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A new report finds that news deserts are spreading — but there are bright spots, too

Photo (cc) 2008 by Stefano Brivio

The release of a new report by Penelope Muse Abernathy on the state of local news is always a big deal. For 15 years now, she’s been tracking the extent of the crisis, and has done more than anyone to popularize the phrase “news deserts,” which describes communities without a source of reliable news and information. This week Abernathy, now at Northwestern University’s Medill School, issued “The State of Local News 2023.” It’s a downbeat report, although there are a few bright spots. Here’s a key finding:

The data and insights collected and analyzed in this 2023 report on The State of Local News paint the picture of a country and society increasingly divided between the journalism-have’s — mostly residents in more affluent cities and suburban areas where alternative news sources are gaining traction — and the journalism have-not’s, those in economically struggling and traditionally underserved metro, suburban and rural communities. This partitioning of our citizenry poses a far-reaching crisis for our democracy as it simultaneously struggles with political polarization, a lack of civic engagement and the proliferation of misinformation and information online.

Before I continue, a disclosure: Abernathy, who’s been a guest on our “What Works” podcast about the future of local news, was kind enough to provide a pre-publication endorsement of the book that Ellen Clegg and I have written, “What Works in Community News,” which comes out in January.

Abernathy’s principal collaborator on the new report is Sarah Stonbely, director of Medill’s State of Local News Project, who I interviewed in 2022 when she was at the Center for Cooperative Media, part of Montclair State University in New Jersey.

If you’d like a good summary of Abernathy and Stonbely’s report, I recommend Sarah Fischer’s overview in Axios, which leads with the prediction that the U.S. will have lost one third of its newspapers by the end of 2024.

The cleavage between affluent urban and suburban areas and less affluent urban and rural areas is one of the major challenges Abernathy and Stonbely identify, and it’s definitely something that Ellen and I noticed in our reporting for “What Works in Community News.” I recall asking folks at the start-up Colorado Sun why they were trying to stretch their resources to cover stories across the state rather than focusing on Denver. The answer: the Denver metro area was already fairly well served despite massive cuts at The Denver Post, owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. By contrast, there was very little news coverage in the more rural parts of the state.

As Abernathy and Stonbely put it: “The footprint for alternative local news outlets — approximately 550 digital-only sites, 720 ethnic media organizations and 215 public broadcasting stations — remains very small and centered around metro areas.” Indeed, this chart tells a rather harrowing tale. As you can see, people who live in news deserts are considerably less affluent and less educated than the national average.

The report also includes a section called “Bright Spots in the Local News Landscape.” Although the interactive map is a little hard to navigate, I can see that several projects that Ellen and I profile in “What Works in Community News” are included, such as NJ Spotlight News, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, The Texas Tribune, The Colorado Sun and the Daily Memphian.

The report also highlights The Boston Globe as one of its good-news stories, observing that, under the ownership of John and Linda Henry, the paper has thrived on the strength of its digital subscriptions. In a sidebar, Tom Brown, the Globe’s vice president of consumer analytics, tells Abernathy that digital growth continues, although at a slower rate than during the COVID pandemic. Retention is down slightly, too. “We are nonetheless still seeing overall strong retention,” Brown says, “and we are investing in several areas of the business with the goal of engaging subscribers more and, in particular, our new subscribers.”

Editor Nancy Barnes adds that though the Globe is ramping up its coverage of the Greater Boston area as well as in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, it can’t fill the gap created by the gutting and closure of local weekly papers at the hands of Gannett, the giant newspaper chain that until recently dominated coverage of the Boston suburbs and exurbs.

“Having returned to Boston after many years away, I have been stunned by the decimation of local newspapers across Massachusetts and New England,” Barnes says. “However, our coverage strategy is not tied to specific Gatehouse newspaper communities [a reference to Gannett’s predecessor company]. We cover greater Boston in depth, but we don’t have the bandwidth to be the local news source for everyone.”

This week’s Medill report is the first of a multi-part series. Future chapters will be released over the next few weeks and into January.

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Paid circulation of Worcester’s daily newspaper has dropped by about 80% in 10 years

Former headquarters of the Telegram & Gazette. Photo (cc) 2011 by Daderot.

