By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Tom Brown

The Boston Globe names a new president and sets a paid circulation goal of 400,000

Boston Globe Media CEO Linda Henry just announced some pretty big news: chief operating officer and chief financial officer Dhiraj Nayar has been promoted to president; Henry herself will be less involved in the business side and more focused on “additional bandwidth to better support our world-class editors”; and she’s aiming for a “North Star” goal of 400,000 digital subscribers for the Globe, which would represent a considerable increase over its current level of about 250,000. Henry has also set a goal of 100,000 paid digital subscribers for Stat, which is Globe Media’s health and medicine publication.

The first thing that strikes me about the circulation goal is that Henry must be planning a significant expansion into parts of New England where the Globe isn’t especially visible. Currently the paper has digital editions focused on Rhode Island and New Hampshire, and has bolstered its coverage of Greater Boston as well. The second is that Henry, who has been fully in charge of the business side since 2020, is planning a significantly different role for herself. We’ll see how that plays out.

Here is the text of Henry’s email to the staff, provided to me a little while ago by a trusted newsroom source:

Hello everyone,

As CEO, my number one priority is to continue setting us up for long term success. Today, I’m excited to share changes that strengthen our leadership team for increased resilience and adaptability in our ever-evolving business landscape.

I am delighted to announce the elevation of Dhiraj Nayar to the role of President of Boston Globe Media.

Dhiraj joined the Globe in 2018 as CFO, bringing over 20 years of management consulting experience. In 2020, he also became COO and has demonstrated collaborative leadership and dedication to the company’s mission while supporting key areas of our business including printing, distribution, and operations. His strategic insight and ability to balance financial discipline while allowing for growth investments has played an instrumental role in shaping the success and stability of Boston Globe Media.

Before joining Boston Globe Media, Dhiraj worked as a management consultant, advising senior executives at media/information, financial, telecom and private equity companies. He led initiatives at multinationals such as Unilever, Wolters Kluwer, Telstra and American Express. His private equity work included initiatives with Francisco Partners and MacAndrews & Forbes among others. He was the managing director of Meritum Partners, a boutique management consultancy he founded, and was a partner at Opera Solutions (now ElectrifAi). He started his consulting career at A.T. Kearney (now Kearney), a global management consulting firm, after earning an M.B.A from Columbia Business School.

In his new role as President, Dhiraj will oversee our business functions, with a focus on setting us up for long term sustainability. He will continue leading finance and will work closely with me to set our organizational vision and strategy.

What changes for me?
I will continue to serve as CEO and will remain fully engaged in my work with all members of our Senior Leadership Team. With Dhiraj managing our business functions, I’m excited to have additional bandwidth to better support our world-class editors. I truly love working here. I am proud of the work that we do to serve our community and I am invested in remaining an active part of this organization for the rest of my career.

Why now?
After a transformative decade of growth and innovation at Boston Globe Media, the Senior Leadership Team and I have set North Star goals of 500K direct digital subscribers for Boston Globe Media, with 100K of those for STAT.  These targets underscore our commitment to the long term sustainability of this institution with a strong leadership team at the helm.

As CEO, I have been intentional in making sure our leadership team fosters a culture of innovation and maintains a steadfast dedication to our long term success. In the last four years alone, we have demonstrated remarkable resilience and innovation, navigating a global pandemic and expanding our reporting into critical areas. We have celebrated significant milestones: the Globe’s 150th anniversary and winning our 27th Pulitzer Prize. Our newsrooms have earned some of the most prestigious honors in journalism, including the Polk, Edward R. Murrow and Online Journalism Awards. We have been named Pulitzer Finalists every year. In addition, we are recognized for excellence in many areas of our work, including our digital products with top website design, our advertising solutions and our marketing campaigns. We were recently named among the top 100 most innovative places to work in the country. We have expanded our geographical footprint in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, we launched Boston Globe Today, we rebuilt and optimized, and we have brought in fantastic new editors, Nancy Barnes and Jim Dao.  We are continuing to add to our newsroom teams, to invest in our journalism, and to improve our subscriber experience.

