A few thoughts on the Globe’s digital rate hike

CommonWealth Magazine editor Bruce Mohl reports that The Boston Globe is about to increase its digital-only subscription rate by 74 percent — from $3.99 to $6.93 a week, or about $1 a day.

As I told Bruce for a follow-up, it’s a bold move — maybe too bold. The Globe has had a lot of success with paid digital subscriptions, having sold around 78,000 of them as of last September, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. The AAM does a lot of double- and even triple-counting of digital (the Globe itself claims a more modest 65,000, according to Mohl’s article), but that’s still an impressive number.

I’m sure some subscribers will walk away rather than pay the higher fee, but probably not too many. If you’re paying to read the Globe, it’s most likely because you are a committed Globe reader of long standing. To invoke the old cliché, $1 is considerably less than the cost of a cup of coffee. Still, some will cancel:

Newspaper companies charge for content at their peril. News executives may chafe at giving away their journalism, but members of their audience don’t feel like they’re getting anything for free — not after paying hundreds of dollars a month for broadband, cell service and their various digital devices.

Interestingly, while the Globe itself is becoming more expensive, John Henry and company are also making some big bets on free with sites like Crux, BetaBoston, Boston.com and the forthcoming life-sciences vertical, which will be called Stat according to several employment listings I’ve seen.

I wish the Globe success as its executives try to figure out how to pay for journalism in the 21st century. But at this point I think it would be wiser to focus on building their subscriber base than trying to squeeze more out of their existing customers.

Legislature makes it harder to use tax funds for Olympics

The Massachusetts Legislature did something Tuesday night to make it more difficult for tax money to be used to help pay for the Boston 2024 Olympics bid. But it’s not entirely clear exactly what — or how important it is.

Matt Stout in the Boston Herald quotes unnamed “lawmakers” as saying that the final budget deal produced by House and Senate negotiators “includes language preventing the use of state funds or tax expenditures for the 2024 Olympics.” His lede describes it as a “ban.”

But Andy Metzger of State House News Service offers a somewhat different spin, writing, “The budget … requires passage of a special act of the Legislature before any public funds can be spent to benefit the proposed 2024 Boston Olympics.” Maybe that amounts to the same thing, though it’s not clear.

Bruce Mohl’s analysis in CommonWealth Magazine offers this:

The budget contains a provision requiring that any expenditure of tax dollars for hosting the Olympics in 2024 must first be approved by the Legislature after public hearings. The budget, of course, remains in effect for  one year, through the end of June 2016.

Of course, one legislature’s actions are not binding on the next, and it seems pretty unlikely that the Boston 2024 folks are going to ask for public funds anytime in the next year. Which may explain why The Boston Globe’s budget story, by David Scharfenberg and Joshua Miller, makes no mention of it at all.

Or maybe not.

It strikes me that the measure was worth a mention, even if it’s largely symbolic. The implications of budget deals often become clearer in the days after they are reached. I hope we find out more about what actually happened Tuesday night.

CommonWealth criticizes Henry over Telegram sale

CommonWealth magazine editor Bruce Mohl has a very tough piece about Boston Globe owner John Henry in the new issue titled “The man who lied to Worcester.” Mohl, a former Globe staff member, criticizes Henry for going back on his promise either to sell the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to local buyers or to keep the paper himself.

Mohl quotes the T&G’s coverage of a meeting that Henry held with the staff last fall at which Henry said, “This is not a forced sale. If we don’t find the right owner, you’re stuck with me.”

I’ve written about Henry’s broken promise on several occasions, including last April for WGBHNews.org. But Henry has never explained what happened, and he did not respond to Mohl’s request for comment. Now the T&G is owned by Halifax Media Group, a Florida-based chain.

Globe’s Catholic site, downtown move are getting closer

Published previously at WGBHNews.org

John Henry’s vision for The Boston Globe is slipping more and more into focus, as the paper is edging closer to launching its website covering Catholicism and moving from Dorchester to downtown Boston.

The Catholic site will include three reporters and a Web producer, according to an announcement by Teresa Hanafin, the longtime Globe veteran who will edit the project. Look for it to debut in September.