With a population just north of 200,000, Worcester is the second largest city in New England; surrounding Worcester County is home to more than four times that number of residents. Yet the 157-year-old Telegram & Gazette, the daily newspaper of record in Central Massachusetts, has lost most of its paid readership under the ownership of Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain.

According to Statements of Ownership that the T&G filed with the U.S. Postal Service on Oct. 1, average weekday paid circulation of the print edition stands at 8,698. The paper also reported an average of 4,133 paid electronic copies for a total paid average weekday circulation of 12,831. On Sundays, the numbers are 12,403 for print, 4,054 for electronic, and 16,457 for total paid average circulation. And as I pointed out the other day, digital circulation is reported using guidelines from the Alliance for Audited Media, which are somewhat inflated since AAN allows for some double-counting of print and digital.

Ten years ago, the T&G enjoyed paid circulation (print plus digital) of 74,000 on weekdays and 78,000 on Sundays, according to a story published just after then-new owner John Henry visited the paper’s offices, which means that circulation is down about 80% over the past decade. The aftermath of that meeting proved to be contentious, with T&G folks coming away from it believing that Henry — who acquired the paper as part of his purchase of The Boston Globe — had promised not to sell unless he could find a local buyer.

“It’s good to hear John Henry is focused on finding the right owner for the newspaper,” T&G publisher Bruce Gaultney was quoted as saying after meeting with Henry.

Henry later told me that he believed he’d promised only that he wouldn’t sell to GateHouse Media chain, which was notorious for laying off journalists and slashing coverage. Henry ended up selling to a Florida chain, which in turned handed it off to GateHouse, now Gannett. And Gannett has gutted the T&G, as it has so many of its properties.

Worcester is not a news desert. It has a number of other outlets, including the Worcester Business Journal, MassLive, the fledgling nonprofit Worcester Guardian, a GBH News bureau and several smaller outlets, including a lively aggregation service called The016. The once-mighty Telegram & Gazette, though, is barely a shadow of its former self.

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The Globe fires back against its ex-president, claiming his spending was out of control

Vinay Mehra (via LinkedIn)

Boston Globe Media Partners has fired back against its former president Vinay Mehra, who sued the company in June over what he claimed was $12 million in compensation that he is owed in lost commissions, wages and other compensation. The Globe’s answer, filed Wednesday in Suffolk Superior Court, goes beyond the usual dry denial of Mehra’s charges to offer a rather vivid account of its own allegations against Mehra. It begins by claiming that the Globe …

… terminated Vinay Mehra’s employment [in June 2020] for cause for repeated instances of poor judgment (or worse) with excessive, unauthorized, and inappropriate spending of the Globe’s money. Unable to resist the temptation to spend corporate money for his own benefit, Mehra repeatedly used his corporate credit card or else spent company money to run up extraordinary expenses that offered no benefit to the Globe. At first, Mehra acknowleged the Globe’s objections to these abuses, and promised they would not recur. But they did recur, and Mehra eventually simply stopped even attempting to justify them.

According to the answer, filed by the Globe’s lawyer, Mark W. Batten of Proskauer Rose, Mehra:

  • Leased a car for $23,000 without authorization shortly after he was hired in 2017.
  • Spent “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on consultants without seeking approval from ownership.
  • Spent $45,000 on a two-year subscription to Bloomberg Financial, accessible only to him and “with zero discernible benefit to the company.”
  • Racked up some $400,000 on his corporate credit card without approval, spent Globe funds to attend the 2019 Super Bowl with no benefit to the Globe, and mischaracterized a charitable endeavor related to COVID-19 that primarily benefited a hospital connected to his wife.

The narrative section of the Globe’s answer concludes by alleging that, after repeated offenses, “it became clear that his behavior could not, and would not, stop” and that “the breach had at last become irreparable.”

On Thursday, the Globe’s Larry Edelman reported on the Globe’s answer and quoted Mehra’s lawyer, David W. Sanford, as saying: “The Boston Globe’s accusations are false and a jury that will hear this case eventually will understand them to be false…. The hard work of the litigation begins now with discovery, and discovery will show Vinay is right.”

