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.

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.

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