Additional Leadership Updates

    • Dan Krockmalnic will be assuming operational oversight of our printing and distribution operations. In this expanded role, Dan will work closely with Josh Russell, GM, Print Operations and his Taunton-based leadership team. He will continue leading the Legal and New Media teams as well as the company’s work on legislative and advocacy issues through his service on the board of the News Media Alliance and as Vice President of the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association.
    • Rodrigo Tajonar will be assuming oversight of the building operations team led by Lauren Rich. He will continue to lead the human resource function.
    • Tom Brown has been promoted to SVP, Consumer Revenue. Tom has served as the strategic leader of our consumer revenue and subscription strategy and built a highly functioning and talented team that is well regarded throughout our industry. Tom also oversaw consumer marketing from 2018 – 2020 when he and his team pioneered a new acquisition approach with a long trial period that propelled significant subscriber growth and has been widely adopted throughout our industry. As a result, we are the clear leader among all major metro publishers in the number of digital subscribers and revenue from those subscriptions.
    • Michelle Micone has been promoted to SVP, Innovation & Strategic Initiatives. Michelle started our Innovation practice in 2020. Since then, she has grown Hack Day into Innovation Week and led the establishment of the Innovation Platform, which has increased our employee engagement around new idea generation and implementation, including the launch of the B-Side. Michelle will continue to lead Innovation and will partner with various leaders at BGM on Strategic Initiatives such as Globe Rhode Island, Globe New Hampshire, Tech Powers Players, AI, and more. Michelle and her team are currently leading the development of Games, scheduled to launch next month on com [].

The changes announced today move us forward, keeping us focused on fulfilling our critical mission and positioning our organization for long term sustainability.

Please join me in congratulating Dhiraj, Dan, Tom, Michelle and Rodrigo. I look forward to connecting with you at our next Town Hall on Monday, March 4th.

Thanks all,
Linda Henry

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A new report finds that news deserts are spreading — but there are bright spots, too

Photo (cc) 2008 by Stefano Brivio

The release of a new report by Penelope Muse Abernathy on the state of local news is always a big deal. For 15 years now, she’s been tracking the extent of the crisis, and has done more than anyone to popularize the phrase “news deserts,” which describes communities without a source of reliable news and information. This week Abernathy, now at Northwestern University’s Medill School, issued “The State of Local News 2023.” It’s a downbeat report, although there are a few bright spots. Here’s a key finding:

The data and insights collected and analyzed in this 2023 report on The State of Local News paint the picture of a country and society increasingly divided between the journalism-have’s — mostly residents in more affluent cities and suburban areas where alternative news sources are gaining traction — and the journalism have-not’s, those in economically struggling and traditionally underserved metro, suburban and rural communities. This partitioning of our citizenry poses a far-reaching crisis for our democracy as it simultaneously struggles with political polarization, a lack of civic engagement and the proliferation of misinformation and information online.

Before I continue, a disclosure: Abernathy, who’s been a guest on our “What Works” podcast about the future of local news, was kind enough to provide a pre-publication endorsement of the book that Ellen Clegg and I have written, “What Works in Community News,” which comes out in January.

Abernathy’s principal collaborator on the new report is Sarah Stonbely, director of Medill’s State of Local News Project, who I interviewed in 2022 when she was at the Center for Cooperative Media, part of Montclair State University in New Jersey.

If you’d like a good summary of Abernathy and Stonbely’s report, I recommend Sarah Fischer’s overview in Axios, which leads with the prediction that the U.S. will have lost one third of its newspapers by the end of 2024.

The cleavage between affluent urban and suburban areas and less affluent urban and rural areas is one of the major challenges Abernathy and Stonbely identify, and it’s definitely something that Ellen and I noticed in our reporting for “What Works in Community News.” I recall asking folks at the start-up Colorado Sun why they were trying to stretch their resources to cover stories across the state rather than focusing on Denver. The answer: the Denver metro area was already fairly well served despite massive cuts at The Denver Post, owned by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital. By contrast, there was very little news coverage in the more rural parts of the state.

