WBUR

Red Sox Owner Enters $70M Deal For Boston Globe

Audio report above by WBUR’s Sharon Brody (see transcript further below). Text report immediately below by The Associated Press and the WBUR Newsroom.

Boston Red Sox owner John Henry stands on the field before a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays in Boston, Saturday, May 11, 2013. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

Red Sox owner John Henry. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

BOSTON — Businessman John Henry, the principal owner of the Boston Red Sox, has entered into an agreement to buy The Boston Globe for $70 million, a massive drop from its record $1.1 billion price two decades ago. The impending purchase from The New York Times Co. marks Henry’s “first foray into the financially unsettled world of the news media,” the Globe said early Saturday. The deal will give Henry the 141-year-old newspaper, its websites and