Big changes (and shrinkage) coming to Boston.com

Sounds like big changes are coming to Boston.com, the free website the Boston Globe launched in the mid-1990s and whose mission has shifted a number of times over the years.

The takeaway from the memo below, from Boston.com general manager Eleanor Cleverly and chief engineering and product officer Anthony Bonfiglio, is that the free site will get smaller (buyouts are being offered) and that the priority will be the paid BostonGlobe.com site. It also sounds like Boston.com is being repositioned as a lifestyle-and-entertainment site in a way that’s not unlike a suggestion I made a year and a half ago at WGBHNews.org.

The news comes just days after Linda Henry, wife of Globe publisher John Henry, was given oversight responsibilities for Boston.com.

I don’t like to see people lose their jobs, but beyond that, the changes might make sense depending on how they play out. There is no reason for Boston.com and the Globe to be in competition with each other; several people left the Globe just last week in response to the latest round of buyouts. If this pushes a few Boston.com readers to pay for the Globe, so much the better. And as a Globe reader, I’m glad to hear that the recently redesigned online sports pages may be a model for the rest of the site.

News of the memo was broken by Carly Carioli on Twitter.

The memo follows.

Hello all,

Boston.com is now more than twenty years old; and this year, Globe.com celebrates its fifth anniversary. These sites are the two most popular digital news and information destinations in New England. As the digital landscape continues to change, we too must change and evolve.

The number one, long-term priority of our organization is to significantly grow our digital subscriber base at Globe.com. In order to do so, we need for our two sites to become more complementary in their day-to-day content and businesses.

Boston.com will continue to be the region’s best free go-to site for things to do, where to live, what to drive, where to work, destinations for travel and so much more, while also evolving to more closely focus on the needs of our audiences in key demographic segments and advertisers who are trying to connect with our audiences. It will be the indispensable guide, resource, and forum for the region. Boston.com will also be a portal to news from The Boston Globe for millions of visitors every month.

The Boston Globe will continue to build on its remarkable Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism and its position as a leader in paid digital subscribers among metro dailies in the country. Globe.com will remain the foremost site for news, information, and journalism from our region. The recent launch of our in-depth, graphically enhanced sports site is just the beginning of what is in store for Globe.com.

There will be a clearer differentiation between the in-depth journalism of Globe.com and the community-centered resources of Boston.com. With resulting efficiencies anticipated, we are offering a voluntary buyout program for those who work in dedicated digital roles across Boston Globe Media Partners. A reorganization of the digital operation is under way. This will create fewer redundancies, increased collaboration, greater efficiency and cost savings across the company.

You will undoubtedly have questions about these changes, particularly how they will personally and professionally impact you. Over the course of the next few weeks, we will host Q&A sessions for departments across Boston Globe Media Partners, beginning this afternoon. We will also address, with more specificity, how this new vision will be reflected in our core digital products.

For those of you who are staying as we move ahead, know that you will be part of a team of smart, collaborative, digital-first thinkers who will generate stories of great relevance and innovative products we can all be proud of. For those who choose to take this buyout, thank you for making our digital experience such an important part of our future.

Eleanor and Anthony

Linda Henry, wife of Globe owner, will oversee Boston.com

Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.
Linda Henry. Photo via Twitter.

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.

Memo Friday II: Boston.com GM addresses speed issue

Also on Thursday, The New York Times posted the results of a test showing that Boston.com loads slower than any mobile news site it measured — and that the way it handles advertising is the cause. According to the Times, it takes Boston.com 30.8 seconds to load all those ads, about three times worse than the next-worst offender.

Boston.com general manager Eleanor Cleverly responded with an email to the staff vowing to do better. A copy of her email wafted in through an open window here at Media Nation:

As you may have read, NYTimes.com published an article and related graphic, “The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites,” that profiles performance on many of today’s most trafficked destinations. An unfortunate, but accurate conclusion from their report is that Boston.com remains a standout in the time and data burden it places on users when loading advertisements and content.

This is not news to us at Boston.com. Optimizing our mobile and desktop load time and ad experience has been top-of-mind since the beginning of the year. We are in the process of one major project, the migration of Boston.com from our legacy CMS Methode to WordPress, that has allowed us to tackle some foundational improvements in an ongoing effort to solve the problem. Further, we’ve setup collaborative teams to address our mobile ad experience and ad blocking as a BGMP-wide [that’s short for Boston Globe Media Partners] concern. Key questions and applicable solutions will be relayed over the next quarter.

We’ll continue to keep the digital group updated, but it will take changes across the organization to realize real quantitative returns. We collectively got us to this point, and it will take a collective effort, putting the reader experience first, to make Boston.com the best-in-class website we envision it to be.

My door is open to additional conversations on the topic and creative solutions are always welcome.

Thanks,
Eleanor

Layoffs add to turmoil at Boston.com

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 2.47.15 PMNote: Updated with statement from Boston.com below. I got wind of this a little while ago — and it turns out that Garrett Quinn of Boston magazine was already working on it. A significant number of staff employees at the beleaguered Boston.com have been laid off. I hear 16; Quinn says “high teens.” [The actual number is 12, according to the Boston.com statement.] This comes after the departure of the site’s general manager and editor during the past week, and months of turmoil (punctuated by occasional calm) before that.

