April 7, 2016

The Boston Globe on Thursday became the latest newspaper to announce it’s undertaking a major reassessment of its strategy and coverage priorities to keep pace with the ongoing tumult of the digital age.

The announcement, an internal memo from Globe Editor Brian McGrory, tops 1,000 words and touches on several major aspects of The Boston Globe’s operation. Among other things, it calls into question the viability of longstanding editorial processes at the newspaper:

There are important issues to raise and explore in what I’ll call a reinvention initiative: Do we have the right technology? Do we train staff in the right way? Should we remain in the current print format that we have now, same size, same sections? Do we have the right departments? Is our beat structure outdated? How can our work flows improve? Do we have too many of XX and not enough Ys? Should we publish seven days a week? Do print and digital relate in the right ways?

The questions could go on and on. They could become bolder still.

The Globe won’t be tackling these challenges alone. According to the memo, first published by journalism professor Dan Kennedy, McGrory will bring in a consultant from the American Press Institute and Marty Kaiser, the former editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The plan to remake The Boston Globe follows similar existential reassessments at regional and national newspapers across the United States. Earlier this year, New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet announced an ambitious overhaul that sought to re-examine “everything we do.” The Dallas Morning News, under the editorship of Mike Wilson, has rethought nearly everything — from its downtown headquarters to the stories it opts to cover. In February, Los Angeles Times editor Davan Maharaj told staff the newspaper was going to create a “digital enterprise hub” that supplanted some of the breaking news functions traditionally carried out by the desks.

Each of these changes comes as the revenue model that traditionally supported newspapers — print advertising — continues to dwindle, with digital revenue slow to stanch the losses.

At The Boston Globe, the changes come during an era of simultaneous pride and newsroom austerity. The dramatization of its investigation into the Catholic Church, “Spotlight,” recently won an Oscar and brought the Globe a measure of Hollywood fame. But The Globe has executed multiple rounds of staff cuts in recent years, once in 2014 through voluntary buyouts and again in 2015 through layoffs.

Meanwhile, the owner of The Boston Globe, billionaire Red Sox owner John Henry, has presided over a company on a mission to build standalone publications focused on specific coverage areas. STAT, a Globe publication that covers the life sciences, launched last year. The Globe also launched vertical focused on coverage of the Catholic Church, Crux, that it relinquished after failing to find enough advertising support.

At the heart of McGrory’s reinvention initiative: Have top editors dream up what the Globe would look like if it had funding from a wealthy individual, such as Henry or Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos, and a mission to take on the Globe.

So I’ve asked senior editors to think about how we, at the very least, might get ahead of the declines, and in the best case, work to slow or even halt them. To help shape the discussion, consider this question: If a wealthy individual was to give us funding to launch a news organization designed to take on The Boston Globe, what would it look like?

Correction: A previous version of this story called Crux “short-lived.” It continues under the auspices of the Knights of Columbus.

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Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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