Tag Archives: Mike Sheehan

Did the Globe just solve its home-delivery problems?

This is huge. The Boston Globe just reported that its previous vendor, Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, is going to handle half the deliveries starting Monday—and possibly as soon as Sunday.

Problem solved? I don’t know. Remember, drivers have been switching from PCF to the new one, ACI Media Group, and it may not be possible to reconstitute the network that previously existed. Still, it’s fair to call this a major step toward solving the home-delivery crisis.

Globe chief executive Mike Sheehan Sheehan predicts “an extremely rapid return to 100 percent deliveries and improved customer service.”

Update: And now Globe publisher John Henry has issued a statement and an apology. As long as the distribution problems are mostly solved in the next few days, this story is winding down.

Your daily update on the Globe’s home-delivery woes

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Photo (cc) 2007 by Steve Johnson

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

There’s a risk that updates on The Boston Globe‘s home-delivery woes are going to become repetitive. But the story is still unfolding, and there is news to pass along. I’ll try to keep this terse.

As you no doubt know, Globe chief executive Mike Sheehan has been making the rounds. He told Jim Braude on Greater Boston Monday that he does not expect the worst-case scenario—a four- to six-month delay before service is returned to normal—will come to pass. Instead, he put it at 30 to 45 days. That’s four to six weeks, still a significant lag. I’d say the Globe has four to six days before this really starts to hurt the bottom line.

Then again, it depends. Sheehan also told Barbara Howard on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) Tuesday that the new distributor, ACI Media Group, would be using updated software today and that he expects significant improvements almost immediately. If the Globe can solve most of the problem in the next few days (and based on Twitter reaction this morning, things have definitely not changed for the better yet), then getting the rest of it right over the next few weeks might be acceptable. On the other hand, several more weeks of utter chaos will be devastating.

Another aspect of the Braude interview worth noting: Sheehan vigorously disagreed with an assertion by columnist/paper boy Kevin Cullen that the switch will result in lower pay for carriers. “Whatever they pay the delivery people, it’s not enough,” Cullen wrote, “and it’s more than a little depressing to think this debacle has been brought about by a desire to pay them even less.”

Sheehan responded that the savings he anticipates would not come from paying the carriers less, pointing out that ACI is competing for workers with the Globe‘s previous carrier, Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, or PCF. And he repeated his claim that the switch was driven primarily for better service. Lower costs, better service? Seems to me that we generally get to choose one or the other, not both.

In other developments:

  • The Globe itself today reports that the paper may add a second vendor—possibly its previous vendor, PCF. The Globe also checks in with two other ACI Clients, The Dallas Morning News and the Palm Beach Post, and it sounds like both papers did a lot more advance planning than took place at the Globe. Executives at both papers say they are pleased with ACI’s performance, one of the few good signs in all this.
  • WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) has more on the new software. It includes some good quotes from friend of WGBH News Sue O’Connell, co-publisher of Bay Windows and the South End News.
  • The Boston Business Journal publishes an overview, including some interesting numbers on the Globe‘s reliance on print revenue.
  • The screw-up is affecting delivery of other papers as well, since ACI is now competing with PCF and forcing delivery people to decide which company to work with. Among the papers that are been harmed are The Daily Item of Lynn and The MetroWest Daily News of Framingham. Larger papers such as The New York TimesThe Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Herald—all of which continue to be delivered by PCF—have been affected as well.
  • As for the Herald‘s non-coverage of a story that it would have been all over a few years go, I can’t top what my friend John Carroll has been doing. (Yes, the Herald is printed by the Globe these days.) Here is John’s latest update, which includes a tip of the hat to Beat the Press host Emily Rooney.

How the Globe’s home-delivery woes became a crisis

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

Boston Globe owner John Henry now has a full-blown crisis on his hands. Before Sunday night, the Globe’s inability to deliver newspapers to its paying customers looked like an annoying but manageable problem—provided it was solved within the next few days. But the stunning revelation by the paper’s new distributor that it could take four to six months for home delivery to return to normal changes everything.

Following Sunday night’s devastating story by Globe reporters Mark Arsenault and Dan Adams (it’s also on the front of today’s print edition if you can find one), it’s clear that there is going to be an ugly—and very public—standoff between the Globe and the new distributor, ACI Media Group of Long Beach, California.

