Stat makes a ‘sensational’ hire, luring Matthew Herper from Forbes

Matthew Herper (via LinkedIn)

Stat, one of Boston Globe owner John Henry’s other media properties, is making a big move. Editor Rick Berke announced today that the health-and-life-sciences news organization is hiring Matthew Herper, a veteran Forbes reporter whom Berke describes as “sensational,” not to mention “supremely talented, versatile and deeply sourced.”

I sometimes describe Henry’s five years of ownership as throwing stuff against the wall to see what will stick. Some ideas, like Crux, launched to cover the Catholic Church, slid onto the floor, though it continues to do well under different ownership. Stat is one of the ideas that has stuck. The project was launched in 2015 with nearly 40 full-time journalists. It’s a bit smaller today (Berke puts the number at around 30), but it appears to be doing reasonably well.

During the past couple of years the emphasis at Stat has been on paid content, a $300-a-year subscription-based model known as Stat Plus. Revenue, Berke told me in an email, is 20 percent ahead of projections. “We’re not breaking even but closer and closer to profitability,” he said. According to Angus Macaulay, Stat’s chief revenue officer, the site is aiming for 10,000 paid subscribers by the end of 2019, and “we’re ahead of that timeline.”

Like Stat, the Globe itself is smaller than it was when Henry first bought it. But Henry continues to invest, if not necessarily on the scale of giving $68 million to Nathan Eovaldi so that he’ll stay with the Red Sox, one of Henry’s other holdings. The Globe is currently restocking its Washington bureau after losing several top people to The Washington Post and The New York Times, Michael Calderone recently reported in Politico. That’s not necessarily where I’d put my money (if I had money). But Globe editor Brian McGrory said at a conference last year that national politics drives readership and paid subscriptions.

In the early days of Stat, there was a lot of coverage aimed at a general audience — and, in fact, stories from Stat still migrate to the Globe on a fairly regular basis. But the paid Stat Plus model means that the site is increasingly targeting health-care professionals. The Herper move sounds like a smart way to appeal to that audience.

The full text of Berke’s message to his staff follows.

I could not be more excited to announce that we have a sensational new colleague: Matthew Herper.

Many of you are familiar with Matt’s work. Over the past 18 years at Forbes, he has distinguished himself as a supremely talented, versatile and deeply sourced reporter with a loyal readership across the health care and science communities. His first cover (with Bob Langreth) was “How the Drug Industry Abandoned Science for Salesmanship.” He went on to write 16 more covers, ranging from a deep look at breakthrough cancer immunotherapies to an early assessment of the potential impact of Bill Gates on vaccine development. This past summer, in one of his most moving recent projects, Matt gave readers an intimate window into the life of Michael Becker, a biotech executive facing end-stage cancer.

Matt also holds the journalistic distinction of having interviewed Elizabeth Holmes and Martin Shkreli on stage the very same day. (That was in their halcyon year.)

For our team of journalistic powerhouses, there is no better recruit. Matt’s interest in revelatory and compelling stories is naturally suited to STAT. He sees himself as writing and reporting from the perspective of a bench scientist, focusing on the researchers who create or study tomorrow’s medicines. He also has a knack for getting some of the most influential names in the life sciences industry to talk with him.

Beyond Matt’s journalistic heft, I see his joining us as a critical step in further ensuring our business success. Presumptuous as it may be, our objective is very clear: to corner the market on smart, must-read journalists writing about health, medicine, and science.

STAT Plus is already growing beyond our projections, and we’re confident that Matt will help us accelerate the expansion of our core business of paying subscribers and sponsors. In addition, Matt will be our point person on the editorial staff as we build out our events business.

Matt’s title will be Senior Writer, Medicine. Like Ed and Damian, he’ll be based in New York. But he has family in the region, and we’ll encourage him to work from HQ as much as he’d like.

Lastly: Matt’s interest in joining us is a testament to our groundbreaking journalism and the business that we have built. One of our biggest draws, he said, is that he’ll get to work with reporters whose work he has admired for years.

“For years, I’ve been saying this is biology’s century,” Matt told me. “Nobody has been covering that giant story better than STAT. I can’t wait to join this amazing team and see what we can do together.”

