The Globe hits a digital benchmark — and finds a new art critic in Toronto

Murray Whyte (via LinkedIn)

A couple of good-news items from The Boston Globe.

First, the paper is reporting that it has passed the 100,000 level for digital-only subscriptions, a benchmark the paper’s executives had originally hoped to reach by the end of June. Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal has the details.

When I interviewed Globe editor Brian McGrory for “The Return of the Moguls” nearly two years ago, he said the paper would start to look like a sustainable business if it could hit 200,000. My mother always told me that the first 100,000 is the hardest. But the Globe’s digital presence is in the midst of getting an upgrade as it adopts The Washington Post’s Arc content-management system this fall. If the Arc transition goes smoothly, then perhaps another circulation boost will follow.

Second, the Globe is announcing today that it has finally replaced Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee, who left for the Post nearly a year ago. The Globe’s new critic is Murray Whyte, currently at The Star of Toronto, whose arrival in Boston, I’m told, was delayed because of immigration issues.

In an email to the Globe’s staff, deputy managing editor for arts and newsroom innovation Janice Page and arts editor Rebecca Ostriker call Whyte “a truly extraordinary writer” who “brings a unique combination of keen insight, wide-ranging expertise, superb judgment, and an ability to recognize and write about what really matters.” The full text of their message follows.

We are delighted to announce that Murray Whyte is joining the Globe as art critic, starting next month.

Murray was born in Winnipeg and grew up partly in Calgary, and he will completely understand if you have no idea where those places are (directly north — way north — of Minnesota and Montana, respectively). He’s spent the better part of two decades in Toronto, and the last 10 of those as the art critic at the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper, where he is a recent winner of Canada’s National Newspaper Award, the country’s highest journalistic honor.

As Globe readers will soon learn, Murray is a truly extraordinary writer. He brings a unique combination of keen insight, wide-ranging expertise, superb judgment, and an ability to recognize and write about what really matters. He does not focus on art for art’s sake, but rather connects art to what can make a difference to people living in the world — to society, to ideas, to our culture as a whole.

Murray’s eclectic background also extends beyond arts journalism, including a stint as a producer with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In fact, he may be the only journalist in North America who has reported from the oil sands in northern Alberta and Uranium City in Saskatchewan as well as the Venice Biennale.

But the visual arts have always been in his bones. As a journalism graduate student at New York University, his refuge was the Museum of Modern Art, where he could exult in the stillness of Mark Rothko or the luminescence of Claude Monet. Art museums, he says, are his version of a walk in the woods — a rejuvenating, almost transcendent communion with the sublime.

He’s also a huge hockey fan — another kind of sublime — and would appreciate any spare tickets when the Calgary Flames come to town, because surely, he says, there can’t be anyone else here as interested in the progress of Dillon Dube on left wing this year. Can there?

Murray will be making his home in the Boston area with his wife, photographer Sian Richards, and their two children. He’ll arrive at the Globe in mid-November. Please join us in giving him a very warm welcome.

Janice and Rebecca

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The Globe’s recent Pulitzers and the city’s cultural life

Wesley Morris

Boston is a city where culture matters. So Boston Globe film critic Wesley Morris’ Pulitzer Prize for criticism makes an important statement about the paper’s place in the cultural life of the city.

Morris’ Pulitzer comes just a year after Sebastian Smee won for his visual-arts criticism. Three years before that, Mark Feeney was honored for his criticism of photography, art and film. That is an impressive record. It also marks the Globe’s sixth Pulitzer since Marty Baron became editor in the summer of 2001.

I will confess that I do not usually read film criticism. But after Morris won, I went back and re-read the appreciation he wrote of Steve Jobs’ legacy shortly after the Apple chief executive died. It was smart in all the right ways, expressing the mixed feelings we all have about the overarching place in our lives that we have devoted to our digital devices.

Though I haven’t seen “The Help,” I was interested to see what Morris, an African-American, would make of a film that seems to have sparked ambivalence, especially among black movie-goers. Morris’ review is a meditation on well-meaning whites and the sting of liberal condescension. And the last sentence is a killer.

Boston, fortunately, is still a place where intelligent, literate criticism is read and appreciated. My former professional home, the Boston Phoenix, has long thrived on the strength of its outstanding arts commentary. It matters here, which is one of the reasons that this is such a great place to live and work.

As we all know, professional, informed criticism has ceded substantial ground to bloggers, commenters on Amazon and Yelp, and other unpaid reviewers. There’s a place for such amateur voices, and some of them are quite good. But gifted, deeply informed critics like Morris, Smee and Feeney show why crowdsourced reviews are a valuable supplement — not a substitute.

Pulitzer winner Barry’s 1996 report from Russia

Ellen Barry

While the Boston Globe’s visual-arts critic, Sebastian Smee, continues to receive well-deserved accolades for his Pulitzer Prize, it is less well-known that another of yesterday’s Pulitzer winners has strong Boston ties, too.

Ellen Barry of the New York Times, who shared the award for international reporting with her Times colleague Clifford Levy, is a former reporter for the Globe and the Boston Phoenix. Ellen and I worked together at the Phoenix in the mid-1990s.

In 1996, she reported from Russia for the Phoenix on Boris Yeltsin’s re-election campaign — and wrote a classic story headlined “Generation Nyet.” The folks at the Phoenix have dug the story of their archives and linked to it anew. It is well worth your time, as is Phoenix editor Carly Carioli’s tribute.

Boston Globe returns to Pulitzer circle

Sebastian Smee

The Boston Globe has won its first Pulitzer in three years. Sebastian Smee, the paper’s visual-arts critic, takes home the prize for criticism. Here is the story the Globe ran when Smee was hired in 2008. Here are links to his reviews.

Another winner with local ties is Ellen Barry of the New York Times, who shares the award for international reporting with her colleague Clifford Levy. Barry worked at both the Boston Phoenix and the Globe before moving to the Times.

The big surprise: no winner in breaking-news reporting.

The complete list of Pulitzer winners is here.