I’m on the road without my laptop. But my friends at WGBH News have posted a memo I received from a source earlier today in which Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory updated the staff on issues involving downsizing, possible layoffs, and a massive reinvention effort.
Update: I was so excited to get a copy of Sheehan’s announcement in my inbox that I didn’t check to see whether the Globe had the story. They did. Here it is.
The Boston Globe has found a buyer for its headquarters at 135 Morrissey Blvd. The announcement was made in an email to the staff Friday night from Mike Sheehan, chief executive of Boston Globe Media Partners. (Thanks, source! You are a prince or princess among men or women.) Here’s Sheehan:
Just wanted you to know that BGMP has entered into an agreement to sell our headquarters at 135 Morrissey Boulevard. We have also entered into a confidentiality agreement with the buyer, so I can offer no details about the transaction at this time. This is just the beginning of the process; I’ll keep you updated as it proceeds.
Have a great weekend.
I tweeted out the news a little while ago, but it’s raised more questions than answers among people who don’t follow this stuff obsessively. So here’s a bit of background.
1. The Globe‘s editorial and business operations are moving downtown, into rented office space at 53 State St. The target date for the move is January 1, but I’m guessing that will prove to be ambitious.
2. The printing operations are moving to a new facility in Taunton.
3. This is a true fact:
4. In 2013 John Henry bought the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and the Morrissey Boulevard headquarters from the New York Times Company for a total of $70 million. He later sold the T&G for an undisclosed amount that has been estimated at somewhere between $7 million and $19 million. In 2014, the Globe reported that the Morrissey Boulevard property might be worth somewhere between $50 million and $70 million. So it is likely that Henry will have ended up getting the Globe for free. On the other hand, he’s losing money—or, as Globe editor Brian McGrory put it recently in a memo announcing buyouts, “The Globe’s numbers aren’t as good as our words (or photos, videos, and graphics).”
5. As Sheehan wrote, the identity of the new owner of the Morrissey Boulevard property and his intentions are not being announced at this time. So here’s some speculation from me and some sharp observations from Bill Forry, editor of the Dorchester Reporter.
Well, that was fast. Just a day after Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory announced that chief digital guy David Skok would be leaving later this year, two people who will take over some of his duties have been named. One is a real eye-opener: Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Globe owner John Henry, who will oversee Boston.com.
The other is Anthony Bonfiglio, currently the executive director of engineering, who’ll be in charge of engineering, development, product, and design.
When I gave a “Rave” to Skok on Beat the Press Friday, host Emily Rooney asked me if Skok’s departure was related to Linda Henry’s elevation. My honest answer is that I have no idea. It’s something I would certainly like to find out.
It’s also not clear how hands-on Linda Henry intends to be. Eleanor Cleverly, the general manager of Boston.com, has gotten good reviews for stabilizing the site after a rocky transition from being the Globe‘s online home to its current incarnation as a free standalone service. And Cleverly will remain.
It’s way too early to assess what this will all mean, but I’ve heard from a number of insiders that Linda Henry is smart and generally a force for good. Still, it’s an unorthodox move.
The Globe still needs a journalist to replace Skok as managing editor for digital (he’s vice president for digital at Boston Globe Media Partners as well). But since Skok isn’t leaving right away, I suppose that can wait.
What follows is a memo from Mike Sheehan, chief executive of BGMP.
I want to let everyone know that Anthony Bonfiglio will now oversee digital operations, including engineering/development, product, and design across all of BGMP.
Anthony joined us two years ago from Visible Measures, where he was VP of Engineering. Since then, his impact has been immense. He oversaw the rollout of agile software development processes and best practices across the product and engineering teams. As a result, we’ve shortened time-to-market from weeks to multiple releases every week across all teams, creating a predictable and transparent development process. Anthony helped transition much of the business to WordPress and has overseen many of our digital redesigns. He was a key contributor in the launch of Stat.
On the business side, Anthony folded creative services developers into the overall engineering organization and greatly increased their productivity. He also successfully assumed management of our ad operations organization during a critical phase and has since transitioned it back to Advertising.
In short, Anthony has proven himself as a leader who can make a very complex organization faster, better, and more agile. He will continue to report to Wade Sendall.
Brian McGrory informed the newsroom yesterday that David Skok has decided to leave the Globe by the end of the year. Regarding David’s boston.com responsibilities, Eleanor Cleverly will continue day-to-day oversight and management of boston.com, but it will now report to Linda Henry in her current role as Managing Director.
