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

 

Politico’s look at the LA Times has some interesting tidbits, but it’s hardly a takedown

Patrick Soon-Shiong. Photo (cc) 2019 by the World Economic Forum.

Patrick Soon-Shiong came along too late to make the cut. In mid-2018, the celebrity surgeon bought the Los Angeles Times and several other papers for $500 million. My book about a new generation of wealthy newspaper owners, “The Return of the Moguls,” had just been published.

Too bad. Soon-Shiong is at least as interesting as the owners I wrote about: Jeff Bezos, who bought The Washington Post and re-established the legendary paper as a powerhouse; John Henry, who slowly transformed The Boston Globe into a growing and profitable enterprise; and Aaron Kushner, who poured money into the Orange County Register only to fail at attracting enough advertisers and readers to pay for his profligate spending.

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Now Politico has weighed in with a lengthy story about the Times under Soon-Shiong that portrays his ownership as something of a mixed bag. He’s invested in the paper, reversing years of cost-cutting by its previous owner, Tribune Publishing (which for a time was known as tronc), and he’s put a highly regarded editor, Kevin Merida, in charge of the newsroom. But his interest in the paper seems to wax and wane, and his daughter, Nika Soon-Shiong, is portrayed as interfering in the newsroom.

I have to say that I’m puzzled by some of the wailing. The Politico article, by Daniel Lippman, Christopher Cadelago and Max Tani, claims that Nika Soon-Shiong has inserted herself into the process of endorsing political candidates as though that were somehow a bad thing. Now, the Times may be making some dumb endorsements, such as its decision to back Nika Soon-Shiong ally Kenneth Mejia for city controller. Mejia, according to the Times’ own reporting, regards both Joe Biden and Donald Trump as “sexual predators.”

But a newspaper’s owners are free to insert themselves into the opinion pages as much as they’d like. A good owner will keep a distance from news operations, but the opinion section is their playground. John and Linda Henry are involved in the Globe’s editorial pages and no one thinks anything of it. Jeff Bezos’ lack of interest in the Post’s opinion operation is unusual.

Nika Soon-Shiong has also expressed her leftist views in a tweet (which she deleted) critical of her own paper’s crime coverage and in suggestions for story coverage. There is, for instance, this, which I find entirely benign, even salutory:

In 2020, Nika Soon-Shiong started participating in staff meetings about the paper’s failures in covering race and how it could become more inclusive in hiring. She suggested the paper avoid using the word “looting” when covering the unrest over police brutality, which inspired the paper to tweak style guidelines.

Times company leaders at the time asked then-top opinion editor Sewell Chan to brainstorm ways that Nika Soon-Shiong could get more involved in the paper. He talked with her about whether working with the opinion section would be a possibility. (Chan declined to comment.)

Politico quotes Merida as saying that Nika Soon-Shiong has “a right to critique our journalism, offer story ideas and other suggestions she believes will help make us better,” and that the “same right is extended to those we cover and to those who read us.” The fact-checker rates that statement as 100% true.

Patrick Soon-Shiong is a bit of an oddball. A profile in The New Yorker last year by Stephen Witt raised questions about his success as a pharmaceutical entrepreneur. But he has been a far better owner of the LA Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, a throw-in that was part of the Times deal, than Tribune Publishing had been. Indeed, Soon-Shiong’s one unforgivable act as a newspaper owner was a non-act — his decision to do nothing to stop the sale of Tribune to the hedge fund Alden Global Capital, which of course began gutting its papers as soon as the deal was consummated.

Tribune owns some of our most storied newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and the Hartford Courant — the oldest continuously published newspaper in the country. Soon-Shiong, a billionaire, could have stopped the transaction and helped Baltimore hotel magnate Stewart Bainum with his bid to buy the chain. Instead, Alden wound up with Tribune, and Bainum has launched a digital nonprofit called The Baltimore Banner. In an interview with Brian Stelter, then of CNN, Soon-Shiong protested that he was a “passive investor,” adding: “I’ve got my hands full and frankly, really committed to the LA Times and San Diego Union-Tribune.”

