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At the Herald, the musical chairs havenít stopped

If Boston Herald editor Andy Costello had been removed, say, six months ago, few would have been surprised. Folks at One Herald Square had wondered who was really in charge since last spring, when former editor Ken Chandler was brought back as a consultant. Chandler, who spent much of the 1990s as editor-in-chief and then publisher of Rupert Murdochís New York Post, tarted up the Herald with more gossip, blaring headlines, and generous dollops of cleavage (see "Tabzilla Returns," News and Features, June 20, 2003).

Yet Costello appeared to have survived ó until last Wednesday. Thatís when publisher Pat Purcell issued a press release announcing that Chandler had been named editorial director of Herald Media (comprising the Herald plus the Community Newspaper chain of more than 100 papers in Greater Boston and on Cape Cod), and that Costello was stepping aside to explore "other opportunities within the company" (see "Media Log," BostonPhoenix.com, February 25).

By most accounts, Purcell handled Costelloís departure with the sensitivity due someone who had been atop the masthead since 1994. According to newsroom insiders, Costello ó who received a standing ovation from the troops when he left the building last Wednesday at 8 p.m. ó was back at the Herald two days later, apparently to pick up some things from his office. It was a sign that Purcell does not intend to treat Costello as persona non grata.

Purcell, in the press release announcing Chandlerís promotion, said of Costello: "Andy has been a tremendous asset to the newspaper, and we were fortunate to have him at the helm for the last ten years. His competitiveness, dedication and work ethic are unparalleled. Andy is the consummate news professional."

"We all hope Andy will stay in some role, because he has been much beloved as a boss," said Tom Mashberg, a staff reporter and the union shop steward, in an e-mail.

According to one theory thatís floating around, the next editor of the Herald may be Community Newspaper Company editor-in-chief Kevin Convey, who spent a long stint at the Herald as Costelloís managing editor for features ó and that Costello would take Conveyís place at CNC. The idea is that Convey, who has a keen sense of pop culture, would be a better match with Chandlerís vision for shaking up the Herald than Costello, a hard-news guy. (Herald managing editor Andrew Gully is not believed to be a candidate for the top job.)

Not that anyone is talking. Costello said he would not comment beyond what he told the trade magazine Editor & Publisher in a piece published on its Web site last week. In that interview, Costello denied there was any friction between him and Chandler, saying, "Any changes that occurred during that time were small modifications and nothing I disagreed with. Any changes that occurred during my tenure, I was a part of. I was in charge of the paper until my last day."

Chandler told the Phoenix this past Tuesday that heís maintaining his silence until he has had a chance to meet with more members of the staff. "I donít want them to read about whatís going to happen somewhere else before Iíve had a chance to talk with them," he said, although he did allow that there are "a few initiatives in the works."

Both Convey and Gully declined to comment. Purcell is on vacation this week and unavailable for comment, according to his office.

Purcell, in a meeting with his staff last week, dismissed speculation that he is looking to sell the Herald, CNC, or both. Last year was a difficult one for the Herald, which is beset by declining circulation and shrinking revenues. In November, Purcell eliminated 19 positions at the Herald, including well-known columnists Monica Collins and Wayne Woodlief, although both continue to write for the paper on a freelance basis (see "Media," This Just In, November 21, 2003). Still, Purcell and even some staff members have pointed out that many newspapers have downsized in recent years ó including its larger rival, the Boston Globe, which eliminated 185 positions nearly three years ago (see "As the Globe Turns," This Just In, June 28, 2001). And Purcell has always maintained that the Herald is profitable.

The Costello era was a good one for the Herald. Until the past year, Costello had positioned it as a solid community paper, doing a decent job with its traditional strengths ó local politics, breaking news, and sports ó and sometimes running with stories that the Globe seemingly couldnít be bothered to pursue. In 1998, Costello oversaw a redesign of the paper that coincided with the introduction of full color. On election night 2000, he literally stopped the presses and prevented the Herald from publishing an embarrassing BUSH WINS front page, à la the New York Post. The Herald still has good reporters. But, since Chandlerís return last year, the local coverage has taken a back seat to tabloid values, even as the Globe has gotten sharper and more aggressive.

This Sunday, the lottery game Wingo, a Murdoch-era standby, makes its return. Itís a stopgap move, an unimaginative step aimed at buying time rather than solving any of the Heraldís fundamental problems. As for what comes next, that will be up to Chandler.

Issue Date: March 5 - 11, 2004
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