As Abernathy and Stonbely put it: “The footprint for alternative local news outlets — approximately 550 digital-only sites, 720 ethnic media organizations and 215 public broadcasting stations — remains very small and centered around metro areas.” Indeed, this chart tells a rather harrowing tale. As you can see, people who live in news deserts are considerably less affluent and less educated than the national average.

The report also includes a section called “Bright Spots in the Local News Landscape.” Although the interactive map is a little hard to navigate, I can see that several projects that Ellen and I profile in “What Works in Community News” are included, such as NJ Spotlight News, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, The Texas Tribune, The Colorado Sun and the Daily Memphian.

The report also highlights The Boston Globe as one of its good-news stories, observing that, under the ownership of John and Linda Henry, the paper has thrived on the strength of its digital subscriptions. In a sidebar, Tom Brown, the Globe’s vice president of consumer analytics, tells Abernathy that digital growth continues, although at a slower rate than during the COVID pandemic. Retention is down slightly, too. “We are nonetheless still seeing overall strong retention,” Brown says, “and we are investing in several areas of the business with the goal of engaging subscribers more and, in particular, our new subscribers.”

Editor Nancy Barnes adds that though the Globe is ramping up its coverage of the Greater Boston area as well as in Rhode Island and New Hampshire, it can’t fill the gap created by the gutting and closure of local weekly papers at the hands of Gannett, the giant newspaper chain that until recently dominated coverage of the Boston suburbs and exurbs.

“Having returned to Boston after many years away, I have been stunned by the decimation of local newspapers across Massachusetts and New England,” Barnes says. “However, our coverage strategy is not tied to specific Gatehouse newspaper communities [a reference to Gannett’s predecessor company]. We cover greater Boston in depth, but we don’t have the bandwidth to be the local news source for everyone.”

This week’s Medill report is the first of a multi-part series. Future chapters will be released over the next few weeks and into January.

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The Globe reports that paid digital-only circulation has hit 226,000

Photo (cc) 2011 by libertyandvigilance

Every time I open a window, in floats another end-of-the-year memo from a Boston Globe Media executive. This one is from Tom Brown, vice president for consumer revenue, who reports that the Globe’s digital-only subscriptions now stand at 226,000 — a remarkable accomplishment given that the Globe was at just 95,000 in mid-2019.

For those of you who keep telling me that the Globe is going to drop its print edition, let me call your attention to this observation by Brown: “The print paper remains at the core of what we do and at 55% of consumer revenue, the largest component of revenue.”

That’s true even though print circulation according to the most recent report filed with the Alliance for Audited Media was just 128,000 on Sundays and about 73,000 on weekdays. The Globe, like other newspapers, will shut down its printing presses once costs exceed revenues — but not a moment before.

Also, I thought it was interesting that the Globe’s paid digital circulation kept rising this year even as overall traffic shrank following the end of the Trump era. (It’s over, right? Please tell me it’s over.)

“We had a strong start in 2021, but in the post-election/post-inauguration spring news audiences around the country began to wane,” Brown wrote. “We saw about a 25% decline in our non-subscriber audience during this period — something that was widely seen throughout the industry, yet our overall subscriber numbers grew modestly.”

The full text of Brown’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

The past two and a half years have been a period of exceptional subscriber growth at the Globe. In mid-2019, we were thrilled to have the leading digital subscription business among major metros with 95,000 digital-only subscribers. From the launch of in the fall of 2011, it took us over 7 years to get to that number of digital-only subs. It took less than a year to more than double that number as we continued to refine, invest, and innovate to develop the sophisticated approach that we have today.

This note is intended to share an update of how we have evolved since that time and what the current state of our subscription business looks like.

