Globe president, in year-end message, says digital subs are approaching 110,000

A source just sent along this end-of-the-year message from Vinay Mehra, the president and chief financial officer of Boston Globe Media Partners. It follows publisher John Henry’s statement earlier this week that the Globe is now profitable and is likely to remain in the black next year as well.

The main takeaways here are that the Globe, having passed the crucial 100,000 mark for paid digital subscriptions several months ago, is now closing in on 110,000. Globe executives have said that if they can hit 200,000 then the paper may be able to achieve long-term sustainability. Also of interest: The Globe is taking part in a three-month exercise with Harvard Business School “to define our business strategy.”

What’s missing: Any mention of the Globe’s contentious negotiations with the Boston Newspaper Guild, including management’s decision to bring in what the Guild has described as a “union-busting” law firm. One hopes that Mehra and the Henrys understand that the people who produce what he describes as “the many successes our journalism racked up this year” should be treated fairly.

The full text of Mehra’s message follows.

Dear Colleagues,

As we head into the holiday season, on behalf of [managing partner] Linda [Henry] and myself, I want to take a moment to share with you a few highlights of what we have achieved this year as well as an outline what we hope to achieve in 2019.

Our success in 2018 was no accident. It was a tough year that required a lot of work and I am pleased to say our efforts began to pay off. We started, of course, with powerful journalism across all our brands — The Boston Globe, STAT and Boston.com. On top of that, we found areas of real growth, while we aggressively targeted savings across all facets of our business and carefully managed expenses to stay ahead of the structural declines we are all seeing in our industry.  For the first time in a long time, we are ending the year in black, and to remain there we must continue our vigilance in looking for efficiencies.

But financial results are just one measure of the many successes our journalism racked up this year. There are way too many to list here, so I’ll mention just a few:

  • Spotlight was a Pulitzer finalist for its groundbreaking series in December [2017]  on race issues in Boston that inspired a region-wide discussion that has no precedent
  • Our coverage of the State Police overtime fraud investigations, the Columbia gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, the investigative pieces on Massachusetts secret courts and the TSA’s Quiet Skies program drove accountability and change
  • The stories in STAT about IBM-Watson’s troubled health business led to a major leadership change at the company

We also extended the reach of our journalism by expanding into new platforms:

  • The Aaron Hernandez Spotlight series in the Globe resulted in a podcast with over 4 million downloads, a trip to number 1 on the Apple charts, and considerable interest from Hollywood
  • Last Seen, a true crime podcast examining the most valuable and confounding art heist in history from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, hit over 3.4 million downloads and was in the top 10 on iTunes
  • Season one of the Love Letters podcast launched earlier this year when Meredith took on the hardest question she gets: How do I get over it?  Leveraging its success, season two will launch in early 2019

As incomparably talented as our journalists are, they don’t do it alone. Peel back the curtain, and what’s revealed is you … our employees across all departments of BGMP [Boston Globe Media Partners]. Day in and day out, your coordinated efforts — leveraging your relationships, expertise, passion and creativity are what have made this institution a leader in an industry that is starting to find its footing.

For growth on the digital side to be sustainable, we must remain focused, bold, and daring, and in 2018, we had no shortages of examples:

  • We continued our digital growth, ending the year with close to 110,000 digital-only subscribers for the Boston Globe — more digital subscribers than almost any other major metropolitan news organization
  • We invested in a new digital content management system, Arc, and launched a new mobile app for the Boston Globe, another step in our digital transformation
  • STAT doubled down on coverage of life sciences, pharma and biotech, resulting in record revenue and subscriber growth
  • We launched a new section on cannabis dedicated to covering and facilitating conversations around the politics, business, use and impact of cannabis in the Northeast
  • Our events brought the community together to talk about important issues such as race, the future of work, the future of democracy, and the midterm elections

Impressive commercial results and remarkable engagement of our readers to our stories are not the only things that drive us. Being a leader in the news industry comes with responsibility. We take that role seriously and demonstrated it in August, when our editorial board led a coordinated effort that resulted in 450 newsrooms across the country joining us to defend the freedom of the press against harmful rhetoric labeling the press as “the enemy of the people.”

As important as it is to drive these conversations in the community, it’s important for us as an organization to reflect on how we can live up to what we shed a light on. One example was the Race Series, which prompted a degree of self-reflection.  Leadership on diversity and inclusion starts at the top, so we have made an intentional effort to ensure our executive team represents a broad range of backgrounds. We will continue to move through our practices in recruiting, talent assessment, and measuring the leadership of this organization against a few core guiding principles, one of which is related to creating an environment that nurtures inclusion, and compensation goals will be tied to this important measure.

It’s not lost on me that there are many questions about the future of our business and our strategy. This past month, a cross-functional team of more than 30 leaders across all disciplines of our organization met with me and a team from Harvard Business School to begin a 3-month exercise to define our business strategy. We all left very encouraged and I will have more to share as we move forward.

As we reflect on a transformative and eventful year, the reality is this: when the business had been experiencing double-digit declines we didn’t dig a hole and hide, we invested — in new business models, new technologies, new talent. We didn’t lose faith. We continued to produce quality journalism, launch new products, and provide opportunities to convene our community around important issues.

All of us know that people who choose to spend their lives in the news business are special, they’re unique, and they are undeniably passionate about their work.  This isn’t simply a job, it’s a mission — a mission motivated by our love of informing people. And that’s precisely what makes me so proud to work alongside each and every one of you.

We wish you and your loved ones a happy, restful and safe holiday and I look forward to seeing you in 2019.

Vinay

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Some thoughts on The Boston Globe’s Shirley Leung appointment

Shirley Leung via LinkedIn

The choice of Shirley Leung to run The Boston Globe’s editorial pages on an interim basis is an interesting one. The paper’s top two editors — the editorial-page editor and the editor of everything else — have traditionally held fairly low-profile positions before their appointment, at least in terms of their public profile. But Leung, a business columnist (and former business editor), is one of the Globe’s most high-profile personalities.

In that respect, the choice of Leung resembles the elevation of Brian McGrory to the top of the masthead in 2012. Unlike his predecessors, McGrory wrote a widely read metro column. At a time when newspapers can hardly afford to give up features that draw readers, that was a significant loss. Likewise, Leung’s column will be missed unless the Globe is able to find a suitable replacement. We can all hope that Leung finds the time to write under her own byline at least occasionally, but that’s going to be tough.

As a columnist, Leung is a provocateur who seems to enjoy taking controversial stands — most notably, advocating for the Olympics to come to town. There’s nothing wrong with an editorial-page editor who likes to think counterintuitively. But she’s now going to have to express her opinions as part of a team that includes the editorial board as well as owners John and Linda Henry.

Leung’s predecessor, Ellen Clegg, who retired last week, served a long time as the interim before finally being named to the job. Clegg led the pages through some significant accomplishments: a redesign of the print section that allowed her to cut the number of unsigned editorials from the traditional three per day to (usually) one; innovative editorial projects on gun violence and other topics; new voices such as Michael Cohen, Renée Graham, Niall Ferguson and Richard North Patterson; and an uptick in web-only content. Leung has large shoes to fill, but my guess is that she’s being groomed as the permanent replacement once her six-month interim stint is up. (Disclosure.)

It’s also interesting that Leung’s appointment comes just after deputy editorial-page editor Marjorie Pritchard led a nationwide campaign to persuade newspapers to editorialize against President Trump’s anti-press rhetoric. Ultimately more than 400 papers signed on. Which means that Leung will be even more closely watched than might have otherwise been the case.

Best wishes to Shirley. The full text of the Globe’s press release is below.

SHIRLEY LEUNG NAMED INTERIM EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR

August 20, 2018, The Boston Globe Boston, MA – The Boston Globe announced today that starting August 27th, Shirley Leung will assume leadership for the Editorial Board for the next six months and will be named the interim Editorial Page Editor.

Leung has been a bold voice in Boston. For the past five years, she wrote an impactful, must-read, often counterintuitive column in The Globe’s business section. Prior to that, Leung served as The Globe’s business editor overseeing coverage of the Great Recession. Her experience brings a deep understanding of the business community and connection to the newsroom that will help lead transformation across the organization. Leung will be the fifth woman in The Globe’s 142-year history to hold this position, and the first person of color to do so.

In naming Leung, Linda Henry, The Globe’s Managing Director, said “We need the strength of a courageous thinker, someone who knows both the newsroom and the world of opinion well, and who knows how to challenge assumptions, and while I am reluctant to lose her column, I could not be more excited about this new role for her. “ Henry added, “I am proud of the board’s progress and bold initiatives, and look forward to the board becoming an even more vibrant voice serving our community locally and nationally.  We want to make certain that we take our time to think strategically about the board, who the next permanent leader will be, and how it will be organized.”

Prior to the Globe, Leung spent six years at the Wall Street Journal. A graduate of Princeton University, Leung started her career at her hometown paper, The Baltimore Sun.

“The Globe’s editorial board last week spoke loudly and with purpose with its #FreePress initiative driving a national conversation on the role of journalism,“ said Leung. “I am proud and humbled to take on this new post and have my voice join theirs.”

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At The Boston Globe, the editorial pages are looking for new ways to engage readers

Photo (cc) 2017 by Domenico Bettinelli.

For the past two years, The Boston Globe’s opinion pages have published new year’s resolutions in the first Sunday edition of January. This year’s, headlined “We Resolve: What Readers Can Expect from the Globe’s Editorial Pages in 2018,” outlines an eclectic agenda, from keeping a close eye on Google and Facebook, to pushing for transportation improvements, to addressing racism “in all its forms.”

