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.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month!

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.

Three Boston Globe unions raise specter of a possible strike

In the latest development in protracted labor strife at The Boston Globe, the Boston Newspaper Guild this morning issued a statement expressing solidarity with two other unions that represent Globe employees, the Teamsters and the International Association of Machinists. The Guild, which represents the newsroom, the advertising staff and several other departments, also raised the specter of a possible strike.

“All employees at The Boston Globe deserve respect,” the three unions said in a letter to management. “Yet, union members representing Globe staff have experienced management’s hostile anti-worker posture during the course of each union’s recent and protracted contract negotiations. We are coming together to say enough is enough.”

In response, Claudia Henderson, chief human resources officer for Boston Globe Media Partners, said in an email: “The Boston Globe has been committed to negotiating with all of our labor partners to provide workplace benefits and protections while ensuring our ability to continue our growth and investment in all of our newsrooms.”

Henderson’s full statement appears below. But first, the Guild’s statement:

Workforce unrest spreads at Boston Globe

Three different unions denounce “hostile” and “harmful” tactics by executives at New England’s largest newspaper

BOSTON, MA – Workers from three different labor organizations at New England’s largest newspaper are joining in chorus to decry working conditions and “harmful tactics” by John Henry and Linda Pizzuti Henry’s executive team. Together, the three groups represent hundreds of workers in nearly every department throughout The Boston Globe’s operations, including truck drivers, reporters, photographers and more.

After drawing heat for engaging former President Donald J. Trump campaign’s law firm of choice to handle labor negotiations, which prompted a “scathing rebuke” from Globe journalists about ethical concerns presented by the anti-worker firm’s hiring, Henry and Pizzuti Henry now face increasing criticism from beyond just the Guild union that represents newsroom staff.

Leaders from the Teamsters union and the International Association of Machinists have now joined with members in the Boston Newspaper Guild in calling the treatment of workers “dismissive” and “disrespectful” in a joint letter sent to top Globe brass on Thursday, including Henry and Pizzuti Henry.

“By continuing to engage in actions that foment strife within the company, you run the risk of rupturing that trust and of continuing to lose the talented workers who are the foundation of the company’s recent and future success,” said the letter to Boston Globe executives, which was signed by Stephen Sullivan, President of GCC/Teamsters Local 3 Boston; Michael Vartabedian, Assistant Directing Business Representative of the International Association of Machinists, District 15; and Scott Steeves, President of the Boston Newspaper Guild (BNG-TNG/CWA Local 31245).

In a recent internal poll, an overwhelming super-majority of members from the largest of those units, the Boston Newspaper Guild, said they would support a strike authorization vote if one were called by their bargaining committee.

“All employees at The Boston Globe deserve respect. Yet, union members representing Globe staff have experienced management’s hostile anti-worker posture during the course of each union’s recent and protracted contract negotiations,” read the letter. “We are coming together to say enough is enough.”

The communication marks a turning point as it represents the first coordinated action by the three different unions, all citing similar concerns with the approach being taken by Henry and Pizzuti Henry. Henry and Pizzuti Henry also own the Boston Red Sox and the Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League.

In the spring, members of the Boston Newspaper Guild recorded a key victory when journalists at the Globe-operated health news website STAT joined the Guild. Previously, Pizzuti Henry’s announcement as the next CEO of the publication was clouded by the labor strife that has overtaken the Globe.

Workers at the Globe held out some hope that Pizzuti Henry would move on from the hostile, anti-worker policies being pushed before her tenure, but Globe employees say that the new CEO has failed to reconcile the differences causing an increasing schism at the publication.

Now, with multiple unions coalescing in the form of today’s letter and with talk of a potential strike vote, Pizzuti Henry and her executives face a mounting crisis of confidence at the Globe, even as management touts their increasing digital subscriber rates.

The members of all three unions have each been attempting to negotiate fair contracts at the Globe for more than two years. The Globe has generally failed to disclose its financial ties to Jones Day when running stories related to the controversial law firm and its suits, including those related to the 2020 election.