Before coming to the Globe, Mehra held high-level corporate positions at Politico and, before that, GBH in Boston.

There he goes again: Patrick Soon-Shiong delivers another paper to Alden Global Capital

Patrick Soon-Shiong. Photo (cc) 2014 by NHS Confederation.

Patrick Soon-Shiong, the wealthy surgeon who owns the Los Angeles Times, has delivered yet another daily newspaper into the greedy hands of the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. Soon-Shiong announced Monday that he’d sell The San Diego Union-Tribune to Alden’s MediaNews Group. By my count, the Union-Tribune becomes the 10th paper that Soon-Shiong has helped turn over to Alden. As Sara Fischer and Andrew Keatts report for Axios, the new owners immediately announced cuts to the newsroom.

When Soon-Shiong bought the LA Times in 2018, the Union-Tribune was thrown in as part of the deal. Soon-Shiong was hailed by optimistic media observers as someone who, like Jeff Bezos at The Washington Post and John Henry at The Boston Globe, would provide his papers with the runway they needed to become self-sustaining enterprises.

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It’s been a mixed bag. Soon-Shiong’s main interest has been the LA Times, but he’s gone back and forth between investing and cutting. By no means has the Times been hollowed out as if it had been owned by, oh, let’s just say Alden Global Capital. But he’s run a lean ship, with the Times announcing just a few days ago that the recent sale of its press meant that game stories, box scores and standings would be eliminated from its print edition, according to Andrew Bucholtz of Awful Announcing.

Selling off the San Diego paper to one of the worst possible buyers is reminiscent of John Henry’s decision to sell the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to a Florida chain back in 2014. As I recount in my book “The Return of the Moguls,” folks at the T&G thought Henry had promised not to sell unless a local buyer could be found; Henry told me his only promise had been not to sell to GateHouse Media. In any case, GateHouse managed to acquire the T&G within months and immediately began hollowing it out. GateHouse later morphed into Gannett, the country’s largest newspaper chain with about 200 dailies, which is notorious for its cost-cutting.

Alden Global Capital’s two newspaper chains, MediaNews Group and Tribune Publishing, make it the second largest owner with about 100 dailies. Alden is often described as the worst newspaper owner in the country, denounced as “vulture capitalists” who slash news coverage and sell off real estate in an attempt to squeeze out as much revenue as possible. Locally, Alden owns the Boston Herald, The Sun of Lowell and the Sentinel & Enterprise of Fitchburg.

Soon-Shiong was perhaps the central player in Alden’s acquisition of Tribune Publishing. Whereas MediaNews Group comprises mainly smaller papers, plus a few large dailies such as The Denver Post, Tribune owns eight of the largest, most iconic papers in the country, including the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and, closer to home, the Hartford Courant.

In the spring of 2021, Tribune, then comprising nine papers, was up for grabs, as it had been many times before. Stewart Bainum, a Baltimore hotel magnate, was attempting to buy the chain and sell off some of its properties to what he hoped would be public-spirited local owners. His main interest was in saving the Sun. Also bidding for the papers Alden. The hedge fund actually offered less money than Bainum, but its offer was reportedly less complicated as well.

The Tribune board ended up voting to sell the papers to Alden — a move that could have been halted by just one board member. Soon-Shiong, who was on the board, abstained, and he did so in a way that mean his vote essentially counted as a yes. As The Washington Post reported at the time, Soon-Shiong submitted his ballot without having checked the “abstain” box; if he had, his vote would have been counted as a “no.”

Bainum went on to found the nonprofit Baltimore Banner. Tribune, meanwhile, spun off one of its most prominent papers, the Daily News of New York, which remains part of the Alden empire as a separately owned entity.

So what’s next for The San Diego Union-Tribune? Nothing good, you can be sure. Voice of San Diego, a nonprofit news site, headlined its story “LA’s Richest Man Sells Union-Tribune to Feared ‘Chop Shop.’” Will Huntsberry and Scott Lewis interviewed the news-business analyst Ken Doctor, who predicted that San Diego will not be rid of Alden anytime soon.