The Los Angeles Times is far better off under Soon-Shiong family ownership than it had been under years of Tribune mismanagement — mismanagement that would have turned into a rout under Alden. The Politico piece contains some interesting tidbits, but it’s hardly a takedown.

How Brian McGrory talked John and Linda Henry into buying The Boston Globe

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.”

Read the rest at GBH News.

Linda Henry on McGrory: ‘Brian has led with empathy and humanity’

Boston Globe Media chief executive Linda Henry has sent a memo to the staff about the pending departure of Brian McGrory, forwarded to me once again by a trusted source.

Next chapter for Brian McGrory

Hi everyone,

Around his third year as editor, Brian told me that this was a 7 to 10 year role for him.  He understood the demands of the position as well as the constantly evolving needs of this organization. While the 10 years always seemed safely far away, Brian was apparently being precise, because he restarted the conversation earlier this year in advance of his pending 10-year anniversary. We’ve been talking thoughtfully in the months since about what’s next – for Brian and for the newsroom.

Brian misses his column – a fact he can barely conceal. Many of our readers still talk about his column – with the humor, the humanity, and the insight that he brought to our pages – even, surprisingly, folks from Hingham. His dream when he was young and delivering the paper was to write for The Boston Globe, and luckily for us and our readers, that is what his next chapter will include – a return to column-writing at the Globe, this time on the Opinion side. He will also be channeling his talents and experience to help the next generation of journalists as he takes on the prestigious role as Professor of the Practice and Chair of the Journalism Department in the College of Communication at Boston University.

For the past ten years, Brian has been a vital part of the leadership of this organization as we embarked on a radical transformation. He gave the Globe the greatest advantage that a media organization can have: unrelentingly high journalistic standards, an innovative mindset, and a deep commitment to the communities that we proudly serve. How many times has he told us, and then told us again, that we needed to be the paper of interest, not the paper of record, and that we had to be “relentlessly interesting”?

When John and I joined the Globe in 2013, we were dealing with an enormous amount of pressure and change at once: building a new production facility, reworking the business model, rebuilding the entire digital infrastructure, launching Stat, building and moving to modern offices, investing in data analytics, and so much more. Through all of that, Brian was there to share his deep understanding of journalism, his decades of institutional knowledge, and was helping us drive the kinds of new strategies that would help grow and sustain our business – all while keeping the newsroom grounded in its mission and values. As part of our Senior Leadership Team, Brian forged strong partnerships with other departments in the organization, experimenting together on ways to amplify our journalism and to attract and retain subscribers.

As editor, Brian has led with humanity and empathy, steering the Globe’s coverage through a decade of some of the biggest and most challenging stories in our region’s history and of our time – including the Boston Marathon bombings, a national racial reckoning, and a global pandemic. He has overseen the incredible journalism that has resulted in the Globe newsroom winning three Pulitzer Prizes (Opinion won another two in that time). The newsroom has been finalists an additional twelve times, and along with a long list of other national awards, the Globe is currently a finalist for the Online Journalism Awards General Excellence in Online Journalism category for the second year in a row.

His effort to lead a reinvention of the Globe’s newsroom engaged the entire staff and created new roles, beats, and departments, to drive changes within our industry and to lay the groundwork for strong digital growth. Today, the Globe is arguably the most successful regional news organization in the country.

As the Globe celebrates its 150th anniversary, we have tremendous appreciation for the incredible contributions of everyone across the organization. John and I are especially grateful for Brian’s leadership, which has made its mark on Globe history. He has thoughtfully provided us with ample time to conduct a broad and inclusive search for his successor, as he will stay on as editor through the end of the year or until our next newsroom leader is in place. Brian has nurtured a strong newsroom leadership team and we are well-positioned for the transition. Our search for the next editor has begun, and we will look across the entire industry to find our next leader to maintain and enhance our high standards of journalism and commitment to our community while continuing our growth and innovation as a modern media company. Your thoughts are welcome.

Our role in the community is as important as ever, and we are continuing to grow and invest in our long term future. I hope you’ll join me in thanking Brian for his immeasurable contributions and to wish him luck in his next chapter, which we are thrilled will include his voice in our pages.

