Last Tuesday I moderated a panel at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester on “The Role of the Media in Civic Life,” sponsored by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau.
We all had the opportunity to hear from some really smart and interesting people: Jim Normandin, publisher of the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester; Walter Bird Jr., the editor of Worcester Magazine; Andy Lacombe of Charter TV3 News; and Jordan Levy, a former Worcester politico who’s now the host of a talk show on WTAG Radio.
In case you’d like to see what you missed, I’ve posted the video.
CommonWealth magazine editor Bruce Mohl has a very tough piece about Boston Globe owner John Henry in the new issue titled “The man who lied to Worcester.” Mohl, a former Globe staff member, criticizes Henry for going back on his promise either to sell the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to local buyers or to keep the paper himself.
Mohl quotes the T&G’s coverage of a meeting that Henry held with the staff last fall at which Henry said, “This is not a forced sale. If we don’t find the right owner, you’re stuck with me.”
I’ve written about Henry’s broken promise on several occasions, including last April for WGBHNews.org. But Henry has never explained what happened, and he did not respond to Mohl’s request for comment. Now the T&G is owned by Halifax Media Group, a Florida-based chain.
The online news site GoLocalProv is taking a well-deserved victory lap now that it’s been announced that GateHouse Media will acquire The Providence Journal from A.H. Belo of Dallas for $46 million. GoLocalProv reported on June 13 that the sale was imminent. But there the matter stood until Tuesday, when we learned that the Journal had been sold to GateHouse’s parent, New Media Investment Group.
As I told Ted Nesi of WPRI.com, I think it’s a shame that some way couldn’t be found for the Journal to return to local ownership — a lost opportunity, just as it was when John Henry sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to Halifax Media Group of Daytona Beach, Florida, earlier this year. There is no substitute for a newspaper that is fully invested in the community. I have no doubt that cuts will follow, just as they did when New Media/GateHouse last year purchased Rupert Murdoch’s Dow Jones community papers, including the Cape Cod Times and The Standard-Times of New Bedford.
Still, any incoming chain would make cuts, and I think the new, post-bankruptcy GateHouse, based in Fairport, New York, deserves a chance to prove it will be good steward of the Journal. Despite reductions at the Cape Cod and New Bedford papers, journalists there continue to do a good job of serving their communities. On the other hand, the more than 100 community papers GateHouse already owns in Eastern Massachusetts are strictly barebones operations.
In a full-page ad in today’s Journal aimed at reassuring his new employees, customers and the community of the company’s good intentions, GateHouse chief executive officer Kirk Davis concludes:
We know The Providence Journal plays an indispensable role in helping you live your life in and around Rhode Island. We look to uphold these great traditions and make the investments needed to thrive in the new multimedia world. The purchase is expected to close later this summer. We are looking forward to welcoming the readers, advertisers and employees of The Providence Journal to our family.
At $46 million, New Media/GateHouse paid a surprisingly high price for the Journal. Although Belo is keeping the pension liabilities, it’s also keeping the downtown property. By way of comparison, John Henry paid $70 million for the Globe, the Telegram & Gazette and all associated properties — then turned around and sold the T&G for $17.5 million, according to a source involved in the sale. One possible explanation is that the New York Times Co. sold the Globe and the T&G to the low bidder, as one of the spurned suitors, “Papa Doug” Manchester, complained at the time. New Media/GateHouse, by contrast, was presumably the high bidder for the Journal.
Another possible explanation is that the Journal is worth more to GateHouse than to other buyers because it gives the company new territory for its Propel Marketing subsidiary. According to a perceptive analysis of the deal by Jon Chesto in the Boston Business Journal, Propel is seen by GateHouse executives as “the primary engine for growth at the company.”
Yet another wrinkle: The Globe has developed a nice side business printing other newspapers, including the Boston Herald and GateHouse properties such as The Patriot Ledger of Quincy and The Enterprise of Brockton. At a time when Henry is getting ready to sell the Globe’s Dorchester plant and move printing operations to a former T&G facility in Millbury, the prospect of losing GateHouse’s business has got to be disconcerting.
John Henry’s vision for The Boston Globe is slipping more and more into focus, as the paper is edging closer to launching its website covering Catholicism and moving from Dorchester to downtown Boston.
The Catholic site will include three reporters and a Web producer, according to an announcement by Teresa Hanafin, the longtime Globe veteran who will edit the project. Look for it to debut in September.
In addition to John Allen, who’s been covering the Church for the Globe since being lured away from the National Catholic Reporter earlier this year, the team will comprise Ines San Martin, an Argentinian journalist who will report from the Vatican; Michael O’Loughlin, a Yale Divinity School graduate who will be the site’s national reporter; and Web producer Christina Reinwald.
Unlike the Globe’s new print-oriented Friday Capital section, which covers politics, the Catholic site will be aimed both at and well beyond Boston with national and international audiences in mind. “It will have a global audience. There’s a natural audience for it,” Globe chief executive officer Mike Sheehan said in a just-published interview with CommonWealth magazine editor (and former Globe reporter) Bruce Mohl.
