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The Boston Globe Feels the Pinch

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The barbarians are at the gate and the Boston Globe may soon be on the block. Today’s front page reports:

Two of Boston's best-known businessmen — retired General Electric Co. chief executive Jack Welch and adman Jack Connors — are quietly exploring the possibility of making an offer to buy The Boston Globe from The New York Times Co… the executives are working with the investment bank JPMorgan Chase & Co. to analyze a potential deal. They say JPMorgan has valued the Globe at $550 million to $600 million, well below the $1.1 billion the Times Co. paid in 1993.

The story contains several howlers, as is often the case when the Globe reports on itself. First this one:

It is unclear whether the Boston group is willing to sign a formal pledge not to interfere in the editorial process, as the new buyers in Philadelphia did. The pledge was an attempt to preserve the traditional boundaries meant to prevent business considerations from influencing news coverage.

Sure. It makes perfect sense for those businessmen-investors to pay $500 million for a company while at the same time they pledge not to alter its product or business processes, thus subsidizing the continuance of Globe’s arrogant corporate culture. If they were that foolish, they would never have become wealthy. If these insufferably arrogant newspaper people want to live in an ivory tower that never changes, they should simply join some bureau of the Federal government!

Here is another paragraph that leaves much unsaid:

Welch and Connors first discussed the possibility of buying the Globe at a lunch about six weeks ago at Boston's Four Seasons Hotel. Also at the lunch was former Boston Globe and Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle, who was forced out of the Globe in 1998 over charges, which he denied, that he had fabricated a column. Barnicle, friends with both men, now does a radio talk show on WTKK-FM, and worked as a consultant last year with a group that sought unsuccessfully to buy the Boston Herald.

It it delicious to imagine the distress that Barnicle’s presence at such an early discussion might cause among the self-righteous folks on Morrissey Boulevard.

Here is a paragraph that indicates newsroom bootlicking of the potential new owners (already!):

Welch and Connors are no strangers to the media business. GE, which Welch ran for two decades, owns NBC-TV. Welch's wife, Suzy Wetlaufer, is a former editor of the Harvard Business Review and was a reporter for the Associated Press. Connors has been one of the top forces in Boston advertising for decades, and Hill Holliday currently handles the Globe advertising account.

This is true, but one could also say that the current Mrs Welch (the third), though no stranger to the media business, is a reporter who became most intimately familiar with one of her subjects, even though it probably caused her to lose her journalistic dispassion. Some puns about “penetrating journalism” would be most appropriate here, but why get the new boss’s wife furious before they even take over? So much for the “the traditional boundaries meant to prevent business considerations from influencing news coverage”, invoked just a few paragraphs above! It appears that the potential new owners are being treated with kid gloves already.

Now for the piece de resistance! Mrs Welch III is not the first journalist to go down for a source. Globe reporters have experience in this area, too. A related story buried on page C3 carries the headline that the "Times Co. defends moves at the Globe to state politicians." The Times’ defense is in response to a letter to NY Times Chairman Pinch Sulzberger signed by 20 Massachusetts politicians in support of the reporters' union at the Boston Globe. The letter urged Pinchie-poo to stop the cost-cutting layoffs at the Globe. Of course this story is public only because it was published by the Boston Herald (see here and Howie Carr here). An earlier Globe story (which reported on the Herald story) said:

The question of whether a newsroom union can seek the help of politicians without compromising members' independence was raised on a popular media web site by Mitchell Zuckoff, a Boston University journalism professor and former Globe reporter. In a posting on Romenesko , a blog hosted by the Poynter Institute, a non profit journalism education organization, Zuckoff wrote that unions soliciting help from politicians "was a textbook case of seeking favors from sources and subjects."

Indeed. The union seeking favors from politicians, by the way, includes all the Globe staff reporters and columnists. Of the 20 politicians signing the letter, only Ted Kennedy has been identified. I wonder how many of the other 19 signers are Republicans?

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