Why John Henry bought the Boston Globe

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.

John HenryTruth 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.



Which obit makes the news?

From a September 9 Facebook post by David Rodenhiser, marquee columnist for the Halifax Daily News until its demise in 2008, now toiling for Nova Scotia Power’s communications group.

In the Obituaries section of the Chronicle-Herald there are notices for no fewer than six veterans of the Second World War:

  • Joseph “Bunny” McLaughlin, army, who brought home a war bride in 1946
  • Jaleel “John” Laba, army, who later owned and operated Laba’s Discount on Gottingen Street for many years
  • Stanley Cairns, merchant mariner
  • George Haliburton, army
  • Adele Healy, RCAF secretary
  • Walter Shaw, army, wounded in Germany in 1945

There’s also an obituary for Cecile d’Entremont, who passed away at the age of 100, survived by a host of descendants including a great-great-great grandchild.

Meanwhile, leading all newscasts: a Halifax house cat has died of cancer.

In retrospect, one of the first steps in the long downward trek of newspapering came when papers began charging for obituaries, which had until the 1980s, been regarded as news stories. This prefigured, and can’t be blamed on, disruptions caused by the internet. It reflected a voracious appetite for revenue by newspaper chain owners like Roy Thompson and Conrad Black, who held little regard for the medium’s traditional service role.

John "Jeleel" Laba 1924 - 2013
John “Jeleel” Laba
1924 – 2013

Monetizing obits had the side effect of eliminating news coverage of the deaths of community members who were less than famous — people who had been injured in long ago wars, or run long forgotten working class retail establishments, or found their brides in war-torn countries far away. It made newspapers less useful, and usefulness turned out to be a commodity newspapers would ignore at their peril.

The late Esther Dubinsky of Sydney, co-proprietor with husband Newman of Whitney Pier’s legendary Sydney Ship Supply, was outraged when the Thompson-owned Cape Breton Post began charging for obits. The independently owned Chronicle-Herald and Mail-Star held out for several years before falling in line with the industry trend.  Until it did, Esther instructed her children that her obit in the Post should read:

Esther Dubinsky died yesterday. For details, see the Chronicle-Herald.


The pun addiction of newscasters

Peter Barss thinks newscasters overuse puns. In a letter to CTV, he wrote:

Like many news stations (radio and television) you seem inclined to use as many puns as you can fit into a story. The question I’d like to suggest that you ask yourselves is, “Why?”

Does a pun help to elucidate a story? I don’t think so. In fact, the use–overuse actually–of puns acts as a distraction from the news. Instead of helping to clarify a story, puns draw attention to the “cleverness” of the speaker. It’s like “Hey, look at me. I just found another pun.” Just because a pun can be made does not mean that it should be made.

Another thing to keep in mind is that puns are generally defined as a “humorous” play on words.

A couple of nights ago Jacqueline Foster was describing the incident in Mexico when a woman was badly beaten in an elevator.

Quoting a relative Foster said, “Prosser (the woman’s uncle) says every bone in her face was broken.” And then Foster added, ” The family also shattered…”

Clever? No. Humorous? Nope.

I don’t think it was Peter’s intent to single out Foster or CTV, since, as he points out, many newscasters are equally guilty. The habit is less irritating when it occurs in the banter among co-hosts, but puns, like alliteration, should be used sparingly in the news.

There are times, however, when puns are irresistible. Doug MacKay, former editor of the late lamented Halifax Daily News (celebrating its fourth deathaversary this weekend) recalls one from his days out west:

At the Winnipeg Free Press in the 1970s, there was a rough and ready sports deskman named Dallis Beck. Harold Ballard, the controversial owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was on trial for his financial shenanigans. On the wintry day after Ballard testified in his own defence, Beck headed the story: “Hark, the angel Harold sings.”

At the risk of undercutting Peter’s point, with which I wholeheartedly agree, I’ll note that MacKay’s yarn appears in a roundup of news puns, intentional and otherwise, compiled by the late Charles Stough of the Burned Out Newspapercreatures Guild listserv, aka BONG. [Archive link, anyone?]

