^ our “paper of record,” you know it is.
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Everybody in Here and Sphere’s Boston home region knew that the Boston Globe was for sale. The New York Times, which owned the paper, had hardly kept their intentions a secret. Everybody knew, too, that several active bidders — including members of the Taylor family that had owned the Globe and sold it to the Times — were on the case. It was even known that one of the bidders was a group led by John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox.
Still, it surprised every observer when the two papers announced that the Globe had been sold for $ 70,000,000 — cash deal, no debt — and that the buyer was John Henry alone. No partners.
^ John Henry, Globe Owner. Walking tall (with wife Linda)
In 1993 the New York Times had purchased the Boston Globe, as well as the Worcester Telegram and the Globe’s huge building on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester, for a reported $ 1.3 billion. Now, 20 years later, all of that — the Telegram and building, as well as all of the Globe’s internet presences — gets sold for $ 70,000,000. This, dear reader, is a heck of a discount, no ? It sends a message of desperation to those who see only the past. And yes, already the bears are howling : it’s the end, print media is dying, John Henry just wants to break it up and sell the pieces, then curtains.
We strongly disagree that that is going to happen.
Yes, the Globe’s circulation has declined from more than 420,000 in 1993 to about 200,000 now. Yes, the news staff has lost 180 positions, from 550 to 370. Yes, advertising revenue continues to drop — reportedly even during the period that the Times buffed it up to make the paper look most sale-able. Yes, many papers similar to the Globe have gone into bankruptcy, for example the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Tribune Companies. All of this is why the Globe properties fetched only $ 70,000,000 rather than the $ 1.3 billion, But that is the past. What the Globe WILL be lies in the future. It’s a future that begins strong:
First : Henry is buying the paper and its properties with no debt, all cash. He can use the Globe’s reveneus as he sees fit.
Second : the 200,000 circulation represents a hard core readership. What the ‘net can take, it has taken. the rest are staying. Indeed, I would submit that even that 200,000 represents a very different composition than detractors think. They are not just ‘what is left.’ Many, perhaps most, are new readers, even a new type of reader. More on this topic below.
Third : that hard core readership likely resembles the core readership of Boston magazine — an upscale fan base with much discretionary income to spend on advertisers’ wares. Boston Magazine has , of late, hired some major players in local journalism. That’s not the action of a publisher who thinks that print media is doomed. Why can’t the same reasoning apply to the current Globe’s readership ?
Fourth: as media journalist Dan Kennedy has pointed out, the Globe’s huge building on Morrissey Boulevard might pf itself be worth the $ 70,000,000 paid by Henry. Kennedy suggests that he might sell it, move the printing operation — highly profitable — to the Telegram’s Worcester area, and move the Globe’s news and business operations to smaller quarters in the heart of newly prosperous, bustling Downtown Boston.
Fifth : in 2009, when the Times first tried to sell the Globe, it had a pesky competitor for progressive, in-City news : the Boston Phoenix, then well established and, like the Globe, quartered in a building its owner owned and bolstered by a printing business. But in march of this year, the Boston Phoenix stopped publication. Such competition as it presented — circulation nearly 90,000 — is now available, in need of a voice.
A Boston Globe awash in Downtown’s high-end living is not likely to lack for well-heeled readers and advertisers. Were John Henry to make the Globe even more the voice of prosperous, progressive, mercantile Boston than it now is, he would only be doing what all successful newspapers have always been; the voice of a very definable readership, one that knows itself, identifies as a class or community, and insists on having a print voice to show itself off to all comers. Isn’t that what news media necessarily must be Information, one can get anywhere. The internet, ad fliers, gossip, word of mouth. The successful news media is one that communicates information of a defined kind, or with a defined point of view and even in a defined style of writing, to an audience similarly defined — and self-defining. Boston today has precisely such an audience. Large and growing, affluent, and highly concentrated in Downtown — and emulated by many who work and party Downtown even if they have — lacking the wherewithal — to live elsewhere.
A readership high-life living in $ 3,000 -rent apartments and $ 6,000 a month condos is a readership well worth playing to. It’s right there for John Henry to partner with. It wasn’t as obviously there in 2009 and not at all there in 1993, when the Times bought a very different Globe than now portends.
Why else would he even bother ? $ 70,000,000 to Henry is amuse-bouche money. Usually he plays ten times that amount. The only reason a mere $ 70 million can be worth hos time is that he sees an opportunity to add a zero to the seventy. And he definitely can. He can make the Globe the affluent community’s voice, as I have described, and at the same time create individualized, perhaps internet-only, neighborhood news outlets for every other part of Boston’s highly patchworked neighborhoods of long separatist memory. Into this community approach even the Worcester Telegram fits. (In the Telegram’s case, only into this sort of plan. That and resting on the profit foundations of the Globe’s world-class printing operation.)
Yes, many of Boston’s neighborhoods beyond downtown already have their own local print media. Can they fend off a well-heeled readership and a canny owner ?
What I have just laid out may not be Henry’s game plan at all. But if it is his plan, it is far from a stupid one.
—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere