IT TOOK JUST four months for public controversy to find its way into the glass-walled corner office of the Boston Globe’s new editor, Martin Baron.
Last Wednesday, November 28, the Globe and the New York Times reported that the New York Times Company — the corporate parent of both papers — had signed on as a minority partner with ex–San Diego Padres owner Tom Werner and failed ski mogul Les Otten in their bid to buy the Boston Red Sox. The partnership creates a thicket of potential conflicts for the Globe — a "major-league dilemma," as Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote on Monday. For one thing, the Red Sox presumably would continue pushing for a new stadium with significant public financing. For another, the Globe would be drawn into an association with the Red Sox–owned New England Sports Network (NESN), which broadcasts many of the team’s games.
As it happened, on the morning that news of the Times Company’s intentions was reported, I was scheduled to meet Baron for a long-delayed interview — an interview that had originally been set for September 11, of all days. When I put the matter of the Red Sox and the Globe to Baron, his immediate response was to deny that the relationship would affect the paper’s coverage.
"There won’t be a conflict, because people will be free to write independently about the team and about the organization," he told me. "It appears that our columnists have endorsed every bid other than the one in which the Times Company is involved. Brian McGrory seems to have endorsed the Frank McCourt bid, and I guess Steve [Bailey] seems to have endorsed one of the other bids as well" — that of local developer Joseph O’Donnell. "I think we’ve acted fairly independently so far," Baron added, "and I think that would remain the case. Sportswriters will be able to write whatever they need to write about the team. That’s for sure. Nobody from corporate, nobody here is going to be telling them what to write."
Still, there’s coverage and there’s coverage. Yes, Bailey weighed in last Friday with a tough column on Werner’s dubious record as owner of the Padres. And no, it’s not likely that the Times Company would be so crude or heavy-handed as to dictate coverage. But with such thorny issues to contend with as neighborhood opposition to a new ballpark and potentially hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars flowing into the next owners’ coffers, I asked Baron in a follow-up e-mail whether he could guarantee that he would be willing to use the full journalistic resources of the Globe — including its investigative Spotlight Team — if developments in the story warrant it.
Baron’s response: "We will cover issues that arise in the same manner that we would cover any other subject. We will apply the same standards to this story as we would to any other, and we will apply whatever resources are required. I should note that it is not uncommon for a news organization to report on matters that involve the business activities of its own corporation. Nor is it uncommon for a news organization to find itself reporting on the corporate activities of a business rival — a potential conflict as well. Regardless of the circumstances, the obligation is to report fairly, accurately and objectively. I can’t speak for our competitors, but I can say that we at the Globe will live up to those standards." (Speaking of conflicts: the Red Sox’ preferred plan, to build a new stadium next to Fenway Park, would displace the offices of the Phoenix. For past coverage, see bostonphoenix.com/archive/features/fenway.html.)
MARTY BARON, 47, was named the Globe’s editor on July 2. He replaced Matt Storin, who retired after spending most of his career at the Globe, the last eight at the top of the masthead. A Florida native, Baron had worked the previous year and a half as executive editor of the Miami Herald. He led that paper’s coverage of the Elián González soap opera and the Florida recount, two enormous efforts that resulted in his being named Editor & Publisher’s "Editor of the Year." Baron had also done stints as night editor of the New York Times and, before that, as business editor of the Los Angeles Times (see "Goodbye to All That," News and Features, July 20).
Baron was not the first person approached by the Globe. The editor’s job had also been discussed with Bill Keller, who recently stepped down as the New York Times’ managing editor to become a columnist and magazine writer, and with Sandra Rowe, editor of the Oregonian. But Baron was, by all accounts, enthusiastically supported by Globe publisher Richard Gilman. Significantly, Gilman, in choosing Baron, passed over four internal candidates: executive editor Helen Donovan, managing editor Greg Moore, deputy managing editor Ben Bradlee, and Washington bureau chief David Shribman.
In person, Baron is soft-spoken and cordial, with a boyish smile. Even at the rather early hour of 9 a.m., his shirtsleeves are rolled up to the elbow, his tie and his collar loosened. With his closely trimmed red beard and wire-rimmed glasses, he brings a professorial air to the proceedings, an air underscored by his carefully thought-out comments. His office is nearly devoid of personal effects, a testament to the long hours he’s been putting in, especially since September 11. (Then again, the office couldn’t help but feel Spartan after Storin took with him his life-size cardboard cutout of Ivana Trump, a relic of his early-’90s stint as managing editor of the New York Daily News.)
The expectation was that Baron would be an agent of change. To an extent, he already has been. Inside sources who asked not to be named say he is a daunting conceptual editor, quickly turning out thorough critiques of long, complicated stories. Baron also has not been shy about demanding that some of his new charges, even long-established veterans, switch gears. A prime example is business columnist David Warsh, who confirms that Baron — through business editor Peter Mancusi — insisted on changes, although Warsh declined to be more specific about what direction he was given. "I’ve been trying to accommodate him, consistent with what the column historically has been about," Warsh told me in an e-mail. (Attempts to reach Mancusi were unsuccessful. Baron, in an e-mail, said, "I consider conversations with people on the staff to be confidential. And, by the way, that is not a confirmation that any such conversation took place.")
As for a larger shake-up, though, it hasn’t happened, at least not yet. "It feels like a very large pregnant pause that we’re in — like he’s taking it all in, and at some point we will hear what he thinks," says an insider. Baron himself says he doesn’t believe in change for change’s sake. "I think I’ve made pretty clear to the staff what my plans are for the paper, but it didn’t necessarily include dramatic restructuring of beats and staff," he says. "I’ve found the people on the staff to be quite capable and to be very willing to change, and to have been very receptive to some change as well. I have not seen the need yet for any radical shake-up, and I’m not sure that I will."
Baron’s ongoing analysis of the Globe’s internal culture has obviously been delayed by September 11, the coverage of which has been all-consuming. The Globe has been a regional — and at times a national — force in covering all aspects of the war on terrorism: the political mess at Logan Airport, where two of the terrorist flights originated; the investigation of Al Qaeda; the anthrax scare; the balance between civil liberties and security; and the war in Afghanistan. For much of the 1990s, many large chain-owned regional papers, such as Knight Ridder’s Philadelphia Inquirer and, for that matter, its sister paper the Miami Herald, scaled down foreign bureaus and foreign coverage. The Globe, even in the midst of substantial cutbacks earlier this year, did not. Thus, when war came, the paper found itself with experienced foreign correspondents such as David Filipov (whose father died in the terrorist attacks), Indira Lakshmanan, Charles Sennott, Kevin Cullen (a former foreign correspondent covering the home-front investigation), Charles Radin, and others, supplemented by a rotating cast of younger, less experienced reporters. The result has been both breadth and depth.
"I think that those news organizations that came to the conclusion that foreign coverage was not important were mistaken," Baron says. "What happens overseas affects us in a meaningful way here and in a lot of places. And if that wasn’t clear before September 11, it certainly should be clear now. And so I think it gives us a tremendous edge. We had people overseas who had covered Central Asia, the Middle East, for any number of years. They were experienced reporters, knowledgeable reporters, people who knew that region, and I think that gave us an enormous edge in covering the story."