In addition to John Allen, who’s been covering the Church for the Globe since being lured away from the National Catholic Reporter earlier this year, the team will comprise Ines San Martin, an Argentinian journalist who will report from the Vatican; Michael O’Loughlin, a Yale Divinity School graduate who will be the site’s national reporter; and Web producer Christina Reinwald.

Unlike the Globe’s new print-oriented Friday Capital section, which covers politics, the Catholic site will be aimed both at and well beyond Boston with national and international audiences in mind. “It will have a global audience. There’s a natural audience for it,” Globe chief executive officer Mike Sheehan said in a just-published interview with CommonWealth magazine editor (and former Globe reporter) Bruce Mohl.

Because of that, Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg tells me, the Catholic site will be exempt from the Globe’s paywall. It will be interesting to see how Sheehan, an ad man by trade, grapples with the difficult challenge of selling enough online advertising to make it work. Although this is pure speculation, I wonder if some of the content could be repackaged in, say, a weekly print magazine supported by paid subscriptions and ads.

The relocation from Dorchester to downtown, meanwhile, has moved closer to reality. Thomas Grillo reported in the Boston Business Journal on Tuesday that John Henry has hired Colliers International to find 150,000 square feet of office space — a considerable downsizing from the 815,000 square feet in the 1950s-era Dorchester plant. The Globe’s printing operations would most likely be shifted to a facility in Millbury, which Henry kept when he recently sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to a Florida chain.

One of the locations Colliers is investigating, Grillo reports, is in the Seaport District. And Sheehan, in the CommonWealth interview, says that would be his top choice: “I’d love to be in the Seaport area. If we were within walking distance of South Station, that would be ideal.”

If it happens, among the Globe’s new neighbors would be the Boston Herald, which moved to the Seaport District in 2012.

CEO Mike Sheehan says Boston Globe is profitable

Mike Sheehan
Mike Sheehan

CommonWealth magazine editor Bruce Mohl interviews Boston Globe chief executive officer Mike Sheehan in the just-posted summer issue. The most interesting takeaway is that the Globe, according to Sheehan, is currently profitable:

The Boston Globe is a profitable enterprise. I think it can be more profitable, but it’s a profitable enterprise. Look, we’re not going to run this like a hedge fund trying to raise crazy EBITDA. You could do that. You could cut. John’s [a reference to Globe owner John Henry] objective is to make the Globe sustainable, to come up with a model that makes it sustainable forever. The better we do on the revenue side, the more we’re going to pump into the content side.

I’ve heard it before, but it’s significant that the CEO would say it on the record. No specifics, though — under John Henry’s ownership, the Globe is a private company that doesn’t have to disclose its numbers.

The headline of the interview is “Mr. Sunshine,” and it fits the tone of the interview. If Sheehan was determined not to make news, then he succeeded. But it’s an interesting read, and there are some details I didn’t know about Sheehan’s longtime family relationship with editor Brian McGrory — who, Sheehan says, “was put on the face of the earth to be the editor-in-chief of The Boston Globe.”

Photo via Saint Anselm College.

Palmer’s method: Comment early and often

Former Boston Globe reporter Tom Palmer, who covered development for many years before switching sides and becoming a communications consultant, is urging his clients to bombard the Globe’s online-comments system.

Another former Globe reporter, CommonWealth Magazine editor Bruce Mohl, has obtained an e-mail from Palmer in which he urges residents of Harbor Towers to comment early and often in their opposition to plans by developer Don Chiofaro to build a skyscraper next to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. Palmer writes:

[Newspapers] don’t like it, and some of them are even considering getting rid of the “comment” feature because it clearly weakens their power. But for now we may comment and comment and comment — just as Don’s supporters do.

Mohl posts the full text of Palmer’s e-mail (pdf), and it’s a hoot. Among other things, Palmer includes step-by-step instructions for how to register and post comments, writing, “It is COMPLETELY ANONYMOUS.”

Maybe Palmer doesn’t find this embarrassing, but it seems to me that he has forgotten both the Lomasney rule and the Spitzer corollary: “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink”; and “never put it in e-mail.”