The editorial struck me as of a piece with other innovative moves by the Globe’s opinion section — including an interactive editorial on gun violence, a parody front page of what a Donald Trump presidency would look like, and expanded digital content.  I asked the Globe’s editorial-page editor, Ellen Clegg, where the idea for editorial-page new year’s resolutions came from and what she hopes it will accomplish. Our lightly edited email exchange appears at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Read my interview with Clegg at the Nieman Lab. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Big changes (and shrinkage) coming to Boston.com

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

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

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

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

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

The memo follows.

Hello all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eleanor and Anthony

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

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

Well, that was fast. Just a day after Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory announced that chief digital guy David Skok would be leaving later this year, two people who will take over some of his duties have been named. One is a real eye-opener: Linda Pizzuti Henry, wife of Globe owner John Henry, who will oversee Boston.com.

The other is Anthony Bonfiglio, currently the executive director of engineering, who’ll be in charge of engineering, development, product, and design.

When I gave a “Rave” to Skok on Beat the Press Friday, host Emily Rooney asked me if Skok’s departure was related to Linda Henry’s elevation. My honest answer is that I have no idea. It’s something I would certainly like to find out.

It’s also not clear how hands-on Linda Henry intends to be. Eleanor Cleverly, the general manager of Boston.com, has gotten good reviews for stabilizing the site after a rocky transition from being the Globe‘s online home to its current incarnation as a free standalone service. And Cleverly will remain.

It’s way too early to assess what this will all mean, but I’ve heard from a number of insiders that Linda Henry is smart and generally a force for good. Still, it’s an unorthodox move.

The Globe still needs a journalist to replace Skok as managing editor for digital (he’s vice president for digital at Boston Globe Media Partners as well). But since Skok isn’t leaving right away, I suppose that can wait.

What follows is a memo from Mike Sheehan, chief executive of BGMP.

I want to let everyone know that Anthony Bonfiglio will now oversee digital operations, including engineering/development, product, and design across all of BGMP.

Anthony joined us two years ago from Visible Measures, where he was VP of Engineering. Since then, his impact has been immense. He oversaw the rollout of agile software development processes and best practices across the product and engineering teams. As a result, we’ve shortened time-to-market from weeks to multiple releases every week across all teams, creating a predictable and transparent development process. Anthony helped transition much of the business to WordPress and has overseen many of our digital redesigns. He was a key contributor in the launch of Stat.

On the business side, Anthony folded creative services developers into the overall engineering organization and greatly increased their productivity. He also successfully assumed management of our ad operations organization during a critical phase and has since transitioned it back to Advertising.

In short, Anthony has proven himself as a leader who can make a very complex organization faster, better, and more agile. He will continue to report to Wade Sendall.

Brian McGrory informed the newsroom yesterday that David Skok has decided to leave the Globe by the end of the year. Regarding David’s boston.com responsibilities, Eleanor Cleverly will continue day-to-day oversight and management of boston.com, but it will now report to Linda Henry in her current role as Managing Director.

I know I join everyone in wishing David Skok nothing but success and happiness in all his future endeavors and in expressing deep gratitude for all he’s done over the past three years. He has been a driving force in the success we’ve experienced on bostonglobe.com and, with Eleanor and her team, was key to stabilizing boston.com over the past six months. As he transitions out, the leadership of Anthony, Eleanor, and Linda will help us continue to be the region’s leading source of journalism that becomes more relevant and interesting by the hour.

The Globe’s Saturday shrinkage and its digital future

saturday-globe

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I thought The Boston Globe and other metropolitan dailies would still be printing news on dead trees in 2015, I’d have replied, “Probably not.” Even five years ago, by which time it was clear that print had more resilience than many of us previously assumed, I still believed we were on the verge of drastic change — say, a mostly digital news operation supplemented by a weekend print edition.

Seen in that light, the Globe’s redesigned Saturday edition should be regarded as a cautious, incremental step. Unveiled this past weekend, the paper is thinner (42 pages compared to 52 the previous Saturday) and more magazine-like, with the Metro section starting on A2 rather than coming after the national, international and opinion pages. That’s followed by a lifestyle section called Good Life.

The larger context for these changes is that the existential crisis threatening the newspaper business hasn’t gone away. Revenue from print advertising — still the economic engine that powers virtually all daily newspapers — continues to fall, even as digital ads have proved to be a disappointment. Fewer ads mean fewer pages. This isn’t the first time the Globe has dropped pages, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. (The paper is also cutting staff in some areas, even as it continues to hire for new digital initiatives.)

