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A tale of two papers (continued)




By the numbers

Boston Globe

Owner: New York Times Company

Newsroom employees: 500-plus (est.)

Daily circulation (M-F): 450,538

Sunday circulation: 706,153

Suburban holdings: The New York Times Company also owns the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, with a weekday circulation of 102,592 and a Sunday circulation of 120,521.

Boston Herald

Owner: Herald Media, Inc.

Newsroom employees: 200 (est.)

Daily circulation (M-F): 241,458

Sunday circulation: 151,589

Suburban holdings: In addition to the Herald, the company owns four dailies, 87 weeklies, and 21 shoppers and specialty publications. Daily circulation, 53,693; Sunday, 102,641; weekly, 517,242.

CIRCULATION FIGURES ARE AS REPORTED BY THE AUDIT BUREAU OF CIRCULATIONS AND HERALD MEDIAíS ONLINE MEDIA KIT.

FOR AT LEAST 50 years the Globe and the Herald have competed for the affection and loyalty of Greater Boston and New England. As the cityís dominant dailies ó and, since the early 1970s, as Bostonís only seven-day papers ó they fought in the 1950s and í60s over the Heraldís receipt of a license to operate a television station, an exception to the Federal Communications Commissionís ban on cross-ownership. Herald owner Robert "Beanie" Choate tried to get the Taylor family, which owned the Globe, to sell to him; but the Taylors refused, and unleashed a future executive editor, Robert Healy, on the FCC story. With a surreptitious assist from future House Speaker Tip OíNeill, Healy demonstrated that Choate had improperly sought to influence the chairman of the FCC, forcing the Herald ó by then the Herald Traveler ó to sell to the Hearst Corporation in 1972.

Hearst merged its local tabloid, the Record American, into an ungainly new broadsheet that it dubbed the Herald American. Hearst tried to compete with the Globe by vacillating between respectability and sensation. Toward the end, it returned to the tabloid format. Nothing worked. In 1982, international media baron Rupert Murdoch rescued the floundering paper, shortened its name to the Herald, reinvented it as a yellow rag, and then ó ironically, under editor Ken Chandler and publisher Pat Purcell ó rebuilt the reporting corps and transformed the paper into a serious local-news outlet.

In the í90s, the papers pulled an unusual ownership switch: the locally owned Globe was sold by the Taylor family to the New York Times Company for $1.1 billion (half of the Times Companyís valuation), while Murdoch sold the Herald to Purcell for an estimated $15 million to $20 million. Suddenly it was the Herald that enjoyed local ownership and the Globe that was controlled by an out-of-town corporation. The Globeís status as the cityís ó and the regionís ó largest and most influential media institution remained unchallenged. But the Herald, under Andy Costello, Andrew Gully, and coĖmanaging editor Kevin Convey (now editor-in-chief of Purcellís Community Newspaper chain), continued what Chandler had begun, putting out an aggressive alternative to the Globe that competed hard on breaking news, local politics, business, and sports, while offering underrated arts-and-entertainment coverage as well.

Now the two papers have entered a new phase of their long rivalry, and itís one that threatens to consign the Herald to irrelevance. Nearly three years into Marty Baronís editorship, the Globe is firing on all cylinders. The newsroom is a different workplace from what it used to be ó more buttoned-down and corporate, with fewer colorful personalities than was the case through the í90s, when Barnicle was the paperís signature metro columnist, liberal warhorses David Nyhan and Marty Nolan were holding down the op-ed page, and the late Will McDonough, a two-fisted South Boston native, was writing the most widely read sports column in the city. The more staid atmosphere is a reflection of the changing news business everywhere, but also of Baron himself, who is generally respected for his intelligence, hard work, and news judgment, but whose cool, all-business persona and what some see as a management style that depends too heavily on negative reinforcement draw mixed reviews.

"People may not love someone with a businesslike demeanor, but they tend to wear well over the long term," says one Globe staffer. Many others express genuine admiration and even affection for Baron. Several sources, though, describe Baronís Globe with what has become a widely used catch phrase at 135 Morrissey Boulevard: "The joyless pursuit of excellence."

As for the Herald, maybe the addition of Barnicle, the return of Wingo, and the deeply silly front pages about John and Teresa Heinz Kerryís mansions, Ted Kennedyís call to allow the foreign-born to run for president (did you know that Ivana Trump could end up in the White House?), and the Catholic Churchís not-so-astonishing decision to retain its Good Friday ban on hot-dog consumption during Opening Day at Fenway will pay off in increased circulation and ad revenue. But thereís a clear sense among the staff that the days of the Herald being a scrappy competitor to the Globe on local news have given way to something else. Yes, there is still real news in the Herald. Increasingly, though, youíve got to look hard to find it.