Thank you,

Linda Henry

Yes, it’s true: Brian McGrory is leaving the Globe and heading to Boston University

Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory has finally made official what half the city has known for months: he’s leaving the Globe at the end of 2022 after nearly 10 years in charge in order to chair the journalism department at Boston University. He sent a memo to the staff a little while ago.

McGrory, who’d been a popular metro columnist before ascending to the top of the masthead, was named editor in the waning days of New York Times Co. ownership after Marty Baron left for The Washington Post. But McGrory helped pave the way for John Henry to buy the Globe in 2013, a process I described in my 2018 book, “The Return of the Moguls.” 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.

Obviously there’s much more to be said, and much more will be said. I’ll just point out that he’s now a rival. The director of our School of Journalism at Northeastern is Jonathan Kaufman, a former Globe journalist. Moreover, McGrory and Kaufman both led news organizations that won Pulitzer Prizes — Bloomberg News in Kaufman’s case.

Here’s the Globe’s story on McGrory’s departure.

Congratulations to Brian. BU’s gain will be the Globe’s loss. The complete text of McGrory’s message, obtained from a trusted source, appear below.

Hey all,

I’ve written a lot of overly long memos to the room. I can’t promise this one will be any shorter, but I’ll do my best to be direct. I’m planning to step away from my role as editor by the end of this year.

When I took this job nearly a decade ago, I expected epic challenges and hoped for meaningful rewards. In retrospect, I had no idea on either front. Begin with the stories, so many once-in-a-generation stories, from the Boston Marathon bombings, to the Trump election, to a pandemic that changed everything, to the vital racial and social justice movement, to Trump’s failed reelection and its ugly aftermath, to this angst-ridden, not-quite-post-Covid netherworld that we’re in now. There were thousands of other stories in between, big consequential projects, deeply human narratives, breaking news, vital accountability work. You did it all with tenacity, urgency, and grace, and I’m honored to have been a part of that.

At the same time, the moment required us to confront the profoundly broken business model in American journalism, which calls to mind what a journalism elder said to me a number of years ago: You get to pick your career, but not when you do it. The industry was, as you know, a wreck. Big, proud newspapers were getting hollowed out. Answers were elusive. There were serious questions about our very viability. Facing all of that, what you’ve accomplished is nothing short of miraculous. You’ve embraced digital. You’ve shifted our mindset from being the paper of record to the paper of interest. You’ve found that sweet spot between what readers want and what our community needs. In doing so, you’ve built one of the most successful news sites in the world, http://bostonglobe.com, the foundation upon which this organization will grow for years. I hope you know how rare and important this is. And I’m honored to be part of that, too.

These kinds of notes inevitably turn formulaic and sappy, rarely a good combination, and I’m afraid I’m about to succumb to that form. There is so much that is great about this job, but there is a singularly meaningful reward that I wasn’t fully anticipating: my relationships with so many of you. From this seat, I had the privilege of thousands upon thousands of conversations. I saw your daily determination. I saw your commitment to the craft. I saw how you navigated the relentless demands of work in the most difficult times. I saw the toll it took, the resilience you had, the pride you felt. I saw how you care about your colleagues and the readers we serve.

I saw on a moment-by-moment basis how much the Globe means to you. What I also saw is how much you mean to the Globe. Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re not always easy. You are, though, always worth it. This is the best newsroom in the country, and there’s no proper way to thank you for that.

Naming names is never a good thing, but I need to specifically thank Jen Peter and Jason Tuohey, the two best managing editors in America. You could throw at Jen a global pandemic that decimates every touchstone of everyday life, which we did, and she would hesitate only imperceptibly before continuing to bring order to the daily chaos that is journalism. She’s done it brilliantly. And put Jason among the most important digital thinkers in this industry today, the driving force behind so much of our growth.

Thanks, emphatically, to the Henrys, John and Linda. It’s just about incomprehensible that people with their options and resources would have the desire and commitment to plunge into the gritty and often thankless world of newspapers at a time when so many big thinkers were saying that the industry couldn’t be saved. They did, for all the right reasons, and the results have been profound – a thriving, innovative Globe with more subscribers than we’ve had in nearly 15 years and a role in this community that is as central as it’s ever been. Linda, especially, is at it every day – believe me, I know – often dismantling industry convention in pursuit of the next creative idea. She’s also built what is certainly the strongest leadership team the Globe has ever had, leaving no doubt that the next editor will be someone to celebrate.