“People get confused because these people are cut-throat capitalists,” Doctor told them. “But their papers are making money and they’re holding onto them for the time being.”

Former Globe president Vinay Mehra sues, alleging the Henrys owe him $12 million

Vinay Mehra (via LinkedIn)

Former Boston Globe Media Partners (BGMP) president Vinay Mehra has filed an explosive lawsuit against the company, charging that he was fired in 2020 because Globe owners John and Linda Henry didn’t want to pay him the commissions and other compensation he’d earned for transforming the newspaper into a profitable operation. Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub has all the details as well as a copy of the suit.

Mehra was hired in 2017 from Politico, where he was executive vice president and chief financial officer. Before that, he worked as chief financial officer at GBH in Boston from 2008 to 2015.

According to the lawsuit, BGMP owes Mehra more than $12 million in lost commissions, wages and other compensation. Gaffin writes:

In his suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Mehra charges that despite returning the Globe to profitability, John Henry and his corporate minions decided to cheap out — and then ousted him after threatening and lying about him with an unquenchable “thirst for vengeance” sending him a termination letter alleging “fraud, misappropriation, embezzlement or acts of similar dishonesty.”…

At this point we’re only getting one side of the story, as BGMP has not yet filed a response. But if Mehra’s numbers are accurate, then the lawsuit provides some insight into how the Globe transformed itself into one of the country’s most financially successful large regional newspapers. In 2019, for instance, Mehra claims that the Globe implemented $10 million in cuts “through a combination of targeted layoffs, reduction in vendor costs, reduction in distribution costs, and other measures.”

The result, Mehra claims, was a turnaround from a money-losing operation to one that was enjoying a positive cash flow of “tens of millions of dollars” by the time he left. Indeed, it was at the end of 2018 that John Henry told me, unexpectedly, that the Globe had achieved profitability. “As our digital growth continues the sustainability of a vibrant Boston Globe is coming into view,” he said at that time. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Mehra apparently expects BGMP to flesh out its accusations of fraud and embezzlement as the case moves forward, as he offers some details in what might be regarded as a pre-emptive strike. The lawsuit also includes a statement that I suspect former Globe editor Brian McGrory might disagree with: “He [Mehra] also shifted the focus of the Globe’s reporting to be more strategic, to prioritize the Globe’s strengths, and to drive viewership.”

That sounds a lot like McGrory’s January 2017 memo to the staff in which he talked about repositioning the Globe’s coverage, which I wrote about in “The Return of the Moguls”:

The most important takeaway was that the Globe would no longer attempt to be a “paper of record,” publishing obligatory stories about the minutiae of city and state government, the courts, and the like. Rather, it would seek to become an “organization of interest,” developing enterprise stories out of those traditional areas of coverage that made more of a difference to readers’ lives.

But Mehra didn’t join BGMP until six months after McGrory wrote that memo. No doubt he and McGrory had conversations about how to make the Globe more compelling to its audience. The shift in focus that the lawsuit talks about, though, had already taken place, and in any case fell under the purview of the editor, not the president.

It will be interesting to see how the Globe responds — and, of course, whether this goes to trial or is instead settled out of court.

The Boston Globe will need creative thinking to find and keep a video audience

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The Boston Globe will launch a five-days-a-week local newscast on New England Sports Network sometime this spring.

The half-hour program, “Boston Globe Today,” will comprise a more or less traditional mix of news, sports and entertainment on Monday through Thursday as well as a sports roundtable on Friday. The anchor will be Segun Oduolowu except on Friday, when the sports discussion will be helmed by Globe columnist Chris Gasper. The program will be carried live on NESN, the Globe’s website and mobile app, and the NESN 360 app.

The show marks a significant move into video, something that Globe owners John and Linda Henry have long wanted to do. I suspect, though, that they’re going to have to make some major adjustments along the way. The audience for local TV newscasts is aging at least as rapidly as print newspaper readers, and a 5 p.m. program is going to skew even older. Globe executives need to think about how they’re going to find and keep an audience.

