspaper Guild, involved for quite some time in acrimonious contract talks with management, issued a statement ripping the Henrys for using the law firm of Jones Day, which critics say has a reputation for union-busting.

That’s not new. What is new is that Jones Day has been involved in representing Republicans in their attempt to overturn the results of the presidential election. “How can the Globe’s political journalists be asked to continue to endure such workplace attacks from the very law firm whose actions they are now reporting on and investigating?,” the union’s letter asks.

The Globe is not for sale. From time to time, rumors have circulated within the newsroom and in the larger community that the Henrys are looking to get out. This happened most recently last fall, when Linda Henry presided over a town hall-style meeting on Zoom at which she was asked about a replacement for Mehra.

When I asked her about it, she replied via email, “The Globe is not for sale, I’m pretty sure you would have picked up on if it was.” After that, the rumors appeared to fade away. Now, by occupying the top two operational roles at the Globe, the Henrys, seven years into their ownership, clearly seem to be sending a signal that they’re in it for the long term.

Comments are open. Please include your full name, first and last, and speak with a civil tongue.

The Boston Globe’s digital subscriptions approach the 270,000* mark

The Boston Globe’s paid digital circulation has reached the 270,000 range, according to the annual publisher’s statements that appear in Sunday’s and today’s editions.

It was only in May that the Globe passed the 200,000 mark — a long-sought goal that had been seen internally as the benchmark for financial sustainability. Nevertheless, the new figure (268,337 as of Sept. 4) comes with a caveat. Like many papers, the Globe has been signing up new subscribers at a steep discount. The challenge will be holding onto them once they are asked to re-up at the full rate of $30 a month.

How quickly has the Globe added digital subscribers? The publisher’s statement says that the average for the previous 12 months was 199,172. And editor Brian McGrory said earlier this year that the digital circulation was about 145,000 just before the COVID pandemic hit. As devastating as COVID has been to advertising revenue, it’s clearly been very good for reader revenue.

Paid print Friday circulation was down to 81,579 as of early September, lower than the 12-month average by about 1,500. A similar slide was reported in the publisher’s statement that appeared on Sunday: print circulation was 139,307 as of Sept. 6, down nearly 10,000 from the 12-month average. Sunday digital circulation was reported at 271,401. Since digital subscriptions are generally sold by the month, I’m not sure why there’s a slight discrepancy between the Friday and Sunday figures.

Even if you add digital and print together, the Globe’s numbers fall considerably short of the 1970s-’80s heyday, when the paper sold more than 800,000 copies on Sundays and 500,000 on weekdays. Still, it’s an encouraging trendline that has been matched by few other papers below the national level.

*Apples-and-oranges update: In an email to the staff, a copy of which I obtained a little while ago, McGrory said the 270,000 figure can’t be compared directly to the 205,000 number that the Globe hit in May.

“We’ve got just under 223,000 direct digital-only subscribers — people who pay for a purely digital subscription with no print component,” he wrote. The 270,000 number includes subscribers who receive digital as part of their print subscriptions.

McGrory referred to the 223,000 figure as “extraordinary,” adding: “As extraordinary: We’ve been graduating our introductory, $1-for-six-month readers to a full rate at an astounding clip from August into October. In other words, our pandemic subscribers are staying with us at at a level that exceeds anything we’ve previously seen or imagined. So when you hear, or read, that our digital subscription numbers are boosted by a bunch of basically worthless introductory readers, that’s not true. The majority of our subscribers are paying full rate, and those who aren’t are very likely to be when their offer runs out.”

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Nestor Ramos, recently promoted at the Globe, leaves for The New York Times

Nestor Ramos (via The New York Times)

Nestor Ramos, only recently promoted to the masthead at The Boston Globe, is leaving to become an assistant editor on The New York Times’ metro desk. He’ll begin next month, according to a press release from the Times.

In late August, Ramos was named the Globe’s senior assistant managing editor for local news. Although his job — city editor — remained essentially the same, the enhanced title made him the first Latino to be named to the news-side masthead. Editor Brian McGrory referred to the promotion as “a straight-up acknowledgement of his enormous impact on the room and our coverage.”