Because of that, Globe spokeswoman Ellen Clegg tells me, the Catholic site will be exempt from the Globe’s paywall. It will be interesting to see how Sheehan, an ad man by trade, grapples with the difficult challenge of selling enough online advertising to make it work. Although this is pure speculation, I wonder if some of the content could be repackaged in, say, a weekly print magazine supported by paid subscriptions and ads.
The relocation from Dorchester to downtown, meanwhile, has moved closer to reality. Thomas Grillo reported in the Boston Business Journal on Tuesday that John Henry has hired Colliers International to find 150,000 square feet of office space — a considerable downsizing from the 815,000 square feet in the 1950s-era Dorchester plant. The Globe’s printing operations would most likely be shifted to a facility in Millbury, which Henry kept when he recently sold the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester to a Florida chain.
One of the locations Colliers is investigating, Grillo reports, is in the Seaport District. And Sheehan, in the CommonWealth interview, says that would be his top choice: “I’d love to be in the Seaport area. If we were within walking distance of South Station, that would be ideal.”
The local media community has been buzzing since Tuesday, when Jason Schwartz’s 5,000-word Boston magazine article on the state of The Boston Globeunder John Henry went live. The piece is chock-full of goodies, and you should read the whole thing. As you do, here are six takeaways for you to ponder.
1. It could have been a lot worse. Although we knew that Douglas Manchester, the right-wing hotel magnate who bought the San Diego Union-Tribune and unforgivably renamed it U-T San Diego, was interested in buying the Globe (he even threatened legal action after it was sold to Henry instead of him), it is nevertheless chilling to read Schwartz’s account of Manchester’s coming in and kicking the tires after the New York Times Co. put the Globe up for sale.
As I wrote in my book about online community journalism, “The Wired City,” Manchester has been described as “a minor-league Donald Trump” who uses his newspaper to promote his business interests as well as conservative causes such as his opposition to same-sex marriage.
In the Boston magazine article, Globe editor Brian McGrory tells Schwartz that “some potential bidders” — and by “some,” it’s clear that he’s including Manchester — would have “cut the living bejesus out of the place.” And Schwartz includes this delicious anecdote: “During the U-T San Diego presentation, people who were in the room attest, Manchester at one point instructed McGrory to call him ‘Papa Doug.’ McGrory did not call him Papa Doug.”
2. It’s official: The Globe is moving. Even before Henry won the Globe sweepstakes, it was clear that the next owner was likely to sell the paper’s 1950s-era Dorchester headquarters for redevelopment — a move that would presumably recoup virtually all of the $70 million Henry paid to purchase the Globe, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and related properties.
Henry has now made it official, telling Schwartz his goal is to move the paper to a smaller space with better access “in the heart of the city.”
Of course, the Globe still needs a printing press, not only for its own use but for other publications it prints under contract — including its tabloid rival, the Boston Herald. One likely possibility: the Telegram & Gazette’s printing facility in Millbury, which Henry said he was keeping when he announced recently that he was putting the T&G up for sale.
3. The two-website strategy needs an overhaul. Since the fall of 2011, the Globe has offered two websites: BostonGlobe.com, a paid-subscription site offering Globe content and a few extras; and Boston.com, a free site that’s been around since the mid-1990s.
The problem, Schwartz tells us, is that Boston.com, stripped of most Globe content, has been struggling, while BostonGlobe.com hasn’t produced as much revenue as Globe executives would like. The next step: a looser paywall for BostonGlobe.com to encourage more social sharing and a mobile-first Boston.com that’s still in development. (Joshua Benton has more at the Nieman Journalism Lab.)
4. Henry wants to reinvent the newspaper business. This week’s New Yorker includes a rather dispiriting account by George Packer of how Jeff Bezos and Amazon.com took over the book business. Anyone looking for signs that Bezos has a clear idea of what to do with The Washington Post, which he agreed to buy just days after Henry’s purchase of the Globe was announced, will come away disappointed — although he is, to his credit, spending money on the Post.
By contrast, Henry comes across as energized, bristling with ideas — peppering Brian McGrory with emails at all hours of the night — and getting ready to unveil new products, such as standalone websites that cover religion, innovation and other topics.
“I wanted to be a part of finding the solution for the Globe and newspapers in general,” Henry tells Schwartz. “I feel my mortality. I don’t want to waste any of the time I have left, and I felt this was a cause worth fighting for.”
5. Mike Barnicle is lurking off stage. If you were worried when you spotted Barnicle with Henry during the World Series, well, you were right to be. Barnicle, who left the Globe in 1998 after a career full of ethical missteps finally caught up with him, really does have Henry’s ear — and even supplied him with the email address of John Allen, the National Catholic Reporter journalist whom Henry successfully talked into coming to the Globe.
The old reprobate hasn’t changed, either, supplying Schwartz with a great quote that artfully combines religion with an F-bomb.
