The Globe, Jack Connors and Mike Barnicle

Mike Barnicle

I’m just catching up to this excellent analysis by Poynter’s Rick Edmonds of the Aaron Kushner group’s ongoing efforts to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. Edmonds’ bottom line: a sale is possible but unlikely.

With the Globe’s business having stabilized and the Times Co.’s debt burden eased, Edmonds writes, “It looks to me like a keeper for the company — unless someone comes forward with cash and is prepared to way overpay.”

Last week the Globe’s Brian McGrory reported that local advertising executive Jack Connors has joined the Kushner group, which already includes former Globe publisher Ben Taylor and his cousin Steve Taylor, himself a former top Globe executive. This isn’t the first time Connors has tried to become part of the Globe’s ownership.

It also raises the intriguing question of whether the specter of former Globe columnist Mike Barnicle can be far behind. Barnicle was involved in a bid by retired General Electric chief executive Jack Welch and Connors to buy the Globe several years ago, a bid that Barnicle told Boston magazine was “very serious.” In a 2007 Boston Globe Magazine piece by the legendary Steve Bailey, Barnicle’s wife, Bank of America executive Anne Finucane, was described as one of Connors’ “closest friends.”

It’s hard to know what to make of the Barnicle connection, but my guess is that it diminishes the likelihood that the Times Co. will sell the Globe. It would be the ultimate revenge for Barnicle. It’s also a victory that I suspect Times Co. chief executive Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would rather not let him have, given that Barnicle was let go by the Globe in 1998 — possibly with a push from New York — over a series of ethical transgressions.

Pin the tail on the potential owner

Who will buy the Boston Globe? Silly season may have already arrived. The Globe today attempts to knock down the Boston Herald’s claim yesterday that an investment group with ties to Thomas O’Neill III is interested, while at the same time identifying three other potential buyers.

The Herald, meanwhile, reports that Red Sox principal owner John Henry has told his Twitter followers he’s not interested; his name has been floating around for a while. (Sorry, but I don’t know Henry’s Twitter address.) Nothing new from Jack Welch, who has restricted his tweeting to sports the last couple of days.

Let me return to the Globe’s claim that the Herald got it wrong with respect to Intercontinental Real Estate Corp., whose board of advisers includes Tom O’Neill and former Bank of Boston head Ira Stepanian. The Globe’s Keith O’Brien and Beth Healy, with help from Casey Ross, write:

[A] person connected to the Intercontinental Real Estate Corp. refuted a report that the real estate investment and management firm is interested in buying the Globe. This person, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter, said the report in the Boston Herald was not accurate.

Now, let’s go back to the Herald story, written by Christine McConville with assists from Jay Fitzgerald and Jessica Heslam. Here’s the key graf:

“Intercontinental is interested in any good investment that offers superior returns for our investors, as well as opportunities for job preservation, and even job growth, for our union investors,” said a top executive for Boston-based Intercontinental, which manages real estate and some $2.5 billion in investment funds, including union pensions. “The Globe fits our profile.”

Neither the Herald nor the Globe offers us an on-the-record source from Intercontinental, so it’s hard to know what to make of all this. But the specificity of the Herald quote suggests that there’s at least something to it. Most likely the Herald and the Globe stories are both accurate, but only one of them is true.

The possible buyers identified by the Globe — former Globe executive Stephen Taylor, a member of the paper’s former ruling family, as well as Boston advertising executive Jack Connors and Boston Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca — are all familiar names. It’s hard to know how serious any of them are. My guess is that when a buyer is announced, we’ll all be shocked. This is good coffee-machine conversation, but probably no one outside of New York Times Co. management really knows what’s going on.

In other Globe-related news, editorial-page editor Renée Loth is retiring to write a freelance column for the paper. She’ll be replaced by Washington bureau chief Peter Canellos, who’ll also oversee the Sunday Ideas section. The current Ideas editor, Gareth Cook, will remain in that post.

Bringing Canellos home in any capacity is a smart move. His specific job title is less important than getting him back inside the building, where he will no doubt be a key player in any and all reinvention initiatives. He also has a good relationship with Cook, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science reporter.

Both Canellos and Cook are Boston Phoenix alumni, though Canellos had moved on before my arrival there. Cook and I worked together in the mid-’90s.

Finally, former Globe media consultant Lou Phelps has posted a commentary at Cape Cod Today in which she takes the Boston Newspaper Guild to task for being “unwilling to publicly acknowledge the core issues of the business model of The Boston Globe, and the changing newspaper industry that The New York Times company must face.”

Phelps’ main argument is that technology should allow a newsroom to operate with many fewer journalists than was the case before cell phones and the Internet.

Her take is interesting, but she should have acknowledged that the Globe has already done a lot of cutting — from 550 full-time newsroom positions in 2000 to about 330 today. I hope she’ll check in and let us know how much lower she thinks the Globe can go.

And wow — Phelps is easy on the Guild compared to Cape Cod Today editor Walter Brooks. Duck!