Earlier claims that only 5 percent of customers were being affected have given way to reality. The Globe’s chief executive, Mike Sheehan, now says the number is 10 percent, citing ACI’s own figures. Anecdotally, that still seems low. As of this morning, people living in 112 zip codes are still experiencing delays. Or, as many customers have been complaining, no delivery at all.

Other than the four- to six-month timeframe, I thought the most mind-boggling part of the Globe story was a quote from Jack Klunder, the president and chief executive of ACI, who claims he told Globe executives exactly what to expect:

“I said ‘I cannot describe to you how painful it is,’ ” Klunder said, recounting his warning to Globe officials. “I used the expression ‘massive disruption.’ … You’re going to get thousands of calls, emails—social media is going to be blistering you. The news media is going to be blistering you. You’re going to like where you are at the end of this cycle but you’re going to go through this.”

Sheehan essentially denies being told that, saying the problems of the past week go “far beyond any reasonable definition of disruption.”

Incredibly, Arsenault and Adams also report that ACI can’t be held liable for any performance problems during the first three months of the contract.

Despite all this, I suspect there’s more than a little posturing going on. Both sides have to know that a months-long delivery crisis is unacceptable and will set off an avalanche of canceled subscriptions (I’ve already heard from people who want to cancel but can’t because the phones are jammed), refunds to advertisers, and severe damage to the Globe’s brand and reputation. (Klunder seems to think this isn’t going to hurt ACI’s reputation at all. “We’ll be fine,” he’s quoted as saying. And why not? The Globe hired him despite similar problems in 2014 at the Orange County Register.)

But what can be done? We can safely assume that Globe executives don’t want to give ACI more money. Although Sheehan is quoted as saying the switch was mainly made to improve service (oops), he adds that he was aiming to save money as well. Perhaps the Globe could cancel the contract and re-up with the previous vendor, Publishers Circulation Fulfillment. But the network of hardworking, underpaid delivery people has already been so thoroughly upended that there’s probably no sure way of restoring the status quo.

Among the many threads to this ongoing story, one emerging theme may be tension between the Globe’s newsroom and the business side. The era of good feelings engendered by John Henry’s ownership suffered a setback this fall, as the paper eliminated about 45 positions through buyouts and layoffs at the same time that Henry was launching Stat, a well-staffed website covering health and life sciences.

On Saturday night and into the early-morning hours on Sunday, many dozens of Globe journalists volunteered to deliver the Sunday paper. It was a feel-good story, to be sure, and it would have been seen as a nice gesture if the delivery woes were just a few days away from being solved. But there was an edge to it as well. I spent some time at the paper’s Newton distribution center, and unhappiness was clearly evident among newsroom staffers toward their colleagues whose job it is to manage the paper’s business operations.

“We’re fighting for our survival here, and I like doing what I’m doing,” technology columnist Hiawatha Bray told me as he assembled papers alongside reporter Todd Wallack. “Not just because I get paid, but because I love journalism.” When I asked him why he thought the switch in vendors had been so painful, Bray replied, “I’m sorry, I have no idea. We have nothing to do with whatever it was that happened, and we’re just mystified.”

Added Wallack: “People deserve their paper. I agree with all our readers. They have a right to expect the paper to be there every morning.”

For that matter, Sunday night’s bombshell story was something of a declaration by Globe editor Brian McGrory that the paper can best serve its readers by holding powerful institutions accountable—including the Globe itself.

A final point. If you feel tempted to snark about the Globe’s dependence on print circulation some 20 years into the digital age, you need to understand a few things about the newspaper business. Digital is both the present and the future, of course. But print is still where the money is, not just for the Globe but for nearly all newspapers. Online, advertising is ubiquitous and therefore cheap. In print, advertising remains a lucrative if declining source of revenue.

Moreover, if we’ve learned anything from the past week, it’s that a lot of people still like to read the newspaper in print. On one end of the scale are the Globe readers who took to Twitter and Facebook to complain about the delivery problems. On the other are the total digital holdouts. I’ve heard stories that Globe employees took calls from customers who don’t even have an email address.

One person who hasn’t been heard from throughout the chaos of the past week is John Henry himself. This is his first real crisis since he purchased the Globe in 2013. But if there’s anything we’ve learned throughout his long tenure as principal owner of the Red Sox, it’s that he has a tendency to let bad situations play out—sometimes too long—before he acts.

It would be nice to hear from him. But it would be even better if he commits to doing whatever it takes to fix this mess. The Globe doesn’t have four to six months to get it right.