6. The executive team is now in place. By accepting publisher Christopher Mayer’s resignation, naming himself publisher and bringing in former Hill Holliday president Mike Sheehan as his chief executive officer, Henry has completed a series of moves that have remade the top layer of Globe leadership. McGrory is staying. Andrew Perlmutter, who made his bones at Atlantic Media and The Daily Beast, has replaced Jeff Moriarty, who left for a job in Britain, as the Globe’s chief digital strategist.
That’s not to rule out further change, especially if Henry’s goals aren’t met. But the sense you get is that Henry — to use a Red Sox analogy — now has his Larry Lucchino/Ben Cherington/John Farrell triumvirate in place. No doubt they all realize that winning a world championship is a lot easier than finding a profitable way forward for the beleaguered newspaper business.
Many police departments in Central Massachusetts violate the law when asked to produce public police-log records, according to an investigation by the Worcester Sunday Telegram. Some flat-out refused. Others demanded identification in violation of the law, and three even went so far as to run a database check on the person requesting the records, the paper reports.
“The law is clear,” the story begins. “Police departments must keep and update a daily log of their activities, reported crimes and arrests, and that log must be readily available to the public at no cost and with no questions asked.”
Any of us who has worked in journalism knows that some police departments cooperate only with reporters they know and trust, despite the state public-records law, which requires them to produce records pertaining to incidents and people who’ve been arrested.
Police departments are not required to produce detailed incident reports about pending investigations.
Whenever I’ve sent students out to obtain police-log records, the results have been mixed. Boston Police, whose headquarters is a short walk from the Northeastern campus, was so accustomed to student requests that they’d form a virtual welcoming committee, giving them everything they needed before they were even asked. I eventually had to require that students visit other police departments — Boston was making it too easy.
But some police departments in Greater Boston were so uncooperative that my students were unable to complete the assignment unless they returned two or three times.
This shows why you need the public records law. People in those positions worry about if it’s all right or not to give someone this public information. After a while, they start to think of it as their information and that it’s their job to protect it.
The Telegram’s investigation also demonstrates the dangers of what happens when the police become a law unto themselves.
Looks like it’s been a pretty lackluster 2011 so far for the Boston Globe, according to the latest financial results from the New York Times Co. Revenues at the New England Media Group, which consists of the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Boston.com, were down 3.6 percent for the second quarter compared to 2010, and down 4.3 percent for the first six months.
That includes a 2.7 percent decline in advertising revenue for the quarter (3.8 percent for the first six months) and a 5.4 percent drop in circulation revenue for the quarter (6 percent for the first six months). Total revenue for the second quarter was reported at $102.5 million. The circulation decline suggests that the higher prices instituted for the print edition a couple of years ago have now worked their way through the system, and that revenues are sliding as the number of papers sold continues to shrink, as is the case at most daily newspapers.
Business has stabilized at the Globe — certainly compared to 2009, when the Times Co. was threatening to close the company if it couldn’t extract painful union concessions in the face of huge operating losses. But neither the Globe nor the newspaper business in general is close to being out of the woods.
Next stop is the Globe’s experiment in charging for online distribution, scheduled to be unveiled later this year. The Times itself has apparently had some success with its own pay model. The delicate state of the Globe’s finances shows how important it is that its own experiment doesn’t blow up in the lab.
Also: News business analyst Alan Mutter recently analyzed the unexpectedly steep drop in newspaper advertising revenue.
News that Ben and Steve Taylor have signed on to businessman Aaron Kushner’s bid to buy the Boston Globe has changed the dynamic. The Taylors, of course, are prominent members of the family that owned and ran the Globe for more than 100 years. Ben was the publisher before he was ousted in 1999. Steve was executive vice president.
The Taylors, who are cousins, fell short in a bid to buy the paper back from the New York Times Co. in 2009. The reason was never announced, but the buzz was that their group was undercapitalized, and that the Times Co. would have had to accept a ridiculously low price in that year of economic crisis. The Globe would undoubtedly be worth more now, but how much more is hard to say.
The significance of the Taylors’ involvement is that there now will be support within influential circles for the Times Co. to return the Globe to local ownership.
Would Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger sell the Globe? By placing the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and their associated websites on the block in 2009, he made it clear that he would if the price was right and if he and other Times Co. executives were comfortable with the buyers.
I suspect the big question they’ll now have to answer is whether they can get the price they want — or if, instead, they think they can get more by hanging on to their New England properties for another few years.
The Globe first reported Kushner’s interest last October.
Is the Boston Globe for sale? For the right price — maybe. An investment group headed by a 37-year-old greeting-card entrepreneur named Aaron Kushner emerged this afternoon as a possible buyer for the Globe, Boston.com and the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester.
But the New York Times Co., which wanted to sell the properties in 2009, may no longer be interested. No doubt that would change if Kushner’s group is prepared to fork over some serious money. But we don’t know that yet.
Another caution: Kushner says he wants to beef up the newsroom. Well, wouldn’t we all? He may be well-intentioned, but no one is going to bolster the Globe’s staff unless his intention is to operate the paper at a loss.