The consumer team has disciplines in:

    • Analytics
    • Testing
    • Pricing
    • Database/campaign management
    • Email operations
    • Customer insights and market research

We work with so many of you across the organization on a wide array of projects. Our main focus is growing subscriptions and related revenue. Our team is in service of the incredible journalism that is created here every day. We feel a responsibility to recommend and enact strategies that help to continually attract new subscribers and retain existing subscribers. We focus on analytical techniques and approaches that can improve our ability to draw in, acquire, engage, retain and maximize yield of subscribers. We believe in the rigorous testing of new ideas and letting the data and analytics guide us as we refine our approach.

A Brief history – mid 2019

With support and guidance from leadership we set out to accelerate the growth of our digital subscription business. After a period of testing that began in the fall of 2018, we embarked on a major shift in our acquisition strategy in mid-2019. Encouraged by the early results of the testing we switched the core introductory offer (the offer most commonly seen on the paywall and in email). The rigorous outreach, tracking, sampling, and testing combined with our consistently excellent journalism led to our acquisition rate increasing by more than 500% and remarkably, engagement increased and the retention rate stayed the same. This propelled a sharp increase in subscribers beginning in the summer of 2019 — we passed the 100,000 subscriber mark in mid-June 2019! As 2019 continued, so did the strong results, and we felt more encouraged with each passing week that we had tapped into a new audience that saw great value in a Globe subscription once they had a chance to spend time with our content.

The effect of the pandemic on subscriptions

As the pandemic began in March 2020, we became even more relevant to our subscribers and to new readers. Many of the subscribers already acquired on the new offer were moving off their introductory rate in the early days of the pandemic, which caused an increase in retention. At the same time we were acquiring new subscribers at a record pace. Going into 2020, we planned for a record year with growth to 178,000 subscribers by the end of the year. This goal was surpassed in early April. By early May we had over 200,000 digital only subscribers. While it took over 7 years to grow to 100,000 we had added the next 100,000 in less than one year!

Earlier in 2021

We had a strong start in 2021, but in the post-election / post-inauguration spring news audiences around the country began to wane. We saw about a 25% decline in our non-subscriber audience during this period — something that was widely seen throughout the industry, yet our overall subscriber numbers grew modestly.

Where are we now — Q4 2021

Over the past 5+ months traffic has increased and so have subscriptions. We have reached a new all-time high of 226,000 digital-only subscribers.

We are a leader among U.S. major metro newspapers and one of only a few that have surpassed 100,000 digital only subscribers. Our strategy is being widely adopted across the industry and we are proud to be innovators in this approach and thrilled that it is even possible thanks to the incredible journalism, investment across the company to consistently improve what we do, and the support of the entire organization.

New England is the core for digital subscribers, accounting for 76% of total subscribers, but there are subscribers in all 50 states and more than 3,000 international subscribers!

A sampling of what we have planned for 2022

    • Continue to monitor acquisition results and test other offers to make sure we are always following an approach that nets us the best results for the long term health of the business.
    • Testing of new acquisition approaches and getting more dynamic with our subscription offering.
    • Working with the Product Development and Engineering teams to implement new tests and a redesigned checkout flow.
    • Taking a data driven approach to increasing engagement and retention through a series of initiatives designed to address churn both proactively and reactively — working closely with Marketing and Customer Service.

Home Delivery

The print paper remains at the core of what we do and at 55% of consumer revenue, the largest component of revenue. While print subscriber volume has declined as more people choose a digital option, we still have a dedicated base of home delivery subscribers. We are continuing to invest in Home Delivery acquisition and will increase that investment in 2022. Our Home delivery subscribers consist of a very loyal base with an average tenure of over 20 years! We continue to use analytics to make sure we can deliver the best experience possible to every subscriber.

Print newsstand sales

Another important piece of the consumer business is the revenue generated from sales of single copies on the newsstand. The single copy business was hit hard at the beginning of the pandemic as the foot traffic to stores, especially in the city of Boston, collapsed suddenly. 2021 has been a bounce back year though and sales have remained relatively flat year over year since the spring, indicating that there is still a consistent demand for print single copy.

I hope this gave you a good glimpse into our consumer business. Please feel free to reach out with any thoughts or questions to any of us on this entrepreneurial consumer team.

Thank you!

Tom Brown

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