I know I join everyone in wishing David Skok nothing but success and happiness in all his future endeavors and in expressing deep gratitude for all he’s done over the past three years. He has been a driving force in the success we’ve experienced on bostonglobe.com and, with Eleanor and her team, was key to stabilizing boston.com over the past six months. As he transitions out, the leadership of Anthony, Eleanor, and Linda will help us continue to be the region’s leading source of journalism that becomes more relevant and interesting by the hour.
Big news from the Boston Globe: chief digital guy David Skok is leaving later this year. I’m trying to do this on my phone. So, for now, the memo from editor Brian McGrory will have to suffice.
Friday update: Skok’s departure is especially significant given that the Globe is in the midst of a major reinvention effort as well as another round of downsizing. Skok is a huge part of solving a big problem for the Globe: although it has made strides in becoming a round-the-clock digital news organization, as McGrory notes below, most of its readers continue to view the print edition as the main event. That’s true at newspapers generally—even the Washington Post, perhaps the most digitally focused newspaper in the country.
No one is irreplaceable, but it’s not going to be easy for the Globe to find someone as knowledgeable and respected as Skok.
McGrory’s message to the newsroom follows.
When I journeyed to Toronto one summer day three years ago to meet David Skok, I brought with me no small number of demands. The Globe had a new and beautiful website, but we needed far more traffic to make it matter. The newsroom had many digital ambitions, but lacked someone to point us in the right directions. We could hear the music, but were slow to pick up the rhythm. Basically, we needed to find the most capable and disciplined digital journalist in the industry to guide us toward an entirely better place.
David’s work launching a confederation of news sites that spanned Canada was widely lauded, and his paper on disruption, co-authored with Clay Christensen during his Nieman fellowship, served as something of an instruction manual for many in the business. In a part of the industry filled with hucksters spouting jargon, it was immediately apparent to me over dinner that David stood far apart. He very much belonged at the Globe.
The rest has been nothing short of transformational. In the two-and-a-half years since David arrived on Morrissey Boulevard, globe.com readership and revenues have soared. Last year was a record year for traffic, and this year we’re already up by nearly 20 percent. We now have a fresher, bolder, more relevant, and increasingly provocative site filled with a heady mix of digital-first journalism that captures the moment and deeper enterprise presented in ways that are geared toward the web. Our social and video teams are producing visual and social journalism that rivals many digital native news sites. Most important of all, this entire room has arrived at an understanding of what it means to be a digital-first operation and why it’s vital to our future. It’s often easy to lose sight of how far we’ve come as we focus on how much work is left to do.
I’ve buried the lede here, certainly because the next line pains me so to write, but here goes: David has decided to leave the Globe. He’s seeking his next professional challenge, which he very much hopes will lead him back to Canada. I’ve asked him to continue to lend his insights to our vital reinvention initiative, and he has agreed. We’re both thinking of a departure around the end of the year, give or take.
David’s legacy here can be distilled rather easily. While self-proclaimed digital gurus are always chasing the newest new thing – More video! A landing page for newsletters! – David takes a distinctly different approach. He constantly and consistently preaches quality – quality story-telling, quality editing, quality decision-making. He wags his finger at anyone seduced by the siren song of page views – “Vanity metrics,” he calls them – and recites from memory what specific stories led to the most subscriptions. The reason behind this is very simple: David is a journalist first, a digital visionary second.
More recently, he has taken his managerial skills outside of the newsroom, imposing a rare sense of order in our digital efforts building-wide. He has had no problem whatsoever holding demanding department heads at bay because of precious resources, while holding his own team accountable for its time.
One other note that probably shouldn’t come this far in: David is a world-class colleague, smart, humane, funny in his own Canadian way, and a person of some of the highest integrity I’ve ever seen. Add to that the fact that he quite simply never lets up on himself.
There’s no need to say goodbye to David just yet; as I said, that won’t occur until later in the year. But David wanted to give me, and us, plenty of notice. The front office will make announcements imminently on who will take over the digital operations in other parts of the building, and I’ll begin putting together a plan for the newsroom. It could involve a specific person, a different structure, or some combination of the two. Please stay tuned.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to David’s work is the extraordinary digital team that he’s assembled over the past couple of years, so infused with authority and confidence that it will prosper long after he is gone. We are on the verge of even greater things, and that doesn’t change at all.