First, NESN makes sense only because the Henrys’ Fenway Sports Group is the majority owner. It’s a sports channel, and you tune in to watch the Red Sox, the Bruins and the Beanpot so you can see the Northeastern men’s and women’s hockey teams triumph over their rivals. It would take a whole lot of rebranding to get anyone to think that NESN is about anything other than sports. At least they’ll be able to promote the newscast on Bruins and Red Sox games, although the Sox may be lucky to draw an audience in the high double digits this year.

And yes, the newscast will also be shown on the Globe’s and NESN’s digital platforms, but that’s really not enough. At a minimum, “Boston Globe Today” should have a robust YouTube presence where viewers can watch live or at a time of their choosing. Maybe they’re already thinking that way.

Second, a comprehensive half-hour newscast is simply not the way that younger audiences consume video journalism anymore. Video stories need to be broken out and run separately so that people can watch them on their phones while they’re on the train, waiting for a cup of coffee or whatever.

Take a look at NJ Spotlight News, a nonprofit digital news organization that provides insider coverage of public policy and politics in New Jersey. Several years ago Spotlight merged with NJ PBS. Now they continue to publish news online and have added a half-hour newscast on television, web and YouTube; stories from the newscast are posted individually.

“Boston Globe Today” sounds like an interesting idea, but it will work only if the Globe regards it as an experiment and is prepared to make changes along the way.

Oh, and I did I mention that both of Northeastern’s hockey teams won the Beanpot?

Below is an email a trusted source passed along that Globe Media CEO Linda Henry sent to the staff earlier today. I’m sorry I don’t have it in text form, but this ought to be readable.

Should Jeff Bezos have sat in on a news meeting at The Washington Post?

Jeff Bezos. Photo (cc) 2010 by Steve Jurvetson.

Should someone from the business side of a major newspaper — up to and including the owner — sit in on a news meeting? Generally speaking, the answer is no, but I’m not sure that there’s any hard and fast rule. An ethical owner will not interfere in the news coverage in any way. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t listen.

In early 2017, when I was reporting for my book “The Return of the Moguls,” I was allowed to sit in on a Boston Globe news meeting presided over by the paper’s editor, Brian McGrory. I was somewhat surprised to see co-owner Linda Henry, now the CEO, sitting off to one side, taking notes. She said nothing, and it didn’t strike me as inappropriate — just a bit unexpected.

Another owner I was tracking, Jeff Bezos, was a different story. According to everyone I spoke with, Bezos was entirely hands-off with the news operations of The Washington Post, although he was deeply involved in various business and technology initiatives. By all accounts, Amazon’s founder was a model newspaper owner, leaving his journalists alone to cover the news — including Bezos’ own interests — as they saw fit.

So I was surprised to learn in The New York Times (free link) that Bezos had recently sat in on a news meeting at the Post and listened as executive editor Sally Buzbee and her lieutenants discussed several story ideas that no doubt piqued Bezos’ interest. According to the Times’ Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson:

Other than Mr. Bezos’ appearance, the news meeting proceeded as it might on any other day, with editors discussing news stories and readership trends, according to the people with knowledge of the meeting. At one point, an editor mentioned plans to run an article about the discontinuation of AmazonSmile, a charity program that Mr. Bezos championed. The editors also discussed the pending sale of the Washington Commanders. The Post previously reported that Mr. Bezos was interested in buying the National Football League team.

Now, you might say that Buzbee’s predecessor, the legendary Marty Baron, never would have allowed such a breach of the wall between the news and the business sides. Well, maybe, maybe not. Because Mullin took to Twitter and reported that he’d heard the same thing had happened at least once during the Baron years. “For what it’s worth: Someone told me this happened in an editorial meeting under Marty Baron, who turned to Jeff and asked him for comment on the spot,” Mullin tweeted. “I’m told Jeff gave a big Jeff laugh and no-commented.”

After years of growth and profits under Bezos, the Post is now losing both circulation and money (another free link; hey, it’s almost the end of the month, when the meter resets). I’ve written before that I think the greatest risk to the Post is that Bezos may be losing interest, so at least his recent meeting suggests that it still engages him. But for someone who seems to have been scrupulous about not interfering in the Post’s news coverage, he ought to be self-aware enough not to sit in on news meetings.

