Sizing up the Boston Globe's recent past is easy: simply put, in the past 12 months, the paper has seen enough gut-wrenching drama to change the name of Morrissey Boulevard to Melrose Place. But forecasting the paper's future is another matter.
LOCAL HERO After 22 years on Morrissey Boulevard, new publisher Christopher Mayer knows the Globe. Can he fix it?
For those with short memories, the New York Times Company threatened last spring to permanently shutter the paper if its unions didn't make $20 million in concessions — and fast. Labor responded by digging in and whipping up local resentment of the Times Co. Not only did the union's strategy not work — Times Co. brass didn't back off — but it also created a festering schism in the Boston Newspaper Guild, the paper's largest union. In June, the Guild boldly (or recklessly, depending on your perspective) pushed the paper to the brink of extinction by rejecting a new contract proposal — only to approve a second, similar offer a few weeks later, after management had implemented a 23 percent (!) pay cut. And then, a group of would-be local owners led by Stephen Taylor — whose family owned the Globe for a century before selling it to the Times Co. for $1.1 billion in 1993 — tried (along with a competing group) to buy it back for a fraction of that cost.
What a saga!
In the end, though, the Globe's roller-coaster ride screeched to an anticlimactic halt. Last October, the Times Co. announced that, rather than selling the paper to Taylor's group — or to the other bidder, Beverly Hills merger-and-acquisition firm Platinum Equity — it was going to sit tight. And those of us who'd been intrigued by the story lines that would have been created with the restoration of local Globe ownership were left with the disappointing sense that, after months of havoc, not much had changed.
But that's not correct. Yes, the Times Co. still owns the Globe. Even so, during last year's soap-operatic tumult, a remarkable amount of quieter organizational flux occurred.
First and foremost, the paper has a new publisher. P. Steven Ainsley — who'd had that job since coming north from the Times Co.'s southern Regional Newspaper Group in 2006 — retired. His replacement: Christopher Mayer, most recently the senior VP of circulation and operations at the New England Media Group (NEMG), which includes the Globe and the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, and formerly the NEMG's chief information officer. Unlike his predecessors, Mayer is both a long-time Bostonian and a Globe veteran dating back to the Taylor era. And Mayer has already put his imprimatur on the paper's upper-echelon management — tapping a new chief advertising officer and general manager of boston.com (Lisa DeSisto), for example, and further empowering editor Marty Baron by giving him leadership of both the paper's print and digital strategies, a ringing endorsement from his new boss.
And some of the principal players in last year's dramatic newsroom showdown are no longer even with the company — one of whom met a Shakespearean end. Greg Thornton — the paper's senior VP for employee relations and operations, who'd developed a reputation as the Times Co.'s heavy in Boston — retired late last year. In a strangely symmetrical development, Guild head Dan Totten, Thornton's sparring partner during last year's negotiations, was tried by a union jury for financial malfeasance and expelled from the union's ranks.