Last week a years-long ownership crisis at the Los Angeles Times may have come to an end. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a billionaire surgeon and entrepreneur, purchased the Times from tronc for a reported $500 million.
Drawing on the lessons I write about in my new book, “The Return of the Moguls,” I e-talked with Dave Beard about what lessons Soon-Shiong could learn from Jeff Bezos’ vision for The Washington Post, and why other billionaire owners both good (John Henry of The Boston Globe) and bad (Sam Zell, who ran the former Tribune newspapers into the ground) have had a rougher go of it.
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I’m skeptical, but I’m impressed. Yesterday’s announcement that the Boston Globe will move most of its content to a subscription-based website sometime in the second half of 2011 shows that Globe executives know where their strengths are and that they’re prepared to think innovatively to protect those strengths.
The Globe’s dilemma is that it has an enormously successful free website, Boston.com, that is quite different from the paper itself. Start charging for access to Boston.com, and many of those 5 million unique visitors a month would vanish.
The solution: keep Boston.com free, but split off the Globe’s content into a separate, paid site called BostonGlobe.com, currently a free subsite. The decision raises lots of questions. Perhaps the biggest is how much free Globe content will be posted on Boston.com, and whether Boston.com will remain as popular once it has to stand on its own.
Still, it’s a far more interesting idea than the metered model embraced by the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Co., which rolled it out at the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester recently and which will give it a go at the flagship paper sometime next year. Under the metered model, readers can access so many articles for free each month, after which they have to pay. It might work for the T&G and the Times, but it would have been deadly for Boston.com.
Yesterday I conducted an e-mail interview with Globe publisher Christopher Mayer, which he graciously agreed to do because I still can’t take notes. (Although it’s getting better. I’ve got a pillow propped up and am typing two-handed now for the first time since my accident.) Our unedited conversation follows. I’ve got a few closing thoughts after the jump.
Q: The metered model seemed to be the way the New York Times Co. was going.Why did you choose something different?
A: We’ve said all along that each organization would need to come up with a custom-made approach that takes into account unique market factors. We felt this was the best course for us, given the fact that we have two strong brands and essentially two different types of users of our Boston.com site. We have the opportunity to build a free site and a subscription-based site, and based upon extensive research, that emerged as the best option for us.
Q: The advantage of the metered model is that you’re not entirely cut off from the great conversation that’s taking place on blogs and in social media. Are you concerned about breaking a big story and not having as much impact as you should because people can’t link to you? Please address what Clay Shirky said about the importance of online sharing with respect to the Globe’s reporting on the pedophile-priest story.
A: We don’t intend to be cut off from the conversation. We haven’t announced, or even worked out, all the details of what will be on which site. But we can envision that some full-text Globe stories will be available on the free site. I suspect we would have put many of the initial priest sex-abuse stories on the free site because that Spotlight Team investigation was viewed as clear public service reporting. In the future, we’ll make those judgments as appropriate. Continue reading “Publisher Chris Mayer on the Globe’s new pay model”→
Over the past few years, we’ve grown accustomed to watching talented people leave the Boston Globe. But this one hurts more than most: David Beard, the editor of Boston.com, has accepted a top editing job with the Washington-based National Journal Group.
According to this announcement, posted at Romenesko, Beard will be deputy editor-in-chief and online editor of the group, which is adding a number of free online services to its subscription site in order to compete with Politico. Though there’s no mention of it in the announcement, the Journal is a sister publication of the Atlantic, which owner David Bradley yanked out of Boston, its ancestral home, in 2005.
Beard has done a great job of positioning Boston.com as something different from the Globe. Perhaps even more important, he has been a huge presence for the Globe outside 135 Morrissey Blvd., evangelizing not just on behalf of the Globe, but for new forms of journalism in general. Plus, he’s a great guy.
The Globe’s ability to replace key people and reinvent itself is impressive, but Dave is going to be a hard act to follow. Subscribe to his Twitter feed here.
What follows is a memo that Globe editor Marty Baron and deputy managing editor for multimedia Bennie DiNardo sent to the staff a little while ago, a copy of which was obtained by Media Nation:
David Beard has been many things for us since arriving at the Globe in 1998 — online evangelist, deputy foreign editor, tweeter-in-chief, Facebook promoter, soccer fan, zones chief, recruiter, community liaison, reader advocate, teacher, valued adviser, friend. Sadly for us, he is about to add another title to his portfolio — former colleague.
David is taking his unlimited energy and his enthusiasm for news to Washington, where he will become deputy editor-in-chief and online editor for the National Journal Group, which includes National Journal, CongressDaily, The Hotline, NationalJournal.com, and The Almanac of American Politics.
In a building full of amazing Rolodexes, no one has a more extensive list of contacts than Dave. He’s a human version of LinkedIn. Whether you are writing about Belmont or Bogota, David inevitably knows someone and connects you. Before coming to Boston to be our deputy foreign editor, Dave reported from South America, the Caribbean, the US South, and the Cleveland area for the Plain Dealer, Associated Press, and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He also served as Caribbean editor for the AP for three years, overseeing coverage of the US intervention to restore an elected president in Haiti. After his three-year stint on the Globe’s foreign desk, he immersed himself in local coverage, overseeing the regional editions.
Four years ago, he again staked out new territory, becoming editor of Boston.com. Since then, the website has grown from 150 million page views a month to almost 200 million, and our mobile traffic has gone from nonexistent to almost 13 million page views. In his recent digital years, he supervised online coverage of Barack Obama’s presidential election victory and the death of Senator Kennedy, cultivated a growing network of community bloggers, and helped launch “Secret Spaces,” an online project that turned into a book.
With Dave leaving us in two weeks, a search for the next editor of Boston.com begins immediately, but first things first: Please offer your thanks to Dave for the invaluable creativity and collegiality he brought to this organization for the past 12 years, and wish him well as he pursues a promising opportunity in Washington.