On Friday, in an email to the staff sent along by a trusted source, McGrory sounded unhappy over the steady stream of Globe reporters and editors who’ve been lured to the Times. While congratulating Ramos and calling his departure a “sizable loss,” McGrory went on to note that “the pattern of the Times grabbing our journalists is getting old, something I just pointed out to the good people of the Times. I choose to take it as a compliment and hope you do as well.”

It’s worth noting that Carolyn Ryan, herself a former Globe metro editor, is in charge of recruitment at the Times.

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Boston Globe promotes two minority editors to masthead positions

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory today announced two promotions. In a memo to the staff, McGrory said that Ideas section editor Anica Butler has been named the deputy managing editor for local news, replacing Felice Belman, who recently departed for The New York Times. City editor Nestor Ramos will receive a new title — senior assistant managing editor for local news.

Both Butler’s and Ramos’ names will appear on the masthead, which represents a step forward for a paper seeking to become more diverse. Butler is the first Black woman and Ramos the first Latino to ascend to news-side* masthead positions. Years ago, Greg Moore, who’s African American, was the Globe’s managing editor (the No. 3 position in the newsroom at that time), but he left for The Denver Post in 2002.

A trusted source provided me with McGrory’s memo a little while ago. The full text follows.

Personnel

I’m beyond delighted to share a pair of key personnel announcements.

First, Anica Butler will take over as the Globe’s new deputy managing editor for local news, better known as the metro editor, among the most pivotal roles in any newsroom. She’s been preparing for this job for many years, and preparing extraordinarily well. Her nearly nine years at the Globe have been marked by seismic stories, and Anica always seems to be in the throes of them. She managed, morning to night, our coverage of the Aaron Hernandez, Tsarnaev, and Whitey Bulger trials, three epic events in this city’s history. She brought to all of them a digital, in-the-moment mindset that in many ways laid the groundwork for how we’ve approached big, unfolding stories ever since. In a somewhat gaudy display of her broad range, she then went on to edit a key installment in our 2017 series on the state’s woefully inadequate mental health system, a project that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting.

Anica served a relatively short stint as Felice Belman’s main deputy on the metro desk, and as such, was a key bridge between metro and the digital world, organizing the day in the early morning, dispatching reporters, keying in on the most important journalism that we would focus on that cycle. She was pulled away by the siren song of the Nieman fellowship at Harvard University. When she returned, Anica took over the Ideas section, making it ever more compelling as it took on newsier subjects and brought far greater diversity in voices.

I certainly don’t have to tell anyone that Anica is a wonderful colleague. She’s also the brand new mother of a ten-week-old daughter. As has often been said, when you want to get something done, ask a busy person. Anica will start in this new role when her family leave ends on September 8.

Nestor Ramos, who has proven himself invaluable in his relatively new role as deputy metro editor, better known as the city editor, will take on the enhanced title of senior assistant managing editor for local news, a masthead position. This is a straight-up acknowledgement of his enormous impact on the room and our coverage. Given the coronavirus, given the economic collapse, remote work, social justice, racial injustice, he has been a pivotal leader in what has basically been a decade’s worth of news crammed into the first seven-plus months of 2020. Back in December, when Jen, Jason, and I convinced a reluctant columnist to become an editor,  we knew we needed him at the figurative and literal center of our newsroom. We had no idea how much we needed him, or just how well Nestor would perform — with reporters, other editors, ideas, copy, hiring, you name it. On top of all this, Nestor was announced as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing this spring for his jaw-dropping story on how the climate crisis has ravaged Cape Cod. Nestor, too, is a hall-of-fame colleague in ways big and small, plus the father of two young daughters, ages 4 and 1. The promotion will take effect immediately, and Nestor will report to Anica, in what will be as formidable a duo as there is in this industry.

Please reach out and congratulate Anica and Nestor, and thank them for all they’re about to do.

Brian

*Correction: Added “news-side” to make it clear that there have been persons of color on the masthead from the opinion operation.

Correction No. 2: I’ve changed the headline to reflect the fact that Ramos does not identify as a person of color.

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