Boston Globe Media’s strategy of building free verticals around the Globe is, for  the most part, progressing nicely. BetaBoston, which covers the innovation economy; Crux, devoted to “all things Catholic”; and Stat, the forthcoming life-sciences site that’s already producing stories, are all quality projects.

But Boston.com has been seen as a thing apart ever since it was separated from BostonGlobe.com a year and a half ago. And the turmoil continues.

More: I just received this statement from incoming Boston.com general manager Eleanor Cleverly and outgoing general manager Corey Gottlieb:

We have spent much of the past few months rethinking an operational vision for Boston.com that both maintains our autonomy as a standalone business and reinforces our partnership with the Globe. Today, we announced a restructuring of Boston.com’s newsroom and the reduction of 12 full-time staff positions. This realignment includes changes to our leadership – Tim Molloy has chosen to step down and Kaitlyn Johnston, Boston.com’s current deputy editor, has been appointed as our site’s new editor.

This is a business decision that is part of a larger effort at Boston Globe Media Partners designed to put Boston.com in a stronger and more sustainable position for growth. That said, we would be remiss to overlook the fact that this was also a people decision, one that affects the lives of many who have worked tirelessly to support our operation. We are deeply grateful for that work.

Boston.com editor departs, according to BoMag

The revolving door keeps spinning at Boston.com. Garrett Quinn of Boston magazine reports that editor Tim Molloy is out, just a few days after Eleanor Cleverly replaced Corey Gottlieb as general manager. Molloy had been editor only since March.

New general manager named at Boston.com

Eleanor Cleverly (via Twitter)
Eleanor Cleverly (via Twitter)

Boston.com general manager Corey Gottlieb is leaving to take a job at DraftKings, according to an email sent to the staff from Mike Sheehan, CEO of Boston Globe Media Partners. He will be replaced by Eleanor Cleverly, currently the company’s executive director of digital strategy and operations. A copy of Sheehan’s announcement wafted in on the breeze a little while ago, and I present it below in full.

I first met Corey Gottlieb about a month after he graduated from Amherst College, when he joined the ad agency world on the bottom rung of a very tall ladder as an assistant account executive. I was immediately impressed not only with his maturity, his creativity, and his intellect, but also his work ethic. Clearly, he was going to climb the career ladder by working, not by talking.

The following year, he came to my office and told me he had been offered a job as Director of Product Development at Major League Baseball Advanced Media. For someone that young who grew up in Brookline playing baseball and devoted to the Red Sox, it was a dream job. I countered with nothing but a handshake, my best wishes, and a plea to stay in touch.

Corey spent four years at MLBAM, and then went back to school for his M.B.A. at Harvard Business School. As he was finishing up there, Andrew Perlmutter brought him in to discuss a role within BGMP, and he joined us as General Manager of Digital Marketplaces and was subsequently promoted to General Manager of Boston.com, leading its transition into a discreet digital property separate from the Globe. While that separation caused its fair share of anxiety, it has resulted in BostonGlobe.com having the third highest number of paid digital subscribers in the country, behind the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. From a business standpoint, there is no greater priority than producing quality journalism for which readers are willing to pay and with which advertisers are happy to be associated.

A few weeks ago, in a moment of deja vu, Corey came into my office and told me he had been offered a job as VP, Content at DraftKings. It’s a terrific opportunity, getting in on the ground floor of a fast-growing, Boston-based startup in the sports space. My counter was no different than the one before; I know I speak for everyone when I thank Corey for all he’s done and wish him nothing but success in his new endeavor.

Fortunately, we didn’t have to look too long or too far for Corey’s successor — the first name that rolled of the tongues of Andrew, Corey, and David Skok was Eleanor Cleverly. And I couldn’t have agreed with them more. I’m pleased to announce Eleanor’s promotion to General Manager, Boston.com.

Since joining BGMP, Eleanor has served as Director of Content and General Manager of Digital Marketplaces, Interim Editor of Boston.com, and Executive Director of Digital Strategy overseeing Social Media. Eleanor joined BGMP from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where she worked for the Center of Public Leadership. She also served as Assistant Director of the Harmony Institute where she conducted research for partners including Free Press, The Ford Foundation, and MTV. In 2009, she co-authored Net Neutrality for the Win: How Entertainment and the Science of Influence Can Save Your Internet.

Earlier in her career, Eleanor was Social Media Director for MEC, a media agency under the WPP umbrella where she oversaw strategy and media buying for IKEA, Citibank, and Colgate-Palmolive.

Eleanor not only has the resume to be successful leading Boston.com into the future, she has the leadership skills as well — she is universally admired and respected throughout the building. I couldn’t be more excited to have her leading Boston.com and I can guarantee she’ll continue to evolve it into a relevant, interesting property within the BGMP portfolio.