As recounted here last August, John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, bought another great Boston institution, the Boston Globe, for just $70 million. That’s $1.13 billion less than the New York Times paid for it 20 years ago. The Times retained the paper’s $110 million in pension liabilities, so you could say the price was negative $40 million.
So grim are the economics of newspapering in the 21st Century, lots of industry watchers thought Henry was nuts. Late last month, he took to the paper’s editorial page to explain what motivated him.
I have been asked repeatedly in recent weeks why I chose to buy the Globe. A few have posed the question in a tone of incredulity, as in, “Why would anyone purchase a newspaper these days?” But for the most part, people have offered their thanks and best wishes with a great deal of warmth. A number of civic and business leaders have also offered their help. I didn’t expect any of these reactions, but I should have.
Over the past two months I have learned just how deeply New Englanders value the Globe. It is the eyes and ears of the region in some ways, the heartbeat in many others. It is the gathering point not just for news and information, but for opinion, discussion, and ideas.
Truth is, I prefer to think that I have joined the Globe, not purchased it, because great institutions, public and private, have stewards, not owners. Stewardship carries obligations and responsibilities to citizens first and foremost — not to shareholders. This is especially true for news organizations. As the respected Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston once said, “Only one industry throughout America carries on its day-to-day business with the specific blessing of the Constitution.”
I didn’t get involved out of impulse. I began analyzing the plight of major American newspapers back in 2009, during the throes of the recession, when the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Company, considered shutting down the paper. As I studied the problems that beset the newspaper industry, I discovered a maddening irony: The Boston Globe, through the paper and its website, had more readers than at any time in its history. But journalism’s business model had become fundamentally flawed. Readers were flocking from the papers to the Internet, consuming expensive journalism for free. On the advertising front, print dollars were giving way to digital dimes. I decided that the challenges were too difficult, so I moved on.
Or, I should say, I tried to move on. I couldn’t shake off what I had come to admire about the Globe. I grew to believe that New England is a better place with a healthy, vibrant Globe. When the Times put the Globe up for sale this winter, I resumed my studies. I soon realized that one of the key things the paper needed in order to prosper was private, local ownership, passionate about its mission. And so decisions about The Boston Globe are now being made here in Boston. The obligation is now to readers and local residents, not to distant shareholders. This, ideally, will foster even bolder and more creative thinking throughout the organization, which is critical in an industry under so much stress.
May his words offer inspiration to those struggling to maintain smaller papers like the Halifax Chronicle-Herald, enterprises equally important to their communities.
The whole piece is worth a read. Thanks to Doug MacKay, who edited the late, lamented Halifax Daily News at the peak of its glory, for pointing it out.
“Life is like a public performance on the violin, in which you must learn the instrument as you go along,” wrote E.M. Forster, in Room With A View. I don’t know much about life, but getting fired, unexpectedly, publicly, certainly feels like that. Having gone through it, I’m always interested to see how others handle the experience.
Hours after Rogers Media sacked him and 10 other News Radio 95.7 staffers, right-wing talk radio host Jordi Morgan posted “A note to Maritime Morning listeners” on his Facebook Page.
As you may have heard I will no longer be hosting Maritime Morning on News 95.7. Rogers has retooled to meet some very challenging market conditions and part of this process included the layoff of several personnel in Halifax.
I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of the people who have contributed to the program over the past three years. Academics, politicians, experts and engaged citizens volunteered their time and ideas to help create a program our team was proud to be part of. I believe our program with the input of so many, has contributed value to the discussion around municipal, provincial and national issues and topics of general interest.
He went on to briefly catalog the issues his show dealt with—cyber-bullying, discrimination against people with disabilities, mental illness, education, healthcare, and treatment of veterans—and to thank listeners, guests, regular callers, producers, and surviving hosts, before adding this:
While some may question the corporate decision makers, I want to take a moment to praise the efforts of Rogers media who have invested literally millions of dollars into our region by providing the content we have been able to provide.
I will miss being with you all… but hope that you continue to support the efforts of Rogers and News 95.7 to continue to provide such an important private sector news voice… a rarity in the Canadian broadcast spectrum. Without you… it’s a tree falling in the forest.
You might call this extreme grace and classiness—actually praising the people who showed you the door.
In the half day since Morgan’s post went up, 150 fans—including Bill Stephenson, Marc Patrone, Rob Smith, Waye Mason, Charles Cirtwell, Eva Hoare, Keith Bain, Kim West, Laura Peck, Fiona Kirkpatrick, Barry James McLaughlin, Mike Melski, Sam Moon, Peter Moirera, John Campbelljohn, and Laura Smith—have showered him with words of regret, encouragement, gratitude, kindness, and praise.