The Boston Globe is once again downsizing its newsroom, according to an email sent to the staff from editor Brian McGrory earlier this morning and obtained by Media Nation.
We’ll have to see how this plays out. But one intriguing theme is the idea that this comes at what McGrory calls “an inflection point.” The newsroom and business operations will be moving downtown early next year, a new printing plant is coming online in Taunton, and the “reinvention effort” McGrory announced a few weeks ago will soon yield results.
The optimistic spin would seem to be that the Globe of the future will soon be in place, and that if everything works according to plan, there should be no further need for cuts. A pessimist might observe that the newspaper business continues to shrink. But let’s hope owner John Henry and company can overcome the prevailing trend.
Yet again in the world’s worst-kept secret category, we plan to put another buyout on the table, probably by the end of this week. These things aren’t really meant to be a secret. They just take a while to come together, despite our vast experience with them.
There’s no complicated math involved. There’ll be two weeks for every year of service, with the package capped at a year’s pay. Everyone in the newsroom will get an offer. The company reserves the right, as with all prior buyouts, to reject anyone who puts in for it.
To the obvious question of why, as in, why again, why so soon after the prior buyout of last autumn, the answer is pretty straightforward: The Globe’s numbers aren’t as good as our words (or photos, videos, and graphics). So we need to take down costs across the company, an exercise that virtually all other news organizations in the nation, legacy and digital-only, are focused on right now. Other parts of this building are doing this as well.
This particular buyout is being offered as the Globe arrives at an inflection point, which is why I’m hopeful that it will work well for a portion of our room.
First, we’re moving downtown come January 1. While this is great for the organization, on a personal level, commutes will be different, rituals disrupted, and parking will no longer be free and easy. Second, we’re undertaking a reinvention initiative that will in all likelihood lead to a profoundly different approach to a good part of our work. Everybody in this room should be prepared for their jobs to change in ways that may be significant. Change is as exhausting as it is exhilarating, and some people have had enough. We respect that, and are offering this enticement now so we can all be prepared going forward. To be very clear here: This will be the last buyout before the move downtown.
For those who plan to stay, please know this: There are fascinating times ahead. We can curse the economic problems that have beset the entire industry, and guilty as charged: I’ve done more than enough of that myself. But at the same time, we can and should feel privileged to be part of any solutions. Between a new printing facility in Taunton that will produce papers far sharper than anything in our history, to new offices downtown that will put us in the flow of this city, to the surge in readership on bg.com, the success in digital subscriptions, and the consistently amazing journalism that you produce day after day in the face of ferocious industry forces, there’s not a newsroom in this nation better positioned to succeed than ours. None of it is easy. All of it is vital – and noble. We, meaning you, can do this. You already are.
I’ll be in the Winship Room today at 11, 2, and 6 to talk a bit more, take your questions, and hear what’s on your mind.
Everybody’s talking about Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s memo about an initiative to reinvent the newsroom. I’ve been tweeting up a storm. These ideas aren’t fully formed, but I thought I’d preserve them on Storify as a quick reaction. Click here to read.
We’re also having a great conversation about this on Facebook.
A copy of Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s latest newsroom memo just wafted through an open window here at Media Nation. And it’s a doozy—an invitation to rethink how the Globe newsroom does just about everything, from the way beats are structured, to how many days the paper should appear in print, to how best to use technology.
“To help shape the discussion,” McGrory writes, “consider this question: If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization designed to take on The Boston Globe, what would it look like?” Needless to say, the Globe itself is already owned by a wealthy individual—John Henry, a financier who is the principal owner of the Red Sox.
Last fall I asked McGrory if the redesigned, thinner Saturday print edition was a prelude to cutting back on the number of print days. At that time he said no, but added, “We’re constantly thinking and rethinking this stuff.” Many newspaper industry observers believe it’s inevitable that daily papers will eventually move to a weekend print edition—where most of the advertising appears—supplemented by digital the rest of the week.
The conversation is being facilitated by three outside consultants, Tom Rosenstiel and Jeff Sonderman of the American Press Institute and Marty Kaiser, the former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
So let’s get right to it:
It’s time to bring everyone up to date on a series of conversations I’ve initiated among senior editors over the past couple of months, conversations intended to lay the groundwork for a no-sacred-cows analysis of our newsroom and what the Globe should look like in the future. It’s also time to get the room fully involved in the process.