In terms of what’s next for me, I’ve got two roles ahead. First, I’m heading to Boston University, where I’ve been offered the chair of the journalism department, an extraordinary opportunity to have an impact on the profession at a gold-standard institution. Hopefully that finally puts an end to the rumors. Second, I’ll write a regular column for the Globe, likely from the opinion section, ideally not too different from what I used to do in prior chapters of my professional life. I’m beyond excited about regaining a voice, and elated to remain a part of this place.

Our plan is for me to remain in this role until the end of the year or until a new editor starts, whichever comes first. Linda will be in touch very soon about the search.

Being the editor of the Globe would be the greatest honor of anyone’s professional life, and it certainly has been mine. For me, though, there’s something more. I was born here, raised here, watched my father read the Globe page-by-page every night, delivered the paper as a kid on a fifty-house route in Weymouth. All I ever wanted to be was a writer for the Globe. Being the editor was a dream I never dared to have.

Thank you for it all.

Correction. I really can subtract. Honestly, I know that 2022 minus 2012 is 10. Now fixed.

 

The Globe’s Rhode Island initiative may be expanded across New England

The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island section could be a model for other verticals devoted to different regions in New England. That’s the main takeaway from this week’s edition of “E&P Reports,” a vodcast produced by the trade publication Editor & Publisher.

The vodcast, hosted by E&P publisher Mike Blinder, featured the Globe’s Rhode Island editor (and my “Beat the Press” crony), Lylah Alphonse; Rhode Island reporter Dan McGowan; and Michelle Micone, the Globe’s vice president for innovation and strategic initiatives.

It was Micone who talked about expanding the Globe’s coverage to other regions. She specifically mentioned New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont but not Connecticut, which was either inadvertent or, more likely, a nod to the Nutmeg State’s very different media and cultural environment. I mean, my God, they root for the Yankees down there.

Alphonse and McGowan were careful not to criticize The Providence Journal, but let’s face it — the Globe’s Rhode Island project was begun in response to Gannett’s evisceration of that once great paper. Blinder said that the Journal’s full-time staff is down to about 14. [Note: The actual number is about 30.] Alphonse told me that Globe Rhode Island now has eight full-time journalists. Of course, the folks who remain at the Journal are doing good work under trying conditions, and Alphonse and McGowan were smart to acknowledge that.

One statistic that really hit me was that McGowan’s daily newsletter, “Rhode Map,” is sent to 80,000 recipients each morning, with an open rate of about 30%. By contrast, the Journal’s combined paid print and digital circulation on weekdays, according to data the paper filed with the Alliance for Audited Media, is a little under 31,000. (About 24,000 of that is print, showing that Gannett’s push on digital subscriptions has a long way to go.)

I also want to highlight the news that staff reporter Alexa Gagosz, one of our great master’s degree alums at Northeastern, is heading up expanded food and dining coverage in Rhode Island, including a weekly newsletter.

Now, to get back to possible expansion in other regions: Rhode Island was an opportunity that may not be entirely replicable elsewhere, thanks not only to the ProJo’s shrinkage but to the state’s unique identity. The state has a range of media options, including good-quality public radio, television newscasts and independent community news outlets. But the ProJo’s decline gave the Globe a chance to slide in and quickly establish itself as one of the players.

Where else does opportunity that exist? Worcester and Central Massachusetts strike me as in serious need of more journalism. The Globe memorably walked away from the region when then-new owner John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette to a Florida-based chain after leading the staff to believe he was committed to selling to local interests. Soon enough, the T&G became part of Gannett, and it was subjected to the same devastating cuts that the chain has imposed throughout the country. The T&G carried on but is currently in flux, having lost its respected executive editor, Dave Nordman, to Northeastern, where he’s heading up the internal news operation. Could the Henrys return to Worcester? I’ve heard that might be within the range of possibilities.

But where else? New Hampshire and Maine both have good-quality independent newspapers, though New Hampshire’s two leading papers — the Union Leader and the Concord Monitor — have shrunk quite a bit. Vermont is unique, dominated by one of the most respected nonprofit news organizations in the country, VTDigger.