Photo (cc) by cmiper and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Jack Welch (“Jack Welch”*?) on the Globe

A Boston Globe insider led me to this Twitter page, purportedly by retired General Electric chief executive Jack Welch, who was interested in buying the Globe back when the New York Times Co. wasn’t selling. Check this message out:

So ironic to see NYT act so brutish toward labor. Certainly would be crucifying any Company with labor practices like theirs.

Not quite getting the point? Here’s a Welch (or “Welch”) update:

My New York Times labor tweet a few min ago refers to their BRUTISH dark age labor relations with their Boston Globe employees

There is nothing obviously fake about the Welch Twitter page. It’s mostly about sports, and the site links to his book. Times business columnist Joe Nocera recently wrote that Welch has a Twitter account, though Nocera didn’t supply the address. I think this is Welch, although I’m open to evidence that it isn’t.

Which raises an obvious question. Is Welch still interested in buying the Globe? If so, is this a ploy to reach out to employees?

Granted, I’m not sure what the logic would be. It’s management he needs to reach out to.

*Update: Dave Hersam nails it. It really is Welch.

Update II: The Boston Newspaper Guild has now sent out an e-mail publicizing Welch’s tweets.

Update III: Welch is certainly not my idea of a white knight for the Globe. Click here and here.

Photo (cc) by Josh Greenstein and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

The mother of all (potential) conflicts

You think the New York Times Co.’s 17 percent stake in the Red Sox creates a conflict of interest for the Times Co.-owned Boston Globe? It could have been worse — much worse.

Today the Globe’s Matt Viser checks in with a long front-page story on efforts by Joe O’Donnell, a part-owner of Suffolk Downs, to build a casino at the sagging track. Mayor Tom Menino seems to think it’s a good idea, which is a shame. It’s also a shame that so much of our local public discourse is now taken up by casino gambling.

Anyway, you may recall that last year retired General Electric chief executive Jack Welch and local advertising executive Jack Connors proposed to buy the Globe from the Times Co. Welch was the big celebrity, so he always got mentioned. Connors was the semi-celebrity, so he usually got a shout-out as well.

But there was a third member of the troika whose name often got left out — O’Donnell, who got rich selling hot dogs and popcorn at sporting events. How would you have liked the Globe to be reporting on a casino bid involving one of its co-publishers? Ugh.

My standard disclosure.

Welch takes no for an answer

Jack Welch now says it’s obvious that the New York Times Co. isn’t going to sell the Globe to him and advertising honcho Jack Connors. “There was a time when it would have been right,” Welch said in a speech at MIT, according to an account by Reuters. “Management has made it very clear to us that they have no interest in selling the Globe.”

This is not a big surprise. The Times Co. hasn’t budged since last fall, when Welch first made his interest known. (In keeping with the theme of the day, I’ll point out that Mike Barnicle somehow figured into all of this.) Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. apparently believes there are better days ahead for the Globe. As a reader, I hope he’s right. (Via Romenesko.)

Beam sends a message to Welch

The quote of the day comes from Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, who tells the New York Observer what would be wrong with a Jack Welch-led buyout of the Globe: “Jack Welch and David Geffen’s idea of journalism is like a Charlie Rose interview. ‘Gosh, Mr. Welch, tell us more about your fabulous career.’ That’s not our idea of journalism.”

Geffen, of course, is the entertainment-industry mogul who wants to buy the Los Angeles Times from the Tribune Co.

The Observer reports that New York Times Co. chief executive Janet Robinson will meet with the Globe staff on Feb. 8 and 9 to address the recent spate of bad news coming out of Morrissey Boulevard, including the closing of foreign bureaus, 125 job cuts at the Globe and at its sister paper, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and the company’s recent decision to devalue the Globe and the T&G by more than $800 million.

The Phoenix’s Adam Reilly has a good roundup here.

The questions all along have been two-fold: Will the advertising climate in Greater Boston turn around? And will the Times Co. sell?

It appears that Robinson is going to tell the troops “yes” and “no.” And that would be moderately good news. If you consider what’s going on in the newspaper business right now, continued Times Co. ownership might well be the least bad alternative.

Something (or someone) better might come along in two to five years. But for now, the Times Co. is probably a safer bet to preserve the Globe’s core local mission than any other prospective owners.

And kudos to Beam for dissing a zillionaire who could still somehow wind up as his boss. (Via Romenesko.)

Globe to close foreign bureaus

The Boston Globe announced some sad news today: The paper is closing its foreign bureaus. Media Nation received word a little while ago, but Romenesko has already posted both this Globe item and a memo to the staff by editor Marty Baron, the text of which appears below:

To the staff:

As you know, this is a period of hard choices for us. Today I am advising you of one of them: We will no longer maintain a network of foreign bureaus.

We currently have four superb, supremely dedicated colleagues in three bureaus overseas. They will be given the opportunity to return here for other positions, and the bureaus will be closed.

Continuing to bear the expense of our foreign bureaus would have required us to reduce staffing by a dozen or so positions beyond those already announced. We concluded that it would be unwise to meet the newsroom’s financial targets by making additional staff reductions.