We can’t wait either. Matt starts in two weeks.

Please welcome our new colleague.

Rick

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Stat marks first anniversary by unveiling paid ‘Plus’ service

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Also published at WGBHNews.org.

When Boston Globe Media unveiled Stat a year ago, it struck many observers—including me—as wildly ambitious. With more than 50 employees, it was hard to imagine how the health and life-sciences site was going to make money. Gideon Gil, the co-managing editor, told me that Stat would probably start charging for some of its content, but at the time there was no plan beyond gathering data to see how that might work.

Now we’re seeing the next phase. Stat editor Rick Berke, in a letter posted online, has announced a redesign and, far more important, a premium service called Stat Plus, which will cost about $300 a year. According to Lucia Moses of Digiday, the target audience comprises “professionals working in and around the pharma and biotech industries.” The goal is to sign up 10,000 subscribers.

My first thought is: Why so little? As Moses points out, the model for this sort of thing is Politico, whose pro edition starts at $5,000 a year. Individuals aren’t likely to pay for Stat Plus; rather, it’s a business expense. On the other hand, it might make more sense to start at $300 and then add, say, an ultra-premium service later on (Stat Plus Plus?) than to start high and have to cut the price.

The purpose of Stat is two-fold: to offer high-quality journalism in a field in which Boston is a leader, and to make money that can help fund not just Stat but the Boston Globe itself. Stat‘s first year showed that it could accomplish the former. Today’s announcement is an important step toward meeting the second goal.

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Boston Globe Media’s life-sciences site, Stat, makes its debut

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Stat, a long-in-the-making website covering health and life sciences, debuts today. The site, which employs nearly 40 journalists, is part of The Boston Globe’s media properties and is based mainly at the paper’s headquarters at 135 Morrissey Blvd.

The news was embargoed until midnight.

On Tuesday afternoon I had a chance to interview Stat’s executive editor, Rick Berke, and two of his top deputies. Look for my report around mid-morning Wednesday at WGBHNews.org. Below is a press release from Boston Globe Media Partners.

John Henry and Rick Berke Launch Stat

A Publication Dedicated to Health, Medicine and Life Sciences

November 4, 2015 — Boston — John W. Henry, owner of The Boston Globe and principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, and longtime reporter and editor Rick Berke today launched Stat, a national publication reporting from the frontiers of health, medicine and life sciences. The publication has assembled a news team of nearly 40 top journalists, as well as an engineering team, an advertising team, and a marketing team.

Delivering fast, deep and tough-minded journalism, Stat will take readers inside science labs and hospitals, biotech boardrooms and political backrooms. It will publish breaking news, richly reported feature stories, investigative projects and multimedia presentations throughout the day at Statnews.com.

“Over the next 20 years, some of the most important stories in the world are going to emerge in the life sciences arena. Stat has a tremendous opportunity to uncover vital issues that touch the lives of every human being,” Henry said. “We realized that there was no one doing what we aim to do: be the country’s go-to news source for the life sciences.”

Stat is headquartered in Boston, with additional reporters in New York, San Francisco and Washington, and more to follow in other cities around the world.

“I’m grateful to have the opportunity to hire dozens of the most talented reporters, writers and multimedia phenoms in the country to join our quest to create a news site with stories you won’t find anywhere else,” said Berke, a former assistant managing editor at The New York Times and executive editor at Politico. “We will take readers behind the scenes of the worlds of science and medicine and introduce them to patients and personalities who are driving a revolution in human health.”

Stat reporters have wasted no time breaking news even before today’s launch. Initial stories, published through its sister publication, The Boston Globe, included an exclusive on Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders rejecting a campaign donation from price-hiking pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli; a scoop on President Obama’s nominee to head the Food and Drug Administration pulling his name off several scientific papers that were critical of the agency; a fascinating deep dive into clinical trials in the age of social media; and an important examination of the shortcomings of precision medicine. Stat has also launched a fast-paced email newsletter, “Morning Rounds,” which has quickly become a must-read.