Then there’s the distribution model, which, if they were asking me (they’re not), is too reliant on print. Quite a bit of the Globe’s Rhode Island coverage appears in the Globe’s print edition. But rather than take on the cost of trucking more papers to Rhode Island, why not use digital to expand your reach and drive more digital subscriptions? What the Globe is doing with Rhode Island and print simply wouldn’t work if the paper established bureaus in Central Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The Globe is one of the few major metropolitan dailies in the country that is growing. What it’s doing in Rhode Island is impressive, and I’d love to see it happen elsewhere.

Correction: After this item was published, I learned that the Journal’s full-time newsroom staff is actually around 30 people, supplemented by freelancers.

BoMag and the Globe offer dueling theories about who shot David Ortiz

David Ortiz celebrates the first of his three championships with the Red Sox. Photo (cc) 2013 by Colin Steele.

Boston magazine and The Boston Globe published dueling stories over the weekend that recount the 2019 shooting of Red Sox legend David Ortiz.

The Boston magazine story, by Mike Damiano, appears to have been many weeks, if not months, in the making — it’s a rich, deeply reported story about Ortiz’s life in the Dominican Republic and his complicated family situation. The Globe article, by Bob Hohler, may have been assigned (or least put on the fast track) in reaction to  BoMag. It’s a newsy account of that attempts to get to the bottom of who ordered Ortiz’s shooting, and why.

By all means, read both. But by far the most interesting detail is the dueling theories about the role of a major drug trafficker, César Peralta, known as “The Abuser.” According to the Globe’s account, former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis, who was hired by Ortiz to investigate the shooting, Peralta is in fact the guy who ordered the hit. Hohler writes:

Davis, disclosing his findings for the first time, said the powerful and politically connected drug lord César “The Abuser” Peralta came to feel disrespected by Ortiz, prompting him to place a bounty on Ortiz’s head and sanction the ragtag hit squad that tried to kill him.

“Peralta said he had David shot,” Davis said in an interview, citing information that he said US law enforcement officials gathered and shared with him.

The BoMag story, on the other hand, all but rules out Peralta as having any role. Here’s what Damiano has to say:

As I, too, tried to get to the bottom of what caused the shooting, I found that the closer I got to people with genuine knowledge of the Santo Domingo underworld, the more skepticism I heard about the love-triangle theory and any possibility of Peralta’s involvement. One man I spoke with who knows many of the men in Peralta’s circle, as well as some of the men accused of involvement in the shooting, said that the theory was bunk. No part of it added up, he said, and hardly anyone in his neighborhood — Herrera, a hot bed of Dominican drug trafficking — believed it.

The two accounts also raise some questions about access. The Globe’s owner and publisher, John Henry, is also the principal owner of the Red Sox. Davis is a security consultant for the Globe. It does not appear that Davis shared his theory about Peralta with BoMag.

Both stories dismiss the widely mocked theory put forth by Dominican authorities that Ortiz was the victim of mistaken identity.

The conclusion I took away from Damiano’s and Hohler’s reporting was that we may never know who ordered the hit on Ortiz. I’m just glad he’s still with us.

Footnote: I’m told that Damiano has been hired by the Globe.

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The Boston Globe marks 150 years as a growing and profitable news organization

There’s a bit of news in Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory’s message marking the paper’s 150th anniversary today: he writes that the Globe now has “about 250 staffers in its newsroom and on the editorial pages.”

That’s up significantly from a few years ago. In 2018, the Globe had a full-time staff of about 220 journalists, which means that the size of the newsroom has increased by nearly 14% over the past four years. Regular readers know that the paper has been boosting its coverage of climate change and technology, among other topics.

McGrory and owners John and Linda Henry deserve to take a bow for the Globe’s renaissance in recent years. After buying the paper from the New York Times Co. in 2013, the Henrys compiled an uneven record in rebuilding the Globe as a sustainable business. When I checked in with John Henry in mid-2018, the paper was still losing money and had fallen short of its goal of selling 100,000 digital subscriptions. Henry was forced to declare that he had no plans to sell.