We will continue to send reporters and photographers abroad on special projects and selected major events. Our budget for this year sets aside money for that purpose.

Foreign coverage has been a point of special pride in our newsroom, ever since the Globe established its first overseas bureau in the mid-1970s. Since then, the Globe has asked its foreign correspondents to provide stories of distinction, and they have always delivered. Often, our colleagues have put their own lives at risk in the important, noble task of bringing the world closer to our readers. They are fiercely committed to their work, and they have been brave beyond measure.

Many other regional newspapers, some larger than ours, have taken similar steps in recent years. Our decision came only after a careful review by the publisher of various options that would allow us to stay within budget. All along, a guiding principle was to secure the resources required for local coverage and for journalism that has the most direct impact on our readers.

We remain positioned for another year of outstanding journalism, with robust local coverage, ambitious plans for the presidential campaign, and continued strength in sports, arts, business, features, Washington coverage, and many other areas. You can also expect even more aggressive initiatives online.

In coming weeks, I will be talking with you more about all of this.

Marty

Affected are Thannasis Cambanis and Anne Bernard, who cover the Middle East from the Jerusalem bureau; Indira Lakshmanan, based in Bogotá, Colombia; and Colin Nickerson, based in Berlin.

That this was inevitable makes it no less depressing. As many media observers, including me, have been writing for some time, it no longer makes sense for regional papers like the Globe to cover international news in any sort of comprehensive way — not when the New York Times, the BBC et al. are just a click away.

The Globe’s foreign coverage has been distinguished. Retired editor Matt Storin once told me that his philosophy was for the Globe to be like the New Yorker — to cover the news, but also to seek out the offbeat stories that the Times and the Washington Post weren’t covering. In recent years you could see that in John Donnelly’s outstanding reportage from Africa (Donnelly moved to back to Washington last year). And only yesterday, the Globe fronted a fine Lakshmanan piece on Panama City’s old quarter.

The Globe’s Elizabeth Neuffer — best known for her work in the former Yugoslavia — was one of the first reporters to die covering the war in Iraq. In 2002, Baron flew to Israel after Anthony Shadid — then with the Globe, now with the Post — was shot in Ramallah.

Not too many years ago, folks at regional papers like the Globe wanted to compete with the national media by having their own people in Washington, across the country and overseas. Unfortunately, the new media landscape puts a premium on local, local, local.

But that doesn’t mean something hasn’t been lost. Take a look at these special reports on the Globe’s Web site. Baron says the Globe’s foreign coverage won’t disappear entirely. But it’s not going to be the same. Not even close.

Update: Michael Gee disagrees with my assessment, and backs it up with some sharp observations about his years at the Herald. Unfortunately, he lumps Media Nation in with … Jack Welch!

Jack Welch’s local vision

Retired GE chairman Jack Welch has glimpsed the future of metropolitan newspapers like the Globe, even if he’s not the guy I want to see implementing that vision.

“You’ve got to make the newsroom not control the world,” Welch said on CNBC, according to this account in the Herald by Jesse Noyes. “I’m not sure local papers need to cover Iraq, need to cover local events. They can be real local papers. And franchise, purchase from people very willing to sell to you their wire services that will give you coverage.”

That still sounds horrifying to my aging, nostalgia-attuned ears. But he’s right. Now that the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC and the like are just a click away, the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Miami Herald et al. have little stake in covering national and international news except when there’s a local angle.

The Star Trib and the Globe

The Minneapolis Star Tribune‘s value meltdown would seem to auger well for the Jack Welch/Jack Connors group’s hopes of buying the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. The McClatchy chain is selling the Star Trib to a private equity firm for $530 million, which is about half what it paid eight years ago.

Jaws dropped when Welch and Connors proposed paying the Times Co. about half the $1.1 billion it laid out when it purchased the Globe in 1993. Now, as Adam Reilly of the Phoenix observes in considering the Star Trib situation, “Sounds a lot like the Globe to me.”

But I think the Star Trib sale means the Times Co. is less likely to unload the Globe right now, not more. Why?

Consider this story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (via Romenesko). According to media and financial analysts, the private equity firm that bought the Star Trib is likely to engage in some serious cost-cutting and then sell out in three to five years. Obviously, the new owners think they’ll be able to get a lot more than $530 million when the time comes to sell.

The Times Co. has repeatedly said that the Globe is not for sale. My guess is that the Sulzbergers have a similar strategy. As much as we may lament the cost-cutting that’s already taken place at the Globe, it could get a lot smaller in the years to come. Indeed, with increasing numbers of readers getting their news online, the major value that the Globe brings to the table is its local coverage; everything else is going to be looked at very closely.

A more-local strategy; a better idea of how to make money online; and hopes for an improved advertising climate thanks to such developments as the arrival of Nordstrom to offset the loss of those Jordan Marsh and Filene’s ads, and Times Co. executives may well believe they’ll find themselves dealing from a position of strength a few years from now.

If they were to sell right now, they’d be selling out of weakness. Which is why I think they won’t do it.