JUST BEFORE Andy Costello was bounced out of the editorís office, sources say Purcell was told that one of his fondest desires would not be fulfilled. Purcell was attempting to buy two daily papers on the South Shore ó the Quincy Patriot Ledger and the Brockton Enterprise, which share a common owner ó and the nine community weeklies that are owned by those papers. Purcell had made several attempts to acquire those papers in recent years, but heís never quite been able to close the sale.

The suddenness of Purcellís most recent setback generated rumors ó including one, widely believed at the Herald and in some other circles, too ó that the New York Times Company had gotten wind of the deal and had moved to stop it. According to this line of thinking, the Times Company might not be so bold as to buy the Ledger/Enterprise, given the anti-trust concerns that Purcell would inevitably raise. But it might propose some sort of deal in which the Globe would take over some of the Ledger/Enterpriseís business operations.

Jim Plugh, the publisher of the Ledger/Enterprise, declined to discuss his talks with Purcell when I reached him. And he denied ever having discussed doing business with the Times Company, either as a corporate entity or with the Globe, its subsidiary. "Thereís nothing going on that Iím aware of," Plugh said, leaving the door slightly ajar. "Rumors fly everywhere. I canít tell you how many fly through here every day."

Globe publisher Richard Gilman declined to confirm or deny whether he or any other Times Company officials are negotiating with the owners of the Ledger and the Enterprise. "The New York Times Company makes a practice of not commenting on its own discussions, so Iím not in a position to say one way or the other whether weíre talking to A, B, or C," Gilman told me. Neither Pat Purcell nor Ken Chandler was interviewed for this story, as they declined to respond to requests for comment both last week and this week. Baron said he knew nothing about any possible deal with the Ledger/Enterprise. So, for now, Plughís is the last word. But certainly ownership battles in the suburbs are nothing new to the two parties. In 1999, the Times Company bought the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for $295 million. The company has achieved a number of synergies with the Globe: Gilman has supervisory responsibilities for the business operations of both papers, and they share some costs, as well as the Sunday Travel section. In the Times Companyís annual report, the Globe and the T&G are reported as one entity: the New England Newspaper Group, a title that would seem to announce that the company has ambitions to own more than two papers in New England.

In 2001, Purcell answered the T&G deal with a major acquisition of his own, purchasing the Fidelity-owned Community Newspaper Company ó a chain of about 100 papers, mostly weeklies, in Greater Boston and on Cape Cod ó for a reported $150 million. In 2002, both the Times Company and Purcell expressed interest in buying the Salem News, the Newburyport Daily News, and the Gloucester Daily Times when those dailies were put on sale by Dow Jonesís Ottaway division of community papers. Ultimately, the papers were acquired by the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune for a reported $70 million. But itís obvious that both the Globeís and the Heraldís owners are thinking of ways to get bigger.

Which would argue against the oft-stated notion that Purcell is financially strapped, and that heís looking to sell. Indeed, those most knowledgeable about his business affairs say that his papers, including the Herald, are profitable, and that he survived the recession of the past few years in decent shape. Early this year he pared the newsroom by 19 positions, mostly through early-retirement incentives but also by jettisoning well-known columnists such as Wayne Woodlief and Monica Collins. (Both continue to write for the paper on a freelance basis.) But thatís hardly unusual ó three years ago the Globe eliminated approximately 185 positions, 65 in the newsroom. On a percentage basis, the Globeís cuts were slightly deeper (the Globeís newsroom employs the equivalent of more than 500 full-timers, the Heraldís about 200), though 26 of those newsroom cuts had been restored by the end of 2001. Today, Richard Gilman says the Globeís editorial staff is nearly as large as it was before the cuts, with many of the new hires working in such areas as the expanded suburban-zoned editions, the BostonWorks employment section, and the like. In any case, Purcell took a good chunk of the money he saved and gave it to Mike Barnicle, who ó according to educated guesses ó is being paid six figures a year for his column, even as he continues to host a radio show on WTKK (96.9 FM), make television appearances on MSNBC and Chronicle (WCVB-TV, Channel 5), and write a Sunday column for the New York Daily News.

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Issue Date: April 2 - 8, 2004
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