The Globe’s home-delivery problems continue

2009 photo (cc) by jtu

2009 photo (cc) by jtu

The situation with home delivery for Boston Globe customers doesn’t seem to be much better today. Judging from Twitter and other online comments, the only good news for the Globe is that people really miss their paper.

I’ve seen a few conspiratorial-minded commenters suggest that this is a deliberate attempt to get people to switch to digital. In fact, newspapers still make most of their money from print, especially on Sunday. Which makes the meltdown all the more inexplicable.

A few data points. A website called Customer Service Scoreboard reports that the Globe has received 193 negative comments and just one positive. The oldest comment goes back to 2010, and it’s certainly true that people aren’t going to check in to report that their paper arrived on time. Still, the top of the thread is loaded with comments from folks who haven’t received their paper this week and can’t get a response from the Globe.

In a “Note to Subscribers,” the Globe says in part, “This disruption is not unexpected, as the transition involves the hiring and deployment of approximately 600 drivers.” I find that statement surprising. Given the importance of getting it right, you’d think there would have been multiple meetings over many months beginning and ending with: “We can’t screw this up.”

The Globe‘s Beth Healy quotes chief executive Mike Sheehan as saying that, on Wednesday, only 5 percent of customers did not receive their paper in a timely manner. But look at all the zip codes where the new delivery service is still having problems.

Over at WBZ-TV (Channel 4), Boston University’s John Carroll tells Jon Keller that he has a message for Globe publisher John Henry: “Get in your car and start delivering some newspapers.”

Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub continues to track the story and post tweets. Comments are rolling in at my WGBHNews.org story from Wednesday as well.

Boston Globe identifies a downtown spot for its new HQ

Not long after John Henry bought The Boston Globe in 2013, he announced that he planned to move the paper to a downtown location and sell the more than half-century-old plant at 135 Morrissey Blvd. News is now breaking that the Globe will move to 53 State St., a building known as Exchange Place. The memo from Globe Media chief executive Mike Sheehan follows.

Over Memorial Day Weekend in 1958, The Boston Globe left our home on Washington Street’s Newspaper Row and moved to Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester. The move was a catalyst for the most dramatic transformation in our history, both in the depth and quality of our journalism and in the scope of our media operations. Under the leadership of seven world-class editors, 23 Pulitzer Prizes were earned here, and we’ve grown from a single media offering to over a dozen print, digital, and broadcast properties.

Today, we signed a Letter of Intent with UBS to move our editorial and business operations to 53 State Street, Exchange Place. Assuming this leads to a signed lease, and we have every expectation that it will, the move will mark a bit of a homecoming, bringing BGMP back to the same neighborhood we vacated 58 years before. We plan on occupying the second and third floors, which are the largest floor plates in the building, integrating the former Boston Stock Exchange space with the glass tower that was built in 1985.

I have a particular fondness for the building, having moved another company there eight years ago. The reasons for choosing Exchange Place extend far beyond the inarguable fact that I am a creature of habit. First and foremost are location and accessibility. For a journalistic enterprise, there is just no substitute for being able to walk to City Hall, the State House, and virtually every corporate headquarters in the city. If you had to drop a pushpin on the single location that’s most accessible by public transportation, this would be it. The MBTA’s Blue Line and Orange Line have a stop under the building, the Green Line is a block away at Government Center, and the Red Line is just down the street at Downtown Crossing. The building is equidistant and walkable from the North Station and South Station commuter rail terminals as well as the commuter boat.

This move would materially change the answer to “where do you want to meet for lunch?” Cosi and Au Bon Pain are in the building, and there must be a few hundred other dining options within walking distance.

What excites me most about the move is the ability to design our space around the vision of where we want to go. We have retained Gensler (gensler.com) to help us create our new work environment, and they have begun the process of space planning and design.

I honestly believe there is no greater opportunity to redefine and transform the culture of The Boston Globe than to move to and work in the ideal location, right in the heart of the city, in an environment designed for the future of journalism. It worked for us when we moved to Morrissey Boulevard in 1958. And it’ll be equally powerful when we move to Exchange Place which, if all goes according to plan, will be on January 1, 2017.

I should note that Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub beat me by a few minutes.

No word in Sheehan’s memo regarding the fate of the Morrissey Boulevard plant.

Also: By coincidence, Sheehan’s announcement comes at the same time that The Washington Post is moving into a new building.

The Globe’s Doug Most moves to the business side

Doug Most. Photo via DougMost.com.

