How the COVID pandemic hypercharged Stat

Illustration (cc) 2020 by Prachatai

Luke Winkie has a terrific piece up at the Nieman Journalism Lab about the five-years-in-the-making overnight success of Stat, the health- and life-sciences site that’s part of Boston Globe Media.

The newly unionized Stat was designed as a niche site at is launch in 2015, which I wrote about for GBH News. Now the project is growing by leaps and bounds — from 1.5 million unique visitors a month in 2019 to 23 million, and, more recently, back to around 7 million. Stat has about 50 employees, which is about the same as when it started, though up slightly over its pre-pandemic head count. And it’s looking to hire another 20. Executive editor Rick Berke tells Winkie:

Stat has changed forever after last year. As a media company, we were on a good trajectory before the pandemic. But there’s no going back to the pre-pandemic reach that we had.

The Globe’s Stat goes union

Some pretty big news from the Boston Newspaper Guild: “Dozens” of journalists at Stat, the health- and life-sciences digital news organization that’s part of Boston Globe Media Partners, are becoming part of the union.

Stat was started in 2015, and its non-union status has been a source of tension, at least among some Globe staffers, right from the beginning — especially since Stat journalism often gets carried in the Globe.

The news comes after a year in which Stat really came into its own as a nationally respected source of information about the COVID epidemic. The full text of the press release from the Guild follows.

Journalists at Award-Winning STAT Are Joining The Boston Newspaper Guild

The Boston Newspaper Guild welcomes dozens of STAT media company employees operating in bureaus nationwide and overseas to the union representing workers at New England’s largest newspaper

BOSTON – Dozens of journalists from the award-winning STAT media company will be joining The Boston Newspaper Guild (BNG), the union which represents more than 300 Boston Globe employees, union representatives announced today.

“Becoming part of the Guild matters when it comes to things like job security, wages, and protection in the event ownership changes. This is a really exciting moment for us,” said STAT reporter Damian Garde. “I’m looking forward to collaborating on critical issues like securing better health insurance and other key benefits.”

“Having STAT workers become part of the Guild means a stronger voice. We all work within the structure of the Boston Globe Media Partners and we stand united,” said Guild President Scott Steeves, a publication layout designer at The Globe since 1984. “At a time when independent journalism is so important, Guild members strive to deliver the highest-quality news product possible while also standing together to ensure economic and workplace protections. Our members fight for good working conditions, fair treatment by management, and equitable opportunities when it comes to career advancement.”

STAT is a media company focused on finding and telling compelling stories about health, medicine, and scientific discovery. STAT is produced by Boston Globe Media and headquartered in Boston, but has bureaus and journalists in Washington, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cleveland. It was created by Globe Media owner John Henry.

STAT employs some of the best-sourced science, health, and biotech journalists in the country, as well as motion graphics artists and data visualization specialists.

Despite the skill and talent they contribute, these employees lack robust representation at work, an inequity that will be remedied with their inclusion in the Guild. With the rapid changes in media organizations, and increased corporatization of the news industry, the ability to advocate and speak out at work is essential.

BNG represents The Globe’s reporters, editors, page designers, web producers, advertising salespeople and advertising sales support persons, ad-designers, circulation managers, accountants, marketers, and information technology specialists, security guards, shippers/receivers, nurses, and secretaries. For decades, its members have produced Pulitzer Prize-winning, nationally-acclaimed work, as well as safeguarding the rights and benefits of Globe employees.

The STAT announcement takes place amid ongoing concern about Globe management’s handling of New England’s largest newspaper and its treatment of employees, who have been working for more than two years without a new contract. For months, Globe management has pushed to take away long-standing workplace protections and benefits. The Globe has also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to retain the services of Jones Day, a law firm known for using questionable tactics to break media company unions.

“The work accomplished by the reporters at STAT over the past year was nothing short of extraordinary,” said business reporter and Guild member Janelle Nanos. “They helped drive the national coverage of the pandemic and in so doing, helped shape the conversations about how best to protect the nation. We at the Guild think it’s obvious that they should be afforded the same workplace protections as the Globe newsroom staff.”