That such a diverse group of Maritimers could unite behind a right-wing host who once ran for the Alliance Party attests to Morgan’s deftness in dodging the pitfalls that give that breed a bad name. Mainly, he eschewed sophomoric rants, and treated contrary-minded guests with respect that felt genuine, not faked. Can anyone doubt he will land on his feet?
Cliff White sides Bousquet:
I love the discussion about the superports. Tim Bousquet nailed it. You will remember that a lot of the hype about the Atlantica concept was based on the same false assumptions. During that debate one brilliant supporter suggested reducing transportation costs by hiring Mexicans at low wages to drive the trucks.
At the time I was working for The Council of Canadians. I was heavily involved in organizing against the initiative, until that is I realized it was a delusional pipe dream cooked up by AIMS and some elements of the business community. At that point I stopped being concerned but had a very difficult time convincing colleagues and allies.
What is perhaps instructive to remember is how many business people, politicians, academics, NGOS, and others—both supporters and opponents—bought into the potential reality of the idea, and how reluctant they were to let go of it, despite its obvious flaws.
James and Deborah Fallows have been visiting remote corners of the US by small plane to tease out the secrets of successful local economies. In Eastport, Maine, they heard lots of talk about the potential of Eastport’s deep, ice-free harbour, and relative proximity to Europe, to attract European trade. I noted that the same case has been made for Canso, where construction of the causeway to Cape Breton in 1955 inadvertently created a similarly deep, ice-free superport.
Inveterate boosterism deflator Tim Bousquet of The Coast, a Halifax newsweekly, isn’t impressed:
I think boosters of both the Canso and the Eastport “superports”—and you and Fallows, too—are making the same mistake in logic. No shipper wants to use the North American port that is closest to Europe. That makes no sense at all.
Think about it. You are the manager of a German manufacturing firm, and you want to export to North America. You’re not going to sell many widgets in Canso or in Eastport. Instead, your primary market is going to be places like New York City, or Chicago, where there are millions of people and lots of industry to buy your widgets.
So how do you get your widgets to Chicago? Expensive and light stuff, you can fly directly there. Everything else has two legs: one by sea, and one by land.
The sea part of the voyage is relatively inexpensive. You can stack a gazillion of your widgets in the new post-Panamax ships. A small, underpaid crew from the Philippines steering a ship flying the flag of a lightly regulated country like Liberia doesn’t cost much.
The land part of the journey, however, is expensive. You’ve got to divide up your gigantic cargo and divvy it into a thousand trucks, each driven by a highly paid (relative to the shiphands) driver, using lots of fuel to get to Chicago. Or, if you’re lucky, you can use rail, which, while cheaper than the trucks, is still much more expensive than the sea voyage, per unit transported per distance.
The guy sitting in Germany isn’t looking for the North American port closest to Germany, but rather the North American port closest to Chicago, or wherever his widgets are going. If that means a longer sea journey, the cost is more than made up for with the huge savings of a shorter land journey. I’m not sure why megaport boosters get this so wrong.
Existing American megaports—New York, Hampton Roads, Charleston—are investing billions retrofitting their operations to handle the post-Panamax ships, and the rail lines are upgrading like crazy, refitting for double-stacked containers and such. There’s no chance—none—that Canso or Eastport ports can match the investment, and CN will never be able to out compete Norfolk Southern or CSX for the American midwest market. Just ain’t gonna happen.
I find this megaport boosterism in Canada a little sad, really, for how delusional it is.
To underscore Tim’s point about the low cost of ocean shipping, John “Johnny Nova” Chisholm, former owner of the massive harbourside gravel quarry at Cape Porcupine on the Canso Strait, once told me he could ship gravel to Galveston, Texas, cheaper than he could truck it to Antigonish.
And ship it he did, in vast quantities.
Loran Tweedie and I attended the biweekly meeting of Richmond County Council last night, where we met Lorenzo Boudreau, ago 90. It was Loran’s and my first time attending a Richmond Council meeting. It was Boudreau’s 854th. He’s been coming since 1984.
“To the best of my memory, I haven’t missed a single meeting,” he said.
His memory appears to be good. When Loran introduced himself, Lorenzo asked if he was Jack Tweedie’s son.
“Grandson,” said Loran.
“On January 29, 1953, Jack was working at Sydney Auto Parts.”
“He did work at Sydney Auto Parts,” said Loran, “but why do you remember that particular day?”
“Because on January 29, 1953, your grandfather loaned me $1,200.”