[Disclosure: Barss was once my brother-in-law and remains my pal; MacKay was never a relative but is always a pal.]

Surge roundup

The unprecedented rise in support for the NDP is provoking a lot of reaction from various thoughtful observers. Here’s a compendium.

From Frank Graves of Ekos Research, author of yesterday’s dramatic poll putting the NDP in second place nationally with a projected 100 seats, in a live chat this morning at ipolitics.ca:

Nothing is absolutely ruled out. But I think the public is answering Mr. Harper’s request for a majority with a pretty clear “No.” The intricacies of vote splitting might confuse this as late campaign shifts, but at slightly under 34 points, the Conservatives are well short of a majority. In fact, the implication of a majority between the NDP and the Liberals coupled with a diminished Conservative minority may pose some extremely interesting challenges.

The evidence from the surveys suggests that the NDP still have room to grow. Particularly in Ontario where they are rising, but have seen a dramatic spike up in second choice. They now lead nationally with first and second choice at 54 points — nearly 14 points ahead of the other contenders. So, yes still room to grow, but I don’t think the public have fully grasped where they have arrived and it is not outside of possibility that there will be a recoil effect. So whether the NDP wave is analogous to Clegg in the last UK election or perhaps Bob Rae in Ontario.

Graves had this to say about the Dips’ prospects in Atlantic Canada:

The Atlantic has changed dramatically in the past week where the NDP have bulled their way into what was a two-way race. The NDP began in the Atlantic in single digits and now lead. So that will be fascinating to see how that concludes.

From Andrew Coyne, @acoyne, Maclean’s National Editor and a genuine Lockean conservative (not the fake Harper kind), a series of exasperated tweets:

Oh for – arrgh!: “Harper is asking voters to consider whether they want their riding to be left outside the Tory tent.” http://bit.ly/gvEiiq

Where they serve the pork. RT @markdjarvis: http://is.gd/fI2xJS “People have a decision to make…abt whether they want to be at the table.”

But all the Tory partisans & professional shills will rationalize it to themselves that they’re the party of the taxpayer & free markets.

They’ve just utterly corrupted themselves & hope to corrupt the public. But then, if the public weren’t already corrupted, it wouldn’t work.

Politics in much of this country is just a two-way auction: state goodies in exchange for votes; votes in exchange for goodies.

Just friggin’ look at yourselves, Tories. Look at what you’ve become. Look at what you’re peddling.

From CBC’s Keith Boag, a strong critique setting forth Harper’s false statements about how parliamentary democracy works. [Unfortunately, the CBC provides no easy way to embed it.] As a Contrarian friend writes:

The most despicable thing Harper has ever done is lie to people about how their government works. It’s the big lie, so appalling no one can imagine it’s untrue.

Harper has done this twice: in the current election campaign, and in the prorogation scandal of 2008.

From former Daily News cartoonist Theo Moudakis, now inking for the Toronto Star, this take on Canada’s unnecessary election:

unnecessary election-550

The redoubtable Elly Alboim has a pot pourri of fresh #elxn41 observations: That leadership numbers and party preference are starting to come into consonance; that the NDP surge can be viewed two ways, as likely to build and spread, or likely to whither in the face of inevitable attacks from Libs and CPCs; plus some knowledgeable analysis of the variance in polling numbers and the validity of seat projections.

This final week will be the Grimm brothers’ story book of election campaigns. The potential narratives are legion and becoming more and more compelling.

There is the potential Greek tragedy in Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals. There is the obvious Cinderella story in Mr. Layton and the NDP. Mr. Harper may get his majority he has doggedly sought (the little engine that could) or keep rolling his ball up an endless hill. If you want an alternative that’s a bit more modern, he may finally kick the field goal or like Charlie Brown, have the football snatched away yet again.

