On Monday afternoon, the Boston Herald announced a major change to the paper’s masthead. Ken Chandler, the combative Rupert Murdoch protégé who’s run the paper since 2004 — and who once said he’d kill himself if he put out a paper as boring as the Globe — is leaving at the end of the year to start a consulting business in New York (named, inventively, ChandlerMedia). His replacement? Kevin Convey, a grizzled Herald veteran who’s currently the paper’s managing editor.
In a Herald story that ran the next day, Convey vowed the paper would respond to major industry-wide challenges — falling circulation, dwindling ad revenues, the rise of the Web — “like we do everything else. We’ll work our butts off, we’ll work smarter than the other guys and we have a brand that people really like and identify with. We’ve got a cadre of readers that will follow us wherever we go.” Good stuff, if you’re looking to rally the troops. But not necessarily a mindset that will help Convey — who’s held in high esteem by colleagues and competitors alike — reverse the Herald’s precipitous slide.
Herald Square blues
These are dark days in the newspaper business as a whole, but things are especially grim over at Herald Square. In May, Herald publisher Pat Purcell sold Community Newspaper Company (CNC), a group of 100-some smaller Massachusetts publications, to Illinois-based Liberty Group Publishing. The deal helped Purcell clear his debts; unfortunately, it also signaled that potential investors have precious little interest in the Herald.
Earlier this year, meanwhile, Purcell broached the possibility of a joint printing venture with the New York Times Company, owner of the hated Globe, only to be rebuffed — an experience that can’t have been pleasant. And earlier this month, Globe columnist Steve Bailey reported that the revenue from four new Herald-sited billboards will go to Purcell’s family, not to the paper. That would have been awkward under the best of circumstances, but it was all the more so with Herald employees still weighing whether to accept a two-year wage freeze proposed by management earlier this year. (The proposal has been accepted by the paper’s editorial employees, but the business side has yet to sign on.)
Meanwhile, the Herald’s circulation continues to hemorrhage, faster than the Globe’s and way faster than the national average. In the six-month period ending September 30, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the Herald’s daily circulation fell 12 percent (from 230,000 to 203,000) while its Sunday circulation dropped 13 percent (from 132,000 to 115,000). The average national decline in daily and Sunday circulation for this period was 2.8 and 3.4 percent; in the same six months, the Globe’s daily and Sunday circulations dropped 7 and 10 percent, respectively, to 386,000 and 587,000. While both papers have cause for concern, the Globe is owned (for now) by the Times Company, which can lean on revenues from the Times. Purcell doesn’t have this luxury.