That’s about $10,400 in today’s dollars. Lorenzo used it to open an Irving gas station.
A disgruntled shopper of our acquaintance recounts his efforts to buy a shed. A shed he could see, but could not buy.
Me: I’d like to buy the pre-assembled shed advertised outside your store for $600.
Kent guy: We don’t have any.
Me: But I see one outside you store.
Kent guy: That’s the display model.
Me: So the display model is not for sale?
Kent guy: No. It’s the display model.
Me: So the display model is advertising an item you don’t have for sale?
Kent guy: I could order one in for you.
Kent guy: It wouldn’t be assembled, though.
Me: OK, so I would have to put it together.
Kent guy: It wouldn’t be at the sale price. It would be the regular price: $1,039.
Me: I see. So, your assembled sheds cost $400 less than the ones your customers have to put together.
Kent guy: Well the sale price is only for the pre-assembled one.
Me: Yes, and you don’t have any of those.
Kent guy: Except for the display model.
Me: Which isn’t for sale.
Kent guy: That’s right.
Me: It’s not much of a cheese shop, is it?
Shut your festering gob, you tit!
Perhaps you have seen this speech Kevin Spacey gave at the Edinburgh Television Festival last month. It’s been making the rounds on tech and entertainment sites, and has more than a million views. But if not, please take four minutes for the pithiest explanation I’ve heard of the disruption that has upended the television and motion picture industries. [Video link]
A few excerpts:
The success of the Netflix model—releasing the entire season of House of Cards at once—proves one thing: The audience wants the control. They want the freedom….
Through this new form of distribution we have demonstrated that we have learned the lesson that the music industry didn’t learn: Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it….
If you watch a TV show on your iPad is it no longer a TV show? The device and length are irrelevant … For kids growing up now there’s no difference watching Avatar on an iPad or watching YouTube on a TV and watching Game Of Thrones on their computer. It’s all content. It’s all story….
The audience has spoken They want stories. They’re dying for them.
It’s not just drama. Major League Baseball figured out six years ago that people wanted access to their games on many more platforms than the traditional TV screen or radio receiver. They created MLB.com, which allows radio and TV broadcasts of every major league game from spring training to the World Series to be played on any computer, tablet, or smartphone, and fans were delighted to pay a reasonable fee for that flexibility.
If Spacey is right, and I think he is, then the Canadian companies that buy the rights to US content, and then insist that US websites carrying that content block Canadian viewers, will pay a big price for robbing viewers of control.
H/T: Leo Laporte and Christine Crawford
Yachtsman Silver Donald Cameron writes:
Canada’s Economic Action Plan, it appears, doesn’t reach Baddeck. In that picturesque village, federal agents are trying to kill an iconic small business oriented towards a US market—and that after decades of government investment and effort to strengthen and grow such businesses in chronically jobless Cape Breton.
The business is the Cape Breton Boatyard, created in 1937 to serve the fleet of yachts associated with the family of Alexander Graham Bell and their friends, and owned for the past several decades by Henry Fuller. Since the beginning, the main clientele of the boatyard has been visiting yachts from the US, which cruised the Bras d’Or Lakes in the summer and were stored at the yard in the winter. The yard also provided a starting point for many spectacular voyages to northern destinations ranging from Newfoundland and Labrador to Greenland and Iceland—so the Cape Breton Boatyard appears in many notable books by famous sailing authors.
In theory, US boats are not supposed to overwinter in Canada without being legally imported and paying taxes and duty. But there’s an exception. If a boat needs repairs, it may stay—and the repairs, maintenance and storage of such yachts has been the core business of the Cape Breton Boat Yard. And though the necessary “repairs” may not have been very extensive, customs officers have never been very exacting about the matter.
That made sense. Nova Scotia is a hard place to get to from the US, an upwind slog for days and weeks on end. Given the brevity of our sailing season, a cruise to, say, Labrador or northern Newfoundland and back to the States is barely possible to accomplish within a single season. And the extended presence of American yachts and their crews in Baddeck has been a boon to the entire community. That’s what tourism is supposed to do for us—and for decades, it did. Nova Scotia is trying to attract more high-end tourists, and there are no higher-end tourists than these. Our policies should reflect that.
Instead of creating a sensible policy, however, the ill-named Canada Border Services—which provide more nuisances than services—has always just taken a generous interpretation of the requirement for “repairs.” That left everyone vulnerable to the possibility that some officious twit might suddenly decide to enforce the letter of the law, and require that US boats either be legally imported—at huge cost—or leave the country.