You know it as I know it: The Globe, like every other major legacy news organization, has faced what have proven to be irreversible revenue declines. The revenue funds our journalism. The declines have mandated significant cuts over the past dozen years.
There’s far too much good that goes on at this organization on a moment-by-moment basis to allow ourselves to be consumed by what’s wrong with the industry. But we can’t ignore hard realities, either, or simply wish them away. My own strong preference is to somehow shed the annual reduction exercise that seems increasingly inevitable here and everywhere. So I’ve asked senior editors to think about how we, at the very least, might get ahead of the declines, and in the best case, work to slow or even halt them. To help shape the discussion, consider this question: If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization designed to take on The Boston Globe, what would it look like?
There are important issues to raise and explore in what I’ll call a reinvention initiative: Do we have the right technology? Do we train staff in the right way? Should we remain in the current print format that we have now, same size, same sections? Do we have the right departments? Is our beat structure outdated? How can our work flows improve? Do we have too many of XX and not enough Ys? Should we publish seven days a week? Do print and digital relate in the right ways?
The questions could go on and on. They could become bolder still.
Easy answers, as you well know, are elusive. The good news is that we’ve got an absurdly smart, dedicated collection of journalists, many of the best in the nation, that has embraced profound and meaningful change over the years, always while maintaining our values. We’ve built two of the most successful websites in the industry, first boston.com, and now bostonglobe.com. The latter site is not only thriving, but growing rapidly, up more than 15 percent in uniques and page views this year over last, and leading the league in digital-only subscribers—the most important metric. We successfully overhauled key parts of the site last year. We’re about to launch a major sports redesign this spring, all while we confidently spread our wings with a broader array of stories and topics geared first to our web audience.
At the same time, we haven’t just maintained print, but enhanced it over the past few years, with a great new standalone business section through the week, a Sunday Arts section that showcases some of the best critics in the industry, Address, premium magazines, broadsheet feature sections. I’m missing things, I’m sure. We saw quite clearly in January just how much the physical paper means to an enormous swath of our readership.
The journalism, through it all, has been consistently exceptional. We drove the Olympics debate. We launched a national debate on concurrent surgery. We’ve been one of the smartest, freshest voices on the national political scene. We’ve chronicled poverty in rural Maine and economic segregation in greater Boston in deeply memorable ways. Day in, day out, we are one of the most thoughtful metropolitan news organizations in the land.
All of which is to say: We’re very good at change. We’re committed to high standards. We are well-positioned to go even further.
So I’ll frame the discussion one more way: Is it possible to build something bold rather than shrink what we have?
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether this reinvention initiative is an excuse for more cutting. The glib answer is that we don’t really need an excuse to cut. The revenue declines require it. The more involved answer is that even without declining revenue, we should still be exploring reinvention, given the massive advances in technology and massive changes in reader habits. And even without a reinvention initiative, we’d still have to cut. So the honest answer is that a reinvention would naturally take into account the realities of declining revenues.
I’ve sought some outside counsel to help facilitate the process, people who have thought long and hard about these issues and are deeply knowledgeable about what’s been tried at other news organizations and how it’s worked. Tom Rosenstiel and Jeff Sonderman, the executive director and deputy director respectively of the American Press Institute, plan to be in the newsroom on Friday—tomorrow—to meet in small groups with some staff. They’ll be joined by Marty Kaiser, the highly respected former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked with Tom on these exact issues. After Tom, Jeff, and Marty get an initial sense of our newsroom, we’ll discuss a path forward and how they might help. The key is to create a process that involves as many people as possible, at all levels, tapping into the wealth of creativity that is this newsroom’s trademark.
This is a significant and important undertaking. It’s also an exciting one. We’re in a moment in this industry and at this organization that requires us to be bold (have I used that word enough yet?) and imaginative, always in our journalism, but also in determining how we best fulfill our civic responsibilities. There’s not the tiniest bit of doubt that we’re up to the challenge.
I’ll be reaching out to some of you about meeting with Tom, Jeff, and Marty tomorrow, and then I’ll report back soon in a series of Winship Room gatherings about the road ahead. We’re committed to a process in which everyone can effectively share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. In the meantime, feel more than free to reach out to me directly.