The Stat editing team is led by three accomplished journalists: The managing editor for news, Stephanie Simon, has been a national reporter for The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and, most recently, Politico. The managing editor for enterprise, Gideon Gil, was the Boston Globe’s health and science editor. Jason Ukman, the senior news editor, was an editor at the Washington Post for 14 years. Gil and Ukman played important roles in editing Pulitzer Prize-winning stories for their organizations.

Stat has developed a sleek website with an emphasis on its mobile version. It has also built out an extensive multimedia unit including animators, a data visualization editor and videographers. Led by New York Times veterans Jeffery DelViscio and Matthew Orr, the team will bring stories to visual life, creating everything from short, social-media-focused video explainers to mini-documentaries to interactive reader experiences.

A strong lineup of regular features is also in the works:

  • Carl Zimmer, Stat national correspondent and a New York Times columnist, will host a monthly video feature called “Science Happens” that will take viewers inside laboratories conducting cutting-edge biomedical research.
  • Veteran pharmaceutical industry reporter Ed Silverman will revive his blog Pharmalot, last at The Wall Street Journal, and will write a weekly column.
  • Sharon Begley, a nationally renowned science writer and formerly an editor at Newsweek, will puncture myths and question conventional wisdom in her column “Gut Check.”
  • Stat will conduct monthly nationwide polling on health and medicine issues in partnership with Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
  • In a new biweekly podcast, “Signal,” leading biotech reporters Meg Tirrell of CNBC and Luke Timmerman of the Timmerman Report will deliver a high-energy mix of news analysis, feature stories and interviews with movers and shakers in the biotech industry.
  • A section called “First Opinion,” overseen by Patrick Skerrett, previously executive editor for Harvard Health Publications, will feature science, medical and financial experts weighing in on the news of the day.
  • Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus, of the popular site “Retraction Watch,” will write “The Watchdogs,” focusing on issues of misconduct, fraud and scientific integrity.

In addition, the reporting staff includes former Politico reporter David Nather, a health policy expert who will lead the Stat Washington bureau; Helen Branswell, a renowned global health reporter who comes from The Canadian Press; enterprise reporter David Armstrong, who covered health care on the projects team for Bloomberg News and The Wall Street Journal; senior writer Bob Tedeschi, a longtime New York Times columnist who will write about patients and clinicians; Charles Piller, an award-winning investigative reporter for The Sacramento Bee and The Los Angeles Times; and Seth Mnookin, a contributing writer and prominent author.

Other editors include Elie Dolgin, PhD in evolutionary genetics who was previously an associate editor at The Scientist and senior news editor at Nature Medicine; Lisa Raffensperger, a former web editor at Discover Magazine; and Tony Fong, previously a senior editor at GenomeWeb.

Chief Revenue Officer Angus Macaulay, a veteran executive of publishing companies including Rodale, Hearst Magazines and Time, Inc., leads the business team. Michele Staats, the former head of integrated marketing at Massachusetts General Hospital, is the marketing director at Stat. Peter Bless, a 16-year veteran of scientific and healthcare advertising, is sales director.

For more information please go to Statnews.com, or visit us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Statnews, or Twitter: https://twitter.com/Statnews.

The Globe gets ready to unveil its life-sciences vertical

A couple of news briefs about The Boston Globe:

  • Benjamin Mullin has an interesting story at Poynter about the Globe’s life-sciences vertical, which is scheduled to begin a slow-roll launch this fall. The project already has a high-profile editor, Rick Berke, formerly of Politico and The New York Times. Berke tells Mullin that he expects the unnamed website will also have a “print component” — unlike (so far) Crux, the Globe’s vertical covering the Catholic Church. Like Crux and BetaBoston, which covers tech and innovation, it sounds like life-sciences stories of broad interest will also appear in the Globe itself.
  • Globe Magazine editor Susanne Althoff is leaving the paper to become an assistant professor in Emerson College’s Writing, Literature, and Publishing Department at Emerson College. In a characteristically effusive email to the staff, editor Brian McGrory writes, “Her team consistently produces some of the highest quality journalism to come out of the Globe, beautifully portrayed in print. And the magazine’s creativity and savvy in story selection, execution, and packaging have routinely led to massive readership online. Look no further than the feature on being poor at an Ivy League school, guaranteed to be one of the most read Globe stories of 2015.”