How bad is it? According to the Pew Research Center’s “State of the Media 2015” report, revenue from print advertising at U.S. newspapers fell from $17.3 billion in 2013 to $16.4 billion in 2014. Digital advertising, meanwhile, rose from just $3.4 billion to $3.5 billion. And for some horrifying perspective on how steep the decline has been, print advertising revenue was $47.4 billion just 10 years ago.

The Globe’s response to this ugly drop has been two-fold. First, it’s asked its print and digital readers to pick up more of the cost through higher subscription fees. Second, even as the print edition shrinks, it has expanded what’s offered online — not just at BostonGlobe.com, but via its free verticals covering the local innovation economy (BetaBoston), the Catholic Church (Crux) and, soon, life sciences and health (Stat). Stories from those sites find their way into the Globe, while readers who are interested in going deeper can visit the sites themselves. (An exception to this strategy is Boston.com, the former online home of the Globe, which has been run as a separate operation since its relaunch in 2014.)

“I don’t quite think of it as the demise of print,” says Globe editor Brian McGrory of the Saturday redesign. He notes that over the past year-plus the print paper has added the weekly political section Capital as well as expanded business and Sunday arts coverage and daily full-size feature sections in place of the former tabloid “g” section.

“There are areas where we do well where we’re enhancing in print and there are areas where we’re looking to cut in print,” McGrory adds. “It’s a very fine and delicate balancing act.”

Some of those cuts in print are offset by more digital content. Consider the opinion pages, which underwent a redesign this past spring. (I should point out that McGrory does not run the opinion pages. Editorial-page editor Ellen Clegg, like McGrory, reports directly to publisher John Henry.) The online opinion section is simply more robust than what’s in print, offering some content a day or two earlier as well as online exclusives. This past Saturday, the print section was cut from two pages to one. Yet last week also marked the debut of a significant online-only feature: Opinion Reel, nine short videos submitted by members of the public on a wide variety of topics.

All are well-produced, ranging from an evocative look at a family raising a son with autism (told from his sister’s point of view) to a video op-ed on dangerous bicycle crossings along the Charles River. There’s even a claymation-like look at a man living with blindness. But perhaps the most gripping piece is about a man who was seriously beaten outside a bar in South Boston. It begins with a photo of him in his hospital bed, two middle fingers defiantly outstretched. It ends with him matter-of-factly explaining what led to the beating. “It was because I stepped on the guy’s shoe and he didn’t think I was from Southie,” he says before adding: “It was my godmother’s brother.”

Globe columnist and editorial board member Joanna Weiss, who is curating the project, says the paper received more than 50 submissions for this first round. “It has very much been a group effort,” Weiss told me by email. “The development team built the websites and Nicole Hernandez, digital producer for the editorial page, shepherded that process through; Linda Henry, who is very interested in promoting the local documentary filmmaking community, gave us feedback and advice in the early rounds; David Skok and Jason Tuohey from BostonGlobe.com gave indispensable advice in the final rounds, and of course the entire editorial board helped to screen and select the films.”

But all of this is far afield from the changes to the Saturday paper and what those might portend. McGrory told me he’s received several hundred emails about the redesign, some from readers who liked it, some who hated it and some who suggested tweaks — a few of which will be implemented.

Traditionally, a newspaper’s Saturday edition is its weakest both in terms of circulation and advertising. In the Globe’s case, though, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday papers sell a few thousand fewer copies than Saturday’s 160,377, according to a 2014 report from the Alliance for Audited Media. No doubt that’s a reflection of a Thursday-through-Sunday subscription deal the Globe offers — though it does raise the question of whether other days might get the Saturday treatment.

“We have no plans right now to change the design or the general format of those papers,” McGrory responds. “But look, everything is always under discussion.” (The Globe’s Sunday print circulation is 282,440, according to the same AAM report. Its paid digital circulation is about 95,000 a day, the highest of any regional newspaper.)

One question many papers are dealing with is whether to continue offering print seven days a week. Advance Newspapers has experimented with cutting back on print at some of its titles, including the storied Times-Picayune of New Orleans. My Northeastern colleague Bill Mitchell’s reaction to the Globe’s Saturday changes was to predict that, eventually, American dailies would emulate European and Canadian papers by shifting their Sunday papers to Saturdays to create a big weekend paper — and eliminating the Sunday paper altogether.

The Globe and Mail of Toronto is one paper that has taken that route, and McGrory says it’s the sort of idea that he and others are keeping an eye on. But he stresses that the Globeisn’t going to follow in that path any time soon.

“Right now we have no plans to touch our Sunday paper,” he says. “It’s a really strong paper journalistically, it’s a strong paper circulation-wise, it’s a strong paper advertising-wise. We’re constantly thinking and rethinking this stuff. But as of this conversation, Sunday is Sunday and we don’t plan to change that at all.”

He adds: “We’re trying to mesh the new world with the printing press, and I think we’re coming out in an OK place. Better than an OK place. A good place.”