On the same excellent Carleton Journalism School website, Chris Waddell and Paul Adams offer tart assessment of the Liberals’ campaign. First, Waddell:

First the party and Mr. Ignatieff have been ineffective in opposition in parliament and its campaign has done nothing to shake that view among it appears almost three-quarters of voters.

Second Liberal policy is not sufficiently distinct from the Conservatives on economic issues for the public to notice a difference, the Liberals haven’t campaigned on the economy and the party has no recognized spokesperson with gravitas on economic matters.  Yet those issues remain very important with voters across the country and the NDP does offer a clear difference here although its policies have never faced much scrutiny. (The Liberals are trying to shine that spotlight on Mr. Layton this week.)

Third, the Conservative pre-election framing of Mr Ignatieff’s personality, character and interests has proven devastatingly effective with voters and Liberal campaigners are getting that regularly on doorsteps. Mr Ignatieff’s campaign hasn’t shaken that impression in the public’s mind.

And from Paul Adams:

The Liberals are caught in a historical dilemma. Unlike the situation during most of the 20th century, the Liberals are now alone among the parties, in that they have no roots as a populist party. The Conservatives have Reform as a predecessor. The NDP came from prairie populism and union activism. The Bloc from the separatist movement, and the Greens out of environmentalism.

But the Liberals have always been different. They have been a brokerage party with no clear ideological ground on which to stand. No one can ever remember a time when they did — except, perhaps, on the constitution and Quebec, which is hardly likely to help them now.

And as they try to perform a Gestalt in the final days of the campaign, they only reinforce the idea that while other parties stand for something, they don’t.

Finally, the Chronicle-Herald’s consistently reliable Stephen Maher notes two trends:

In 2004, Stephen Harper’s newly merged party took 24 Ontario seats with 31.5 per cent of the vote, pushing Paul Martin’s Liberals into a minority. In 2006, the Tories took 40 seats, with 35 per cent of the vote. In 2008, the Conservatives won 51, with 39 per cent of the vote.

Step by step, Harper’s team has moved in from the white, Protestant countryside, which by long tradition gravitates to the Tories, toward the multi-hued suburbs of Toronto, where significant numbers of immigrants and their children are embracing a modern Conservative message that has been carefully calibrated for them.


Voters in Quebec, in contrast, have mostly turned their backs to Harper’s stern warnings, shocking everybody by warming up to Jack Layton.

After a strong French-language debate performance, Layton’s party is now leading the Bloc Quebecois. With his folksy Montreal street French and a policy book that has been carefully shaped over the years to reduce friction with nationalist Quebecers, Layton can now hope for a real harvest of MPs on Monday.

He has been preparing the ground for years. With little hope for immediate gains, he worked hard to make the NDP electoral effort in Quebec more than symbolic. The first seedling to sprout was the election of Thomas Mulcair, giving the party, for the first time, a talented bilingual spokesman.

Before concluding…

These developments in Quebec and Ontario are terrible news for the Liberals. Some national polls now show the Grits behind the NDP. I don’t believe, given the weight of tradition and the power of incumbency, that the NDP can surpass the Liberals on election day, but who knows?

As the election began, I thought Michael Ignatieff had a good chance of connecting with Canadian voters. Until the debates, when he failed to make a persuasive case for a Liberal government, it looked like his energetic and free-wheeling rally performances might give Canadians cause to reconsider him, setting up a momentum-building redemption narrative.

Instead, in the final days of the campaign, voters on the left are evenly divided between the Liberals and New Democrats, which is ideal for the Conservatives, since strategic voters may not know how to vote to block a Tory majority.

Preston Manning’s father, Ernest, dreamed of a political realignment in Canada, with a right-wing party and a left-wing party, rather than two parties of the mushy middle.

The goal of the movement, for decades, has been to squeeze the Liberals. By framing this election around the question of whether a coalition is a venial or a mortal sin, Harper is moving closer to realizing the Manning dream.

I’m not convinced Monday’s outcome will be any sort of dream for Harper, but that’s certainly one possible result.

Troublemaking semicentennial – corrected

Bentley-ccFriends and admirers gathered in the Midtown Tavern’s antiseptic new digs Thursday evening to honor journalist-businessman David Bentley’s 50 years of afflicting the comfortable.

Among the crowd were foot-soldiers of the late, lamented Halifax Daily News (née: Bedford-Sackville News), the once salacious Frank magazine, and the meaty, fact-packed AllNovaScotia.com, which today ranks Nova Scotia’s premier newsgathering organization. As Frank might put it,  all three began life as Bentley organs.

In 1974, Bentley, his wife, and two partners founded the weekly B-S News, modeling it after the sordid tabloids of his native England. Five years later, he took the enormous gamble of moving the paper downtown, transforming it into a daily, and taking on both the stolid Chronicle-Herald and the nacent, corrupt Buchanan administration.

After selling the daily to Harry Steele’s Newfoundland Capital Corp. in 1987, Bentley and business partner Lyndon Watkins founded Frank, a legendary tweaker of toffee-noses. In 2001, with daughter Caroline Wood, he founded AllNovaScotia, an online publication that is, ironically, today’s must-read for Nova Scotia’s ruling elites.

Boutillier-250-ccWhen future historians recount Nova Scotia’s late-20th Century transformation from a staid, British colonial outpost to an almost modern society, Bentley will emerge as an unsung central figure. He taught the province that ritual deference to one’s betters is the surest guarantor of mediocrity.

Our betters are still smarting from the lesson.

Fittingly, the quinquagenary brought out longtime Bentley protégé, celebrity shooter, and onetime Frank co-owner Cliff Boutillier, shown honing his lens in preparation for next week’s edition. The Glace Bay native grimaced at the intrusiveness of today’s bloggers with their pesky iPhones.

“Whoever told you sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander,” he demanded.

David Bentley, that’s who.

Kansas travelog

Jane Kansas-450

The stupidest thing the late, lamented Halifax Daily News ever did was to fire weekly columnist Jane Kansas over sloppy attribution of an Internet joke. Busybodies elevated the offense to plagiarism, requiring capital expiation — the irony of firing Nova Scotia’s most original writer for unoriginality lost on all concerned.

Currently on Sabbatical from Halifax, Kansas is travelling on foot from Helena, Montana, to Medicine Hat, Alberta (a 543 kilometer side-trek to visit a friend), thence from Western North Dakota to Toronto (which Google maps calculates at 2082.5 km.). Kansas likes a challenge. Along the way, she files occasional dispatches to the Dear Halifax section of The Coast website. From Friday’s entry:

Just out of Turtle Lake [North Dakota] I see the McClusky Canal and its Maintenance Roads on either side. It’s a beautiful day and I take the canal. The walking is good. In the canal are ducks which take flight at my approach and scare the big brown carp who twitch their tails on the surface and glide into the depths. Turtles plop off their sunny rocks into the water. A dear hightails it into some scrub. Handsome gold-headed birds hang out with the red-winged blackbirds. I think about the way to do things—experiencing the days moment by moment, one step at a time. Taking it as it comes—all the T-shirt wisdom that is so simple and brilliant and easily forgotten. I delight in my delightedness that life and this trip is a series of problem-solving exercises and decisions. Just what I wanted! To practice solving problems. I’m as happy as a lark. Is this trip my life or just something I’m doing? I trundle along, calling to cows I see, stopping to admire birds in marshes. I’m a one-woman life-is-what-you-make-it songbird.

What Nova Scotia journalist writes this well? Harry Thurston, maybe? Silver Donald Cameron on his best days? Harry Bruce? None of these have Jane’s knack for quirky insights combined with raw self-exposure.

Longtime Kansas fans will be relieved to know that the idyllic frolic along the McClusky Canal ends badly. A lightning storm soaks her tent and scant worldly possessions, and Jane ends up back in Turtle Lake, arriving in the rear seat of a police cruiser — not her first experience with this mode of conveyance.

Judique homecoming

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that many fine editors had struggled to improve Contrarian’s prose over the years. One of these was Jo-Anne MacDonald, a journalist of cool discernment and unflagging commitment who edited my columns in the Port Hawkesbury Reporter and the Halifax Daily News.

Jo-Anne now works at the National Post, today’s edition of which carries her lovely story about  76-year-old Lella Dubuque of Walpole, Mass. Last year, doctors diagnosed Lella with inoperable cancer, and many rounds of chemotherapy failed to arrest the disease.

Her son Michael urged her to get a second opinion and to make her annual trip to her childhood home on Cape Breton Island.

Every summer but three since 1953, Lella has returned to the three-storey, towering white clapboard house by a brook in Judique, a rural community hugging the western coast of the island. She was born in the house with windows of wavy glass, walls of Douglas fir, and a wood stove burning in June out of necessity…

They arrived in July. Lella’s brother had opened the house. A cousin had scattered vases of wildflowers, Lella’s favourite, about the rooms. Her twin brothers flew in from Windsor, Ont. Her son Mark came from Kentucky.

Over the course of a week, more than 100 people came to see her in what has been described as a living wake. They exchanged old stories and brought her rosary beads, prayer cards, holy oil, even blessed salt. Lella assured anyone who asked about her illness that she was “looking forward to the journey” and to being with her relatives in Heaven.

Judique’s parish priest, Father Allan MacMillan, performed what was once known as the Last Rites, but is now more optimistically called the Sacrament of the Sick. Afterward, the family gathered on the veranda with a bottle of wine and Lella asked Fr. Allan, a Gaelic singer, for a song.

I won’t spoil the ending. Read the whole story here. Hat tip: Doug MacKay.

Rosie – a postscript (updated)

Doug MacKay-croppedDoug MacKay, who edited the Halifax Daily News in its heyday, writes from Toronto:

I am sorry to read that Rosie passed away. From the moment she peed on the editor’s carpet, I knew she and her owner were of like mind. A great companion.

For the record, Rosie only ever peed on the editor’s carpet once, and at a young age. It is acknowledged, however, that the stain never came out, and may have played a role in Transcontinental’s subsequent decision to abandon the Burnside location.

UPDATE: What is it with beagles and journalists? James Cobb, Automobiles Editor of the New York Times, writes:

We lost our own eternally voracious beagle, Chad, more than two years ago. I still cannot open the squeaky pantry door, where the treats were (and are) kept, without expecting him to materialize with hungry eyes and pleading tail. He managed to hear the faint sound wherever on the property he was, no matter the activity he had been engaged in.

Chad looked remarkably like your Rosie, and we miss him terribly. My heartfelt condolences.

DeAdder on the vanishing cartoonist-lifer

Mike deAdder writes about the lot of cartoonists in a era of declining newspapers. Moneyquote:

In 1967, Canada’s Centennial Year and the year of my birth, Terry “Aislin” Mosher, Canada’s pre-eminent editorial cartoonist began his long illustrious career after graduating from École des Beaux-arts in Quebec City. He started at The Montreal Star in 1967, then transferred to The Montreal Gazette in 1972. To this day, he still works for The Gazette.

The great Roy Peterson, who retired this year, always called The Vancouver Sun his home, as did The Edmonton Journal’s Malcolm Mayes, the Calgary Herald’s Vance Rodewalt, and The Province’s two cartoonists, Bob Krieger and Dan Murphy…

deadder-daily news closesI began my career in 1997. A short 12 years ago. In my career, I’ve worked for The Saint John Times Globe (now defunct), The Saint John Telegraph Journal, The Halifax Daily News (now defunct), The Moncton Times & Transcript, The Fredericton Gleaner, The National Post, and Metro Canada… eight newspapers in 12 years.]

Ironically, deAdder wrote the piece for the 20th Anniversary Edition of Ottawa’s Hill Times, the one paper where he has worked steadily for 12 years.