Six months later, Henry said the Globe had finally become profitable. Today the paper has some 235,000 paid digital subscribers, making it a leader among large regional newspapers, and has far more reporting capacity than most of its peer news organizations, many of which are owned by cost-obsessed hedge funds.

I’ve been a Globe reader for nearly 50 years. It’s a very different institution compared to the pre-internet glory days, when it covered national and international news with its own reporters and had a staff — at its 2000 peak — of about 550 full-timers.

Yet it remains one of the best, most deeply staffed papers in the country. It’s also evidence that committed, deep-pockets local ownership can be the difference between a thriving journalistic enterprise and a decimated newspaper hanging on for survival.

How The Boston Globe could help offset the local news vacuum

Could The Boston Globe, profitable and growing, help make up for the local news vacuum in Eastern Massachusetts? The shortage of reliable community journalism became much more acute last week when Gannett told reporters at most of its weekly papers that they would be reassigned to regional beats or to one of the chain’s dailies.

The Globe could conceivably step in by reviving an idea that was perhaps before its time. Under New York Times Co. ownership, the Globe published web pages known as YourTown, one for each suburban community as well as a few of Boston’s neighborhoods. They relied heavily on aggregation — too heavily, as the Times Co. found out in court — and they competed with papers owned by GateHouse Media (now Gannett) that weren’t nearly as hollowed-out as they are today. What’s more, YourTown was part of the Globe’s free Boston.com site (this was before BostonGlobe.com), and the hyperlocal advertising that was supposed to support YourTown never materialized. John Henry shut down YourTown not long after he bought the Globe in 2013.

So what would a revived YourTown look like? Advertising isn’t nearly as important as it used to be, but the Globe has been successful in selling paid digital subscriptions. So imagine a YourTown with one full-time reporter in each community. If the Globe signed up 500 new subscribers in a community, that could bring in as much as $120,000 a year. I’m basing that on an average subscription costing $20 a month (the full cost is $30, but many people would be paying discounts).

No doubt this would work better in some places than in others. I live in Medford, a city of about 58,000 residents that, as of now, doesn’t have a single full-time reporter covering the community. Selling an extra 500 subscriptions — or more — ought to be doable.

But right next door, in Arlington (population: 43,000), there’s a good-quality nonprofit news website, Your Arlington, which would make a Globe-branded YourTown less attractive. Or consider a small town like Bedford — not only are there just 13,000 residents, but it’s the home of a well-established nonprofit news site, The Bedford Citizen.

Still, I think a revived YourTown would work well enough in a few communities that it’s worth trying. I doubt it would be a money-maker for the Globe, but it might be a break-even proposition. And the paper would be filling a real need.

Bina Venkataraman to step down as the Globe’s editorial page editor

Bina Venkataraman. Photo (cc) 2019 by TED Conference.

Less that two weeks after sending out a memo to her staff looking ahead to the new year, Boston Globe editorial page editor Bina Venkataraman has announced that she’s leaving. She posted a thread on Twitter within the past hour that begins:

Her departure isn’t entirely unexpected, as she took a leave of absence during the fall in the midst of the Boston mayoral campaign. Nevertheless, it’s stunning that her tenure lasted such a short time. It’s also at least a temporary setback for the Globe’s efforts to diversify; having a woman of color as one of the top two journalists (along with editor Brian McGrory) reporting to Linda and John Henry sent a powerful signal.

Venkataraman isn’t leaving completely. She’ll remain as an editor-at-large, which she says will involve writing for the Globe and advising The Emancipator, a racial justice digital publication that the paper is launching in collaboration with Boston University.

Unlike the news side, where McGrory has been a fixture since 2012 (he actually helped recruit Henry to buy the Globe from the New York Times Co.), the opinion side has been in flux for a long time. Ellen Clegg replaced Peter Canellos as editorial page editor in 2014, less than a year after Henry completed his purchase. Clegg served until her retirement in 2018, followed by business columnist Shirley Leung on an interim basis. Venkataraman arrived in 2019. (Clegg and I are now research and podcast partners.)

Venkataraman was an unconventional hire — a science journalist and author who didn’t come from the politics and policy side where most opinion editors cut their teeth. It will be interesting to see what direction the Globe heads in next.