By the way, I should note that though ethical owners and publishers keep their hands off news coverage, that’s not the case on the opinion side. The Post, the Globe and most other large dailies have a strict separation between news and opinion, with the top editors of those operations reporting directly to the publisher. It is entirely ethical for publishers to get involved in the opinion section, and both Linda and John Henry have done that over the years. Bezos, by all accounts, has been as uninvolved in the Post’s opinion operation as he is in news coverage — but that’s his choice. It’s not a requirement.

A final note: In Semafor on Sunday, Ben Smith wrote an item headlined “The Billionaire Era in News Is Fizzling,” building on the Times’ report about Bezos and the Post. Smith lists a bunch of them, from Bezos to Laurene Powell Jobs at The Atlantic and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong at the Los Angeles Times.

But John Henry, a billionaire financier, is nowhere to be seen — even though in his own take-it-slow way he’s rebuilt the Globe into a growing and presumably profitable (he hasn’t said for several years, but he keeps hiring) enterprise. Sounds to me like bias against what is still seen in many quarters as a provincial outpost.

The Globe’s Taunton printing plant will lay off about 30 employees, the BBJ reports

Presses at The Boston Globe’s Taunton printing plant. Photo (cc) 2018 by Dan Kennedy.

About 30 employees will be laid off at The Boston Globe’s printing plant in Taunton following news that the Globe has lost its contract to print the regional edition of The New York Times. The layoffs were reported early this morning by Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal.

The loss of the Times contract was revealed Saturday by Media Nation. But though I had heard there would be layoffs associated with the move, I was unable to pin down the exact number. Seiffert, citing a “source familiar with the ongoing negotiations over those layoffs,” reported there will be about 200 Globe employees left in Taunton.

The Times is now being printed by the Dow Jones plant in Chicopee; Dow Jones is the parent company of The Wall Street Journal.

Seiffert’s story also contains an interesting wrinkle that could, in theory, hasten the demise of the five-year-old, $72 million Taunton plant: a workforce of 200 is only a third of what the Globe promised when it obtained a tax break from that city in order to bring much-needed jobs into that area.

At one point the Taunton facility printed not just the Globe but also the Times, USA Today and the Boston Herald. Seiffert’s source told him that the printing plant has “‘totally abandoned any revenue streams related to other commercial print or direct-mail work’ and is now printing only the Boston Globe.”

The Globe’s paid digital circulation of about 230,000 now outpaces print by a considerable margin. According to the most recent figures from the Alliance for Audited Media, the Globe’s average weekday print circulation is now about 64,000, and about 112,000 on Sundays.

If Taunton is no longer getting any outside work, it raises the prospect that the Globe’s owners, John and Linda Henry, may close the plant at some point and job out the Globe’s print run — perhaps to a combination of Chicopee, CNHI’s Eagle-Tribune plant in North Andover (which has handled some of the Globe’s production work in the past) and/or Gannett’s Providence Journal.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said that The Eagle-Tribune had an arrangement to handle part of the Globe’s print run in the past. That was incorrect.

Emulating its R.I. strategy, The Boston Globe next year will move into N.H.

The State Capitol in Concord, N.H. Photo (cc) 2010 by Jimmy Emerson, DMV.

There was news in Mark Shanahan’s Boston Globe story on the decline of the once-great Providence Journal under Gannett ownership: the Globe is opening a New Hampshire bureau sometime in 2023, a move similar to what it’s done in Rhode Island.

At one time the Globe took New England coverage seriously, even publishing a Sunday section called New Hampshire Weekly. On a recent episode of our podcast about local news, “What Works,” Nancy West, executive director of the investigative news organization InDepthNH, said she would welcome a Globe comeback in the Granite State.

“I loved it when the Globe came up and was doing important reporting,” she said, citing in particular the paper’s coverage of a cardiac surgeon at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester whose horrendous malpractice record was obscured by his status as an operating-room star. “Was I a little jealous? My first instinct is jealousy, of course,” West told us. “But then I’m just really pleased that the word is getting out.” She added: “I would love to have the Globe come back. I would love to see it because we just need talented reporters on the street. And I think competition is healthy.”

