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.

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.

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.

 

Boston Globe staffers will return to the newsroom three days a week in May

Seldom seen for the past two years

Boston Globe journalists will be returning to the newsroom at least three days a week starting Tuesday, May 3, according to a message sent to the staff by Linda Pizzuti Henry, CEO of Boston Globe Media.

Henry’s message reflects optimism that COVID-19 has reached the stage where we can all live with it and manage it. Let’s hope she’s right. I imagine most Globe staff members will be happy to return. As Henry notes in her memo, the lack of downtown workers has had a devastating effect on the city’s economy as well.

Here is her full message.

Team,

Two years. We left our offices in March of 2020 with the hope that a few weeks would change the course of the virus spreading around the world. We informed, we comforted, we entertained, we helped where we could, and we got the critical news and information to our community when they needed it most.

And lately, our coverage has included an inspiring note of us emerging from this pandemic, with an increasing number of articles and columns about the declining infection numbers, offices reopening, what different companies are doing, and how important it is to the vitality of our city that people do come back to their offices.

As we all know, the world is different from 2020, and so going back to exactly the way things were is not our plan. We have been doing a lot of listening, a lot of reading, and a lot of deep thinking about how our business operations work. You have been able to get things done for two years despite trying circumstances, and the organization is thriving. The experience has allowed us to learn a lot about how we work. At the same time, we have missed the chance to think together in the same way. We have over 80 new people at the Exchange Place offices that we all really want to get to know. The connection, the ability to bring in more people to a conversation spontaneously, the ability for different parts of the organization to collaborate easily, the faster sharing of knowledge, the mentorship, the camaraderie of this special Globe community, the culture of being part of this historical organization filled with brilliant people — it has been harder to maintain. As a multimedia organization that is constantly innovating to provide the best possible journalism for our readers, we see the need and advantage of being together.

So, to balance our business need to work together and our understanding of how we can function well, we are going to start with a 3/2 schedule with three set days in the office and two flexible days. For this flexibility to work, we all need to be in the office on the same days — that way we all get the benefit and efficiency of working together in the same place at the same time. Input from managers across Exchange Place and a review of our operations have led us to the days of Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in person in the office. Mondays and Fridays will be flexible for at least a few months, meaning you can work in the office or remote, as your work permits and as you prefer.

As an organization that is constantly learning and innovating, we will survey, listen, and reassess how it is working after a few months to see if adjustments are needed or if we have it right. “Right” means doing what is best for both this institution and for the people who make this institution what it is.

We are pacing the return in consideration of the month-long timing of various commuter passes, so we will officially be in person at the offices with our 3/2 schedule on Tuesday, May 3rd. To make this an easier re-entry, we are encouraging people to go into the office at least once a week in April — on whatever day works for you. Many of you have been going in regularly already and have been finding it productive. We are hearing from other companies that this helps with the transition back to the office.

Thank you for your help in this next transition. We believe that maintaining a physical office in the heart o

f the city matters. As a Boston institution dedicated to helping our community thrive, being there also matters.

Can’t wait to be back together,

Linda

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.

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.

Guild approves contract with Boston Globe Media, ending nearly three years of strife

After nearly three years of increasingly fraught negotiations, the Boston Newspaper Guild and Boston Globe Media Partners have finally reached agreement on a new three-year contract. The Guild is the union that represents newsroom employees at the Globe as well as several other departments. Staff members at Boston.com and Stat News are included as well.

Don Seiffert has the details in the Boston Business Journal, reporting that about 85% of Guild members approved the contract proposal, which calls for raises, a signing bonus, a new parental-leave policy, the continuation of overtime pay and unspecified protections against outsourcing.

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The Globe has been growing in recent years, as its paid digital subscription drive has led to profitability (at least before the pandemic) and new hires. William Turville wrote in the U.K.-based Press Gazette last week that digital-only subscribers have settled in at about 225,000, as the paper has retained most of those who signed up at a big discount during the height of COVID-19.