“Our union will represent all workers who work as part of Boston Globe Media Partners in order to ensure everyone receives fair compensation for their work, while also improving transparency around employee benefits and building a culture that reflects the diversity, values, and strength of its workers,” said Guild recording secretary and reporter Matt Rocheleau. “STAT workers deserve a collective voice and seat at the table, together we can start collaborating and negotiating for a more equitable workplace.”

Stat’s Sharon Begley dies at 64

Boston loses another first-rate journalist: Sharon Begley of Stat News dies at 64. I remember reading her in Newsweek back when it was a great magazine. She had a long, impressive career.

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 is up and Design New England is out: A message from the Globe’s president

A source sent this to me a little while ago. It’s a message from Vinay Mehra, the president and chief financial officer of Boston Globe Media. Not a lot of news here. For my money, the most interesting revelations are that Stat, the company’s health and life-sciences vertical, continues to grow, and that Design New England magazine has been discontinued. (Confession: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an issue.)

For more on the Arc content-management system and the latest on the Globe’s digital subscriptions, see the email interview I did with publisher John Henry last week for WGBH News.

The full text of Mehra’s message follows.

Team,

Happy summer! As we go into the second half of the year, the Senior Leadership Team and I would like to share with you where things stand midpoint of this year. Here are some highlights:

  • The newsroom continues to hit it out of the park. The Spotlight Team was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for a series on race that spurred an unprecedented conversation in this region. Our recent TSA piece has made waves nationally. Day in, day out, there is uniquely compelling journalism on our site and print pages, including the launch of the latest reader advocacy initiative, the Help Desk.
  • We continue to invest in the future of the Globe. Our latest investment in our digital future is ARC, our new publishing platform that will result in the redesign of our Globe.com website, and the launch of an ioS and Android Boston Globe app in August. There has been great collaborative work across the company to get to this point, and I am grateful for everyone’s help.
  • We have been disciplined on reducing costs, from ensuring we establish a robust contract management process to more tightly managing expenses, and continue to push ourselves on creating new revenue opportunities and exploring new ways to meet readers where they are, leveraged by our entrepreneurial spirit.
  • While advertising sales continues to experience industry disruption, we are excited about the potential of BG BrandLabs and sponsored content — we have completed 21 customer campaigns since the beginning of the year and have 14 more in our pipeline. Leading companies across the region appreciate and seek out partnerships with us and we will continue to build on that momentum.
  • Subscription revenues are on budget with our digital subscriber base over 94,000, putting us #1 among U.S. major metros in terms of total digital subscription revenue. With Pete [Doucette]’s departure, I have made the decision to conduct a search for a new head of consumer revenues, and I am pleased with the initial results of the search and the caliber of candidates who are interested in the role.
  • After months of negotiation, we have an agreement with the Pressman, Mailers and the Drivers unions. We appreciated the partnership with the bargaining committees and these new contracts give us the flexibility we need to continue to meet the needs of the market and industry.
  • We made the difficult but necessary decision to discontinue publishing Design New England magazine in order to redirect resources into our growth.  This was hard news for our colleagues affected by the change, but we were transparent with the decision making process and explored all options before coming to this decision.
  • STAT, our bold life sciences initiative, continues to see impressive growth – year over year growth in advertising by 59% and growth in subscribers by 308%.

The constant change we are experiencing is what it feels like to be in transformation, and frankly, it will continue. While it is no doubt challenging to navigate in a business as dynamic as ours, I can tell you that we are not alone in this challenge and I believe that our organization will be positioned for success. Since starting at the Globe, I have spent a lot of time out in the field speaking with CEOs in the greater Boston area, familiarizing myself with the unique perspectives within the region and forging relationships that will ultimately allow our organization to help tell the incredible stories of growth, disruption and innovation in our backyard. The good (and bad) news is that I hear the exact same set of challenges in all of these discussions. Everyone, in every industry, is experiencing the very real ups and downs of transformation. The key for us is to stay focused on why we do the work we do, because what I also hear in these conversations is that we, the Globe, are critical to this city.

