John and Linda Henry have owned The Boston Globe for nearly nine years, but they have never hired an editor. Brian McGrory, who announced Wednesday that he’ll be leaving at the end of the year to become chair of Boston University’s journalism department, had been named to the top newsroom job during the final months of New York Times Co. ownership. In this excerpt from my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls,” I tell the story of how McGrory recruited the Henrys to stave off the possibility of corporate chain ownership.
Rumors that The Boston Globe might be for sale began circulating as far back as 2006, when a group headed by retired General Electric chief executive Jack Welch, who was a Boston-area native, and local advertising executive Jack Connors was reported to be nosing around. At the time, the Globe was said to be valued at somewhere between $550 million and $600 million, vastly more than the price John Henry paid seven years later. But the New York Times Co. wasn’t selling — at least not yet. The following year, Ben Taylor, a former publisher of the Globe and a member of the family that had owned it from 1873 until selling it to the Times Co. 80 years later, told me in an interview for CommonWealth magazine that he might be interested in returning to ownership in some capacity if the Globe were put on the market. But he added that he thought such a development was unlikely. “I can’t imagine a scenario where that would be an opportunity,” he said, “but you never know, I guess. Stranger things have happened.”
Ben Taylor and his cousin Stephen Taylor, also a former Globe executive, became involved in a bid to buy the paper in 2009 when the Times Co. finally put the paper on the market. So did a Beverly Hills, California-based outfit known as Platinum Equity. With the Taylors thought to be undercapitalized and with Platinum having gutted the first newspaper it bought, the San Diego Union-Tribune, Globe employees were understandably nervous about their future. Although it was not a matter of public knowledge at the time, there was also a third possibility. After the Times Co. put up the Globe for sale, Brian McGrory, a popular columnist who was then serving a stint as the paper’s metro editor, decided to call around town to see if any public-spirited business executives might be interested. Among those he contacted was John Henry.
“I asked him at that time why he wouldn’t flip the paradigm,” McGrory told me. “It used to be that newspapers would own sports franchises. Why not have a sports franchise owner own a newspaper? Because without a healthy Boston Globe, which causes community discussion about a sports team — I made the argument, right or wrong; I have no idea if it was right — the value of a sports team might be diminished. And I did it because I thought he would be a very thoughtful, steady owner.”