And that’s exactly what’s happening right now. After assuring Henry Fuller in June that—despite worrisome rumours—no enforcement changes were planned, the customs service has now, at the very end of the season, announced it will enforce the letter of the law. US yachtsmen must leave Nova Scotia, or pay punitive duties and taxes on their boats—in some cases, as much as $450,000.
It’s not easy for them to leave. Many have already mothballed their boats and gone home to the States, and those who do choose to leave face either an $8-10,000 trucking bill or a voyage of 1000 miles or more in the open Atlantic in the heart of the hurricane season. Not only have the feds made a unilateral policy change, they’ve done it in the most damaging possible way. And imagine if the Americans retaliate. How many Canadian boats, motorhomes and fifth-wheel trailers are left more or less permanently in Florida, Arizona, California? How would our retirees deal with a peremptory demand to remove them?
If this decision is allowed to stand, Henry Fuller’s business—and the 5-7 jobs it supports—are gone. And the message this sends to our US visitors is appalling. Canada is not a reasonable, congenial place to visit; it’s an unpredictable banana republic.
For a government that prizes economic health above everything else, this is incomprehensible. Nova Scotia’s business community, and its provincial government, should be protesting this decision in the strongest terms—and demanding that the feds explain how the destruction of a fine little business in a depressed part of the country fits into Canada’s vaunted Economic Action Plan.
PC Leader Jamie Baillie’s election promise to hold power rates at current levels came in a position paper that included the following unsourced graph, purporting to show that something called “energy costs to rate payers,” measured in units it did not explain, have increased by 27 percent since 2009:
Wow, that certainly looks shocking!
Contrarian is no statistician, and my graphic skills are tenuous, but I read Darrell Huff‘s classic How to Lie with Statistics shortly after it came out in 1954, and Chapter 5, “The Gee Whiz Graph,” stuck with me. Of the persuasive power of graphs, Huff had this advice for readers deploying them to “win an argument, shock a reader, move him into action, sell him something:”
Chop off the bottom.
Baillie did exactly that with his “energy costs” graph. He chopped off the bottom 64% of the graph. If you start the y-axis at zero, and display the graph in the same horizontal format, it looks like this (with apologies to readers skilled in PhotoShop and Illustrator).
It’s still a significant increase, but not quite so scary or election-worthy as Baillie’s manipulated format. If anyone has the time to parse exactly what’s included in, and excluded from, “energy costs to rate payers,” I suspect we will find that Baillie has selected the fastest rising component of electricity bills to inflate his point.
Bear in mind, too, that the period covered by the graph roughly corresponds to a reduction in Nova Scotia Power’s use of dirty coal from 80 percent to just above 50 percent. That phenomenal drop is a good thing, rarely mentioned by the company’s critics.
Even so, it’s reasonable to ask whether there is some mechanism that could give Nova Scotia access to North American electricity markets and the pricing stability they could bring. Since the first electricity was produced in Nova Scotia early in the 20th Century, we have never had the ability to import or export significant amounts of power.
The reasonable answer is: The Maritime Link, whose principal side benefit, steadfastly ignored by critics, is the robust connection to the North American Grid it would create through Newfoundland, Labrador, and Quebec to the north, New Brunswick and New England to the west. Aside from a guaranteed 35-year supply of predictably priced power, that is the best argument for building The Maritime Link.
[Disclosure: From time to time, I have consulted for NS Power and Emera on issues related to power rates and the Maritime Link. Reasonable people can and do disagree about Nova Scotia energy issues, but they ought to avoid misleading graphics.]
Peter Spurway thinks I’m romanticizing Don “Fuzzy” Bacich’s legendary crankiness about patrons who wanted to slather his delicious French fries with ketchup:
“… and another bastion of quality and tradition falters.”
Tradition, yes. Quality? No.
Not providing something that many of your customers would like to have has nothing to do with quality. It has everything to do with the perspective of the owner. While I certainly grant the owner the right to fashion their product to their own liking, they have to accept that a percentage of their current and potential customers are not going to like it and it will be seen by some as a detraction from the offering.
A lazy choice of words on my part. Still, the eccentricity of refusing to supply ketchup at your chip wagon reflects a certain charming integrity.
Some guy named Silas* in Orangedale writes:
There is a funny contrast between the top two stories on contrarian tonight. One praises the unfortunately named Fuzzy’s Fries for refusing to bow to their customers’ wishes re condiments. The other criticizes Facebook for doing refusing to bow to it’s customers’ wishes re locations. Rooting for the little guy is a bias I share with Contrarian, but I’ll be darned if I can come up with a sensible justification.
How about persnicketiness? Will that do?
* [Disclosure: Orangedale resident Silas Barss Donham is my son.]