Success will require that all of us — and particularly the Senior Leadership Team — work across boundaries as one Boston Globe and in harmony with our partners. In the coming month, the Senior Leadership Team and I will be engaging in a strategic planning process to determine our plans for long-term growth.  Expect to hear more from us after some of that work is done.

Finally, I truly believe that each of us must find meaning in our work. The best work happens when you know that it’s not just work, but something that will inform and improve other people’s lives. This is the opportunity that drives each of us at this company.

Thank you for your ongoing support and hard work. I recognize we wouldn’t be where we are without the contributions made by each and every one of you.

Vinay

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Stat, Trump and the ethics of speculating about a president’s health

Click on image for Stat article and playable video.

Is President Trump quite literally losing his mind?

That’s the explosive question that reporter Sharon Begley asked in a recent article published by Stat, a Boston Globe Media-owned website covering health and life sciences. In comparing Trump’s speech patterns today with how he spoke 25 to 30 years ago, Begley and the experts she consulted found a notable slide in his linguistic abilities.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

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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The Globe will shutter Crux and reposition BetaBoston

Screen Shot 2016-03-11 at 12.49.00 PMCrux, a standalone website “Covering all things Catholic” that was launched by the Boston Globe in the fall of 2014 (see my WGBHNews.org piece from that time), is shutting down, according to a memo I obtained a little while ago that was written by Globe editor Brian McGrory and managing editor/vice president for digital David Skok. BetaBoston, a vertical that covers the local innovation economy, will be incorporated into the Globe‘s regular offerings and will no longer be a free, standalone site.

I can’t say I’ve been a regular reader of Crux, but as a lifelong non-Catholic I’ve found it to offer interesting insights into the Catholic Church—especially John Allen’s column. (Allen will acquire the site, as McGrory and Skok explain below.) My WGBH News colleague Margery Eagan recently won an award for her spirituality column. Overall, the quality—under the direction of editor Teresa Hanafin, who’ll return to the Globe newsroom—has struck me as consistently excellent.

Although you might think the problem was a lack of readers, I’ve been told that Globe executives were not unhappy with the size of the audience. (You could look up the numbers on Compete.com, but they’re probably not very accurate.) Rather, as McGrory and Skok note, the real problem has been finding advertisers.

In any case, it’s a shame that the Globe couldn’t find a way to make Crux work. It was a noble effort. I hope Stat, a far more ambitious Globe-affiliated vertical covering life sciences, is able to avoid a similar fate.

We’ll be talking about this tonight on Beat the Press. And below is the full text of McGrory and Skok’s memo.

We want to bring everyone up to date on a couple of digital fronts.

First, Crux. We’ve made the deeply difficult decision to shut it down as of April 1—difficult because we’re beyond proud of the journalism and the journalists who have produced it, day after day, month over month, for the past year and a half. At any given moment on the site, you’ll find textured analysis by John Allen, the foremost reporter of Catholicism in the world. You’ll find an entertaining advice column, near Margery Eagan’s provocative insights on spirituality. You’ll find Ines San Martin’s dispatches from the Vatican, alongside Michael O’Loughlin’s sophisticated coverage of theology across America, as well as the intelligent work of ace freelancer Kathleen Hirsch. All of it is overseen, morning to night, by editor Teresa Hanafin, who poured herself into the site, developed and edited consistently fascinating stories, and created a mix of journalism that was at once enlightening and enjoyable. Readers and industry colleagues have certainly taken note with strong traffic and awards.

The problem is the business. We simply haven’t been able to develop the financial model of big-ticket, Catholic-based advertisers that was envisioned when we launched Crux back in September 2014.

Let’s be clear that this absolutely can’t and won’t inhibit any future innovations. We in this newsroom and all around the building need to be ever more creative and willing to take risks. We also need to be able to cut our losses when we’ve reached the conclusion that specific projects won’t pay off.

There will be several layoffs involved in the closing of Crux, which is our biggest regret. To the good, we plan to turn the site over to John Allen, who is exploring the possibility of continuing it in some modified form, absent any contribution from the Globe. Teresa will be redeployed in the newsroom, most likely in an exciting new position as an early morning writer for Bostonglobe.com, setting up the day with a look at what’s going on around the region and the web.

The second front is BetaBoston. We’re planning to bring it behind the Globe paywall, making it part of bostonglobe.com, in what amounts to the next logical step in the natural evolution of the site. It began as a standalone destination, and with this move, it will become a fully integrated part of the Globe’s business coverage in practice and presentation.

Beta’s been a key part of our vastly more comprehensive business report. It has allowed us to dramatically expand our reporting on the region’s burgeoning tech scene, with a fresh team of reporters devoted to the news and culture of Kendall Square, the Seaport, and elsewhere. None of that will change. The only thing that will be different is their material will appear on the Globe site, with clicks working against the meter. And we’ll save more than a few dollars on the maintenance of the external URL. We’ll set a date soon.

The reality is, we can’t merely be accepting of change in this environment, we have to seek it out. As always, we’re available for questions, insights, and ideas.

Brian and David

Globe union files grievance over non-union status of Stat

The Boston Newspaper Guild, the union that represents Boston Globe employees in the newsroom, advertising, and other areas, has filed a grievance with management over the status of Stat as a non-union shop.

Stat, a standalone website covering health and life sciences, was launched last fall by Boston Globe Media Partners. The Boston Business Journal recently reported on some of the union rumblings emanating from 135 Morrissey Boulevard.

I obtained a copy of the union’s message to members a little while ago:

Dear members,

We are writing to let you know that the Boston Newspaper Guild has filed a grievance challenging STAT’s status as a new initiative.

We are concerned about the loss of Guild work and we are trying to bring these jobs into the Guild.

We will keep you informed when there are updates to share.

Yours in solidarity,
BNG Executive Committee

Globe watch: A lawyer’s lament, and Stat’s discontents

Two items of note regarding The Boston Globe.

1. Eric MacLeish, a prominent lawyer who represented numerous victims of pedophile priests, is objecting to his portrayal in the movie “Spotlight.” An item in the Globe’s “Names” column notes, “Curiously, MacLeish hasn’t seen the movie.” Yet someone must have given MacLeish a good briefing, as the bill of particulars he posted on Facebook is pretty accurate in summarizing his character in the film: a lawyer who reached confidential settlements with the Catholic Church on behalf of his clients, thus helping to delay the truth from coming out.

Also of note is that Stephen Kurkjian, a legendary Globe investigative reporter who also does not come off well in “Spotlight,” has posted a comment saying in part: “I can attest to how committed you [MacLeish] were — within the confines of attorney-client relationships — to assisting The Globe in getting the story out.”

Of course, such complaints are to be expected when a fictional movie is made about a real-life story and actual people. I experienced this first-hand when the movie about the Woburn toxic-waste story, “A Civil Action,” came out. (I covered the story for The Daily Times Chronicle of Woburn.) I was so incensed by some of what I saw that I wrote about it for The New Republic.

“Spotlight” is a far better — and truer — movie than “A Civil Action.” But it’s not a documentary.

2. Craig Douglas of The Boston Business Journal reports that the Newspaper Guild has some issues with Stat, a website covering health, medicine and life sciences that is part of John Henry’s Boston Globe Media holdings.

As I wrote last week for WGBHNews.org, Stat launched with about 40 journalists just weeks after the Globe eliminated about 40 newsroom positions through buyouts and layoffs. The two developments are said to be unrelated in the sense that Henry is not funding Stat through cuts at the Globe. As Gideon Gil, Stat’s managing editor for enterprise and partnerships, told me, each property has to pursue its own business plan.

Still, Douglas reports, it has not gone unnoticed that union jobs at the Globe have been eliminated while positions at Stat are non-union. Douglas quotes an anonymous union official as saying: “The feeling is, those weren’t the last layoffs we’re going to see. It feels like they are trying to expand by killing us from inside.”

Surely Henry can’t be blamed for making cuts in a shrinking business while trying to find innovative ideas that could lead to growth and profitability. But it’s not hard to sympathize with the fears voiced in Douglas’ article.