Unlike Rhode Island, New Hampshire’s two major daily newspapers, the New Hampshire Union Leader and the Concord Monitor, are independently owned. Both, however, have endured significant cuts to their reporting capacity in recent years. As West says, another news organization focused on the state would be welcome.

As with Rhode Island, New Hampshire is an opportunity for the Globe to sell more digital subscriptions without the hassle of bygone days, when it was necessary to truck papers across New England.

So where might the Globe go next? Vermont strikes me as a stretch. Connecticut? Probably not. Much of the state roots for the Yankees, and Hearst CT has a growing digital operation. Maine? Possibly, although the Globe has collaborated on some stories with the Portland Press Herald. I’m not sure they’d want to compete. If they do, David Dahl, a former top editor at the Globe who’s now editor of the nonprofit Maine Monitor, told us on “What Works” that he’d love to work with his old paper. “We’re open to any partnership discussions that we would have,” he said, “and if they want to affiliate with us, they’re more than more than welcome.”

The most logical move for the Globe after New Hampshire would be an expanded presence in Central Massachusetts — ironic given that Globe owner John Henry acquired the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester when he bought the Globe in 2013 only to sell it to out-of-state interests. The T&G eventually landed in the hands of GateHouse Media, which merged with Gannett; like most of Gannett’s properties, the T&G has been gutted.

At a time when the decline of advertising and fears of recession are leading to cuts even at once high-flying newspapers like The Washington Post, it’s heartening to see that the Globe continues to focus on expansion.

NPR’s top news executive has been hired as the next editor of The Boston Globe

Nancy Barnes (via LinkedIn)

It was a little more than nine years ago that John and Linda Henry completed their purchase of The Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. But it wasn’t until today that they hired their first top news editor.

Late this afternoon the Globe announced that Nancy Barnes, currently the chief news executive at NPR, would replace longtime editor Brian McGrory on Feb. 1. McGrory said in September that he would retire at the end of the year in order to become chair of the journalism department at Boston University.

Barnes, 61, has local ties, having grown up in the Boston area and worked as an intern at the Globe and as a reporter at The Sun of Lowell earlier in her career. Before coming to NPR as senior vice president for news and editorial director in 2018, she had held the top editing jobs at the Houston Chronicle and the Star Tribune of Minneapolis.

Barnes’ tenure at NPR was not entirely a happy one. In September, after a new executive position was created above her, she said she would leave by the end of the year, saying, “Now is the right time for me to pursue some other opportunities.” NPR media reporter David Folkenflik wrote that Barnes could seem “aloof” at times, although he noted that she had come in under stressful circumstances: her predecessor, Michael Oreskes, had departed amid multiple accusations of sexual harassment. Folkenflik described her legacy in glowing terms:

Barnes helped NPR News achieve substantive accomplishments in a period buffeted by external crises that the network had to both endure and cover. She accelerated NPR’s investigative and enterprise reporting efforts; helped map out reporting on the pandemic and the war in Ukraine; and broadened the network’s coverage of issues of race, identity and social justice.

In addition, she oversaw a more aggressive stance in reporting on the growing threat to democracy from supporters of former President Donald Trump. Barnes also established a more muscular presence for the network in covering climate change. The newsroom continued to garner major accolades, winning its first Pulitzer, in collaboration with two member stations, and becoming a Pulitzer finalist several times.

Like Marty Baron, who preceded McGrory as the Globe’s editor, Barnes is an outsider. Throughout the Globe’s history, though, most of the paper’s editors, including McGrory, have been insiders. And here’s a qualification that Linda Henry cited in her memo to the staff, which appears below: Barnes has served as the top news executive at an organization other than a newspaper. As the Globe moves more into podcasts and other forms of media, Barnes will be in a good position to help lead the way.

McGrory — who did as much as anyone to recruit the Henrys as buyers for the Globe, as I described in my 2018 book “The Return of the Moguls” — leaves quite a legacy of his own. On McGrory’s watch, the Globe has thrived journalistically and has emerged as among a handful of large regional newspapers that have achieved financial sustainability. He was a popular metro columnist before becoming the editor, and he will write a column for the opinion section once he leaves the paper.