Doug Most. Photo via DougMost.com.

Doug Most, The Boston Globe’s deputy managing editor for special sections and new initiatives, is moving to a job in the front office, where he will be director of growth initiatives.

According to a memo to the staff by Globe editor Brian McGrory, Most will work on projects ranging from special sections to seeking sponsorships and helping with the paper’s native-advertising efforts. He’ll work alongside CEO Mike Sheehan and chief growth officer Tim Marken.

Most is the author of “The Race Underground: Boston, New York, and the Incredible Rivalry That Built America’s First Subway.”

Given the recent round of buyouts and layoffs, it’s clear that the Globe’s efforts to stem the revenue decline have been insufficient, as they have been across the newspaper business as a whole. So best wishes to Most. He’s got his work cut out for him.

The full text of McGrory’s memo follows:

Mike Sheehan called me a few weeks ago with a rather direct request: Give me Doug Most.

It made an unusual amount of sense. Since Doug took the job of deputy managing editor for special sections and new initiatives in January 2014, and even before that, he’s done spectacular work matching our journalism with advertising opportunities. Some for instances: Doug conceived and then executed a magazine special section on the opening of the Edward M. Kennedy Institute; he conjured up and oversaw a magazine section on Angell Memorial Hospital; he devised and ran the summertime Cape Cod sections for two years running; he oversaw special magazines or sections on the University of Massachusetts, MIT, and the Boston Children’s Museum. Doug could basically fund his own small newsroom with the proceeds — and as important, he provided the reader with often fascinating journalism, some of our most widely read online.

So the question became whether it would be better for the advertising department to have someone in the newsroom to connect our missions, as Doug already did, or whether it would be better for the newsroom to have someone work in advertising to press our cause and preserve our values. In the end, the latter seems to be the best option in terms of opening up new possibilities and opportunities, so Doug will be leaving the Globe newsroom next week to take a position in the front office with the loose title of director of growth initiatives.

This is a big deal move, certainly for Doug, but really for the entire Globe. Among Doug’s many talents, he has an innate understanding of our readers, a restless mind, and a fundamental drive to creatively wring revenue from journalism. This new position will have him, as ever, thinking both editorially and commercially. He will at times be focusing on projects as straightforward as a special section, but the job could also range to a ground-breaking initiatives to help grow our audience reach. He’ll be given the freedom to seek sponsorship opportunities and to have a hand in native advertising.

Doug will work especially closely with Tim Marken, the chief growth officer, Mike Sheehan, the CEO, and me — and by me, I mean us. Doug will remain a regular presence in the newsroom, welcome in all corners. And make no mistake, he will be seeking out your new and innovative ideas and pressing you to collaborate on his — ideas that will help fund the vital journalism that is produced by this organization.

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of Doug’s unique qualifications, so just some highlights. Doug arrived here in 2003 with orders to revamp the Sunday Magazine, working closely with advertising, marketing, circulation, and production. Mission accomplished, in 2009, Doug stepped into the newly enhanced job of deputy managing editor/features, overseeing Living, Arts, Travel, and the magazine. He took his current job overseeing new initiatives in January 2014. Along the way, he also launched the hugely successful Sunday Address section, played a key contributing role in the stunning, premium Sunday magazines, and helped straighten the ship at boston.com when they hit some choppy seas last winter. Just a week ago, Doug created the special Head of the Charles section, sponsored by Capital One — another example of advertisers aggressively searching for unique and creative initiatives they can sponsor. This also helps explain why Mike and Tim are aggressively seeking to have Doug join their team.

There’s no need to do a formal sendoff for Doug, in that he’s not going anywhere far; in fact, you’ll still see him around all the time. He’ll start in his new position in the middle of the week. Please take a moment to thank Doug for all he’s done and wish him well on what’s to come.

Brian

The Globe’s David Skok takes on more responsibilities

The Boston Globe’s David Skok is putting on yet another hat. According to Benjamin Mullin of Poynter, Skok, the Globe’s managing editor for digital and general manager of BostonGlobe.com, has been named Boston Globe Media Partners’ vice president for digital.

Among other things, Skok will be in charge of the company’s troubled Boston.com site, which in the past few weeks has seen a dozen layoffs as well as changes at the general manager’s and editor’s positions.

The announcement is well-timed given that the company seems determined to right the Boston.com ship. Globe Media chief executive Mike Sheehan last week told the Globe that a new direction for the site would be set over the next two to three months.