Still, there are warning signs for owners John and Linda Henry, as Seiffert notes. The contract talks grew increasingly contentious over time. In September, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey pulled out of a Globe-sponsored event in order to show their support for the union.

“There’s definitely a sour taste lingering in our mouths,” an anonymous union member told Seiffert. “I doubt any of us will trust our owners as much as we once did.”

Such feelings are understandable but can be overcome with time. The best way to do that is to put out a great newspaper.

Here’s a statement from management, as reported by the Globe:

A Globe spokesperson said the contract “provides strong protections and economic benefits for Guild members and we will immediately start working together on its implementation.”

“The Globe remains committed to journalistic excellence and a relentless focus on providing the best possible service to our region,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We will continue to invest and innovate in order to ensure that the local, independent journalism that our community has relied on for nearly 150 years will thrive and be sustainable for many years to come.”

And here’s a statement from the Guild, provided Friday night by a trusted source:

Dear Guild members,

Following the tabulation of today’s vote, we are pleased to announce that Guild membership has voted to ratify the three-year tentative contract agreement between the Boston Newspaper Guild and Boston Globe Media Partners.

Together, the two parties have reached an agreement that will benefit the approximately 300 members of the Guild while also providing the company some of the operational flexibility it desired to chart a path for the company’s future success.

As soon as the contract is officially ratified by both parties, which will happen in short order, Guild members will receive a $1,000 signing bonus and a 3 percent raise on their base salary. At the start of year two and year three of this agreement, members will receive 2 percent raises. After nearly three years of difficult negotiations, it is nice to know that our members will have some extra money coming in during the holidays.

Additionally, this agreement will help codify crucial employee rights that were at risk during many stages of these negotiations. All employees will be protected by the Guild’s powers of grievance and arbitration in matters of discipline, termination, and any attempt by the Globe to create new company policies. The Guild also ensured that strong fences have been put around the company’s ability to subcontract work to outside providers, a crucial compromise that protects the integrity of our newsroom. This agreement also retains the successors and assigns clause from our prior CBA, which means that the vast majority of Guild members will enjoy all of the rights afforded by this contract in the event that the Globe comes under new ownership.

This contract would not have been possible without the time and effort of so many of you who chose to fully engage, show up, and do the hard work required, despite the demands of your own busy lives. Through your words and actions over the last three years, we have reached an agreement that stands in stark contrast to the one we were first offered back in 2018. Over the next three years, we hope that every member will continue to stay involved and be vocal about policies you believe will create a better, stronger Boston Globe.

In solidarity,

The BNG Negotiation Team

Scott Steeves
Jenna Russell
Kevin Slane

Details emerge on Globe contract

Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal has some details on the proposed contract settlement between the Boston Newspaper Guild and Boston Globe management, news that I broke here on Friday afternoon. This is a huge step forward for the Globe, as three years of talks had become increasingly contentious.

As Seiffert notes, the two big takeaways are that management won on seniority and the union won on a clause that keeps the contract in effect in case the owners, John and Linda Henry, sell — although I think he’s on target in observing that management “may have used the threat of taking away that provision mostly in order to obtain other concessions from the union.”

The growing Boston Globe’s biggest obstacle is ongoing labor strife

The Boston Globe keeps growing, announcing on Thursday that it’s adding a new section and newsletter on technology — an expansion made possible by two recent hires. It’s hard to think of a large regional paper other that the Globe that is actually building up rather than trying to stave off another round of cuts.

Yet labor strife at New England’s largest news organization seems to be getting worse. The Boston Newspaper Guild has targeted Globe Summit 2021 as a public relations opportunity in its nearly three-year-old quest for a new contract. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey have pulled out of the event in solidarity with the union, according to a Guild press release.

It takes two sides to come to an agreement, and I know that management has its issues with the way the Guild has conducted negotiations — just as the Guild has issues with what it describes as hardball tactics and unreasonable demands.

But it’s way past time for Globe owners John and Linda Henry to figure out a way to wrap this up to everyone’s satisfaction. There are just too many other good things happening for them to continue to let this drag the paper down.