This is the second major hire at the Globe this year. In May, James Dao was recruited from The New York Times to edit the paper’s opinion section. Barnes and Dao will both report directly to Linda Henry, the chief executive of Boston Globe Media, and John Henry, the publisher of the Globe. Linda Henry’s full memo to the troops was fowarded to me a few hours ago by several trusted sources. Here it is in full with the exception of the search committee members, since those names would be meaningful only to Globe insiders:

A few months ago, I shared that we began a search for the next leader of the Globe’s newsroom as Brian McGrory begins his next chapter at BU and resumes a familiar, but new(ish) role as columnist for the Globe on the Opinion side. In the time since, we have met with a field of incredibly talented leaders — both inside and outside our organization — and I am thrilled to share with you today that Nancy Barnes will become the 13th editor of The Boston Globe.

Nancy, as many of you know, is an accomplished journalist and transformational leader who has held the top job at some of the largest newsrooms in the country. She currently serves as NPR’s senior vice president for news and editorial director, leading a team of more than 500 journalists and newsroom executives, with oversight of NPR’s journalism around the world and across platforms. She’s also deeply engaged in the industry, serving on the prestigious Pulitzer Prize Board, the Peabody Awards, and as a past president of the News Leaders Association.

This is somewhat of a homecoming for Nancy, who was born in Cambridge and grew up in Wilmington before moving to Virginia. She holds something in common with many of the country’s top journalists, having started her lifelong career in journalism as an intern at The Boston Globe. After college, she returned to the area to work at the Lowell Sun, and then spent a decade at the News & Observer [of Raleigh, North Carolina]. She earned an MBA before joining the Minneapolis Star Tribune as executive editor, where she modernized their digital journalism and led the newsroom to win multiple national awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in local reporting. When Nancy moved to Texas to take on the role of SVP and Executive Editor for Hearst Texas newspapers, The Houston Chronicle won its first Pulitzer Prize and was named a Pulitzer Finalist three other times during her tenure.

I’ve been delighted and inspired by my conversations with Nancy. She has shared that her priorities in this role are to tap into the tremendous innovation that our company has embraced over the last several years and to ensure that our mentorship and development for journalists at all levels of their careers remains vibrant and transformative. Nancy knows the importance of serving an engaged local audience and has a proven track record of elevating metro news outlets to their highest potential.

On top of her proven track record with metros, I was particularly inspired by all that she has learned in her time away from newspapers over the past few years, immersed in an innovative, digital-forward, and global environment at NPR. She is thrilled to return to Boston with our regional expertise, and I know that her time at NPR has given her best practices, insights, and strategies that will inform her next chapter at the Globe. I am excited for her to guide our continued digital evolution, working with the incredible team of journalists here to better serve our growing reader base.

I once again would like to share my gratitude to Brian McGrory for his bold leadership as editor over the past ten years. Under Brian’s leadership, the Globe has continuously produced ambitious journalism, inspiring the talented journalists here to be searingly relevant and relentlessly interesting. He expanded coverage, led a newsroom reinvention which engaged the entire staff, and has helped the Globe adapt during one of the most challenging times in the newspaper industry. Our work has been recognized locally and nationally with many awards, including multiple Pulitzer Prizes and most recently, the award of General Excellence in Online Journalism by the Online News Association. Today, the Globe is arguably the most successful regional news organization in the country.

Inclusive of Stat News, Boston Globe Media now has the highest number of total subscribers that this institution has had since 2008, and we continue to lead in subscription numbers among our industry peers. We are extremely proud of all the ways that this growth has fueled continuous investment in our journalism, and we look forward to building on that momentum with Nancy’s extensive industry perspective and deep journalistic experience.

Please join us tomorrow, November 15th at 2pm in the newsroom, where Brian and I will be welcoming Nancy in person and she will introduce herself in the news hub. We will send an audio link for those who are not able to join us in person. She will officially join our team on February 1, 2023 and we will plan a time for her to meet many more of you in the new year.

A special thank you to the internal team that helped with this comprehensive and inspiring search process….

Thank you,
Linda Henry

 

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