The executives named in the letter to Globe executives included:

Linda P. Henry, Chief Executive Officer, Boston Globe
John W. Henry, Owner, Boston Globe
Arch Carpenter, Senior Vice President of Print Operations
Claudia Henderson, Chief Human Resources Officer, Boston Globe Media Partners
Dan Krockmalnic, General Counsel, Boston Globe Media Partners
David Carillo, Chief Financial Officer, The Henry Organization
David Dahl, Deputy Managing Editor, Boston Globe
Jason Tuohey, Managing Editor – Digital, Boston Globe
Rich Ford, Director, Total Rewards
Trish Dunn, Partner, Jones Day

And, finally, Henderson’s statement:

The Boston Globe has been committed to negotiating with all of our labor partners to provide workplace benefits and protections while ensuring our ability to continue our growth and investment in all of our newsrooms. We are incredibly proud of the way this entire organization has continuously served our community. Throughout the time that we have been bargaining, we have sought to create a more evolved ethics  policy, and have created policies to allow for additional benefits during the pandemic, including $2,000 for employees with young children, $500 for home office set ups, care.com memberships, and additional days off for staff  to use in whatever ways work best for employees. We look forward to getting to resolution on all contracts and will always value the partnerships.

Pulitzer notes: A big win for the Globe; plus, ownership matters, and recognizing Darnella Frazier’s courage

Journalism is a field overrun with prizes. But the Pulitzers still matter — and the recognition shown The Boston Globe on Friday was impressive.

As you no doubt have heard, five current and former Globe journalists won in the Investigative Reporting category “for reporting that uncovered a systematic failure by state governments to share information about dangerous truck drivers that could have kept them off the road, prompting immediate reforms.” That’s the first time the Globe has been recognized for its investigative work since it won the Public Service Award in 2003 for its coverage of the pedophile-priest crisis in the Catholic Church.

The Globe was also a finalist in Editorial Writing for its commentary on a zoning battle in Newton, and its sister publication Stat was a finalist in Breaking News for its coverage of COVID-19. One of the three Stat finalists was Sharon Begley, who died of lung cancer earlier this year.

In a video accompanying the Globe’s own coverage, editor Brian McGrory addressed a topic of vital importance — the role of a regional news organization in the powerful to account. Here’s part of what he said.

I was asked last night at a panel I was on about the lack of relevance, and how major metro newspapers are becoming decreasingly relevant in a really tough media age. And I thought about it for a minute, and I came to realize — not for the first time — I’ve been here 30-something years, and the Globe has never felt more relevant to the community than it does now. And all you have to do is look at the work we do day in and day out. The work that’s unfolding right now on the police department, on City Hall, on state government. Name a topic, and it’s every department firing on all cylinders.

Indeed, the Globe is driving the conversation on all of those stories, even amid fine work by other news organizations, including my friends at GBH News, WBUR, CommonWealth Magazine, The Bay State Banner, The Dorchester Reporter, DigBoston, local TV stations and others.

Ownership matters

Unfortunately, the Globe is unusual by the standards of 2021. Take a look at the list of Pulitzer winners. Overwhelmingly, the prizes went to news organizations with solid ownership. The Globe, of course, has been owned for the past seven-plus years by John Henry and Linda Pizzuti Henry, who have steered it to profitability and stability while maintaining the paper’s reporting capacity.

The Star Tribune of Minneapolis is owned by another wealthy business person, Glen Taylor, who has revived a paper that was on the ropes not too many years ago. The Tampa Bay Times is owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute — a situation that hasn’t been entirely happy, but that has resulted in more robust coverage than if it were owned by a for-profit chain.

The Marshall Project is a well-funded nonprofit. The New York Times, though a publicly traded company, has been controlled by the Ochs-Sulzberger family since 1896. The Atlantic is largely owned by Laurene Powell Jobs, who inherited the late Steve Jobs’ fortune. BuzzFeed News is run as much for love as for profit.

I could go on, but you get the picture. All across the country, newsrooms at regional and local newspapers are being ravaged by corporate chains and hedge funds. The Pulitzers demonstrate, as I have said over and over, that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Speaking truth to power

There had been some buzz in recent weeks that a Pulitzer ought to be awarded to Darnella Frazier, the then-17-year-old who turned her smartphone camera toward George Floyd as he was being murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin.

The Pulitzer judges were thinking the same thing. Frazier was awarded a Special Citation “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.”

Rarely has a Pulitzer been more deserved. But it will be for naught if that’s the end of it. Frazier’s work should inspire people everywhere to stand up for what is right. Without her bravery, Chauvin might still be on the beat, terrorizing the citizens of Minneapolis.

The Globe adds a R.I. podcast; the union pleads its case in a full-page ad

A couple of yin and yang notes about The Boston Globe this morning.

First, the paper has expanded its Rhode Island coverage by adding a podcast, “Rhode Island Report.” The guest for the debut is former Gov. Gina Raimondo, now the U.S. secretary of commerce.

It’s good to see the Globe doubling down on Rhode Island, which has really been underserved by Gannett’s Providence Journal. But I’ve been noticing more and more Rhode Island coverage making its way into the Globe’s print edition. I thought the idea was to leverage digital. If this continues, I hope there will be some consideration given to replating so that there are separate print editions for Greater Boston and Rhode Island.

I also hope John and Linda Henry are giving some consideration to expanding in Worcester, which is a virtual news desert these days. You may recall that employees at the city’s daily, the Telegram & Gazette, said John Henry promised to sell it to local interests or keep the paper after he acquired it from the New York Times Co. as part of the Globe deal. Instead, he sold it to a Florida chain, and it eventually was passed off to GateHouse Media, now Gannett. (When I asked Henry about it several years ago, he told me he believed he had only promised not to sell to GateHouse.)

Second, the Greater Boston Labor Council, the Greater Boston Building Trades Union and the Communication Workers of America have purchased a full-page ad in today’s Globe in support of the Boston Newspaper Guild’s long quest for a new contract. You can see the ad here.

The Globe will expand its coverage of climate change

Photo (cc) 2008 by Lima Andruška

The Boston Globe is in the process of creating a four-person team to cover climate change, according to an email to the staff from Steven Wilmsen, the paper’s narrative editor. A trusted source forwarded it to me a little while ago.

One of those people is a new hire — Sabrina Shankman, who’s coming over from Inside Climate News, for whom she covered the Arctic. She’ll be joined by longtime environmental reporter David Abel and Janelle Nanos, who apparently will be part-time, as she’ll continue covering retail as well. Rounding out the team will be a digital producer who has yet to be hired. Wilmsen writes:

It’s important to note that as you read this — and even as we reported seismic, world-changing matters over the last 18-months — the planet’s health continued on a dangerous path. Last year was the hottest on record. The urgency for dramatic action has never been greater. The Globe’s goal is to bring that urgency to our readers — and to reduce the scale of an overwhelmingly large problem to the community and regional level. We aim to shine light on the hurdles and inequities our region faces as we strive for zero emissions, show pathways toward solutions, and, perhaps most importantly, hold leaders who are responsible for getting us there to account. That’s a big and exciting job that ultimately must engage many others in the newsroom, especially reporters on key beats. We’ll be reaching out in the weeks and months ahead.

In the current newspaper environment, it is impossible to take note of a development like this without stressing — again — how crucial it is to have committed local ownership. Even as John and Linda Henry continue to invest in the Globe (though it’s long past time to settle that union contract), papers elsewhere are being dismantled by the corporate chains and hedge funds that have acquired them.

Anyway, good move. It adds value for Globe subscribers and, needless to say, it’s about an issue of paramount importance.

Please become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month.

 

Why the Kevin Merida announcement is good news for the Los Angeles Times

Patrick Soon-Shiong may be the most important newspaper owner in the country after Jeff Bezos of The Washington Post. So Monday’s announcement that the next executive editor of the Los Angeles Times will be Kevin Merida of ESPN was significant as much for what it says about Soon-Shiong’s commitment to the paper as it does about Merida’s own considerable abilities. Given the Times’ size, influence and unrealized potential, its fate is crucial to the journalistic ecosystem.

It was just a few months ago that Lukas I. Alpert of The Wall Street Journal dropped a bombshell: Soon-Shiong, a billionaire surgeon who bought the Times in 2018, was looking to get out. Soon-Shiong denied it, but actions speak louder than words — and now he has acted. The fact that he could recruit someone who is regarded as the best free-agent editor out there suggests he was able to reassure Merida about stability in the owner’s suite. The Times itself, in a story by Meg James, puts it this way:

His hiring reaffirms the Soon-Shiong family’s commitment to the paper they purchased, along with the San Diego Union-Tribune, for $500 million from Chicago-based Tribune Publishing in June 2018. The Soon-Shiong family has since invested hundreds of millions of dollars more to replenish the newsroom’s withered ranks, built a campus in El Segundo, upgraded the paper’s technology and covered financial losses that deepened last year when coronavirus shutdowns prompted a steep drop in advertising revenue.

Key to all this may be Soon-Shiong’s daughter, Nika Soon-Shiong, who, according to Katie Robertson’s report in The New York Times, “has become an active part of the newspaper’s management team.” In that regard, she may play a similar role to that of Linda Pizzuti Henry, who co-owns The Boston Globe along with her husband, John Henry. Linda Henry, named CEO of Boston Globe Media last year, is heavily involved in the day-to-day operations of the Globe, thus serving as a guarantor of sorts that Henry won’t sell.

Merida will be the LA Times’ second Black editor, which is also significant because of the paper’s diversity issues under former executive editor Norman Pearlstine. It also raises the question of why The Washington Post didn’t push harder to hire Merida as a replacement for Marty Baron, who retired recently. Merida was a highly regarded top editor at the Post before leaving for ESPN.

One possible explanation is that Merida is just two years younger than Baron. As Tom Jones of Poynter writes, “Maybe the Post is looking for a long-term editor — someone who could take over for 15 or so years, and, perhaps, Merida’s age (64) didn’t align with that plan.”

The Soon-Shiong ownership of the LA Times has been a mixed bag thus far. The newsroom has been bulked up in the hopes that the paper could emerge as a national force. But that hasn’t happened, and its digital subscription numbers have proved disappointing as well. It could be that there’s just no room for a fourth national newspaper along with The New York Times, the Post and the Journal. But the LA Times could dominate the West, serving as a much-needed counterbalance to the East Coast media.

All in all, the appointment of Merida was very good news, not just because he’s a first-rate choice but because it signals that Soon-Shiong is committed to the LA Times’ long-range future.

Correction. The original post described Merida as the LA Times first Black editor. In fact, he is the second; New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet served in that role from 2005 to ’06.

Become a member of Media Nation for just $5 a month.

 

Will Patrick Soon-Shiong stand up to Alden — or sell his newspapers?

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

It was quite a week for Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire surgeon who owns the Los Angeles Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune.

On Tuesday came the news that the hedge fund Alden Global Capital was offering $630 million to boost its share of Tribune Publishing from 32% to 100%. Alden would take Tribune private and then, presumably, do what it does: slash the newsrooms of the Chicago Tribune, the Hartford Courant and others to ribbons. One unexpected benefit: The Baltimore Sun and several sister papers would be acquired by a nonprofit foundation.

The complicating factor was that Soon-Shiong, the second-largest Tribune shareholder at 24%, has the right to veto Alden’s acquisition. Would he? Probably not, guessed Poynter analyst Rick Edmonds. “I would bet that getting out with a good return on his investment will be Soon-Shiong’s main or sole objective,” Edmonds wrote.

Then, on Friday, came a bombshell. Lukas Alpert of The Wall Street Journal reported that Soon-Shiong was looking to get out of the newspaper business less than three years after he bought the Times and the Union-Tribune from Tribune’s absurdly named predecessor, tronc.

“The move,” Alpert wrote, “marks an abrupt about-face for Mr. Soon-Shiong, who had vowed to restore stability to the West Coast news institution and has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the paper in an effort to turn it around.” Soon-Shiong denied it, tweeting, “WSJ article inaccurate. We are committed to the @LATimes.”

We are left wondering what’s correct — “people familiar with the matter,” as Alpert described his sources, or Soon-Shiong’s on-the-record denial. Alpert is a good reporter, and presumably his sources are aware of at least some frustration on Soon-Shiong’s part. What’s especially worrisome is that Alpert’s sources say Soon-Shiong has come to believe his papers would be better off “as part of a larger media group.” Other than Alden or Gannett, it’s hard to imagine any other options. If Soon-Shiong is really tired of the business, why not sell them to a nonprofit?

Nevertheless, it’s hard for me not to think about all the times that John and Linda Henry have been rumored to be selling The Boston Globe since they bought it in 2013. Every so often they deny it, such as in 2018 and 2020. And there certainly haven’t been any signs that they’re selling.

Still, the Henry rumors never made it into The Wall Street Journal. Let’s hope that, whatever else comes out of the Tribune meltdown, Southern California’s major newspapers remain within the relatively safe orbit of Soon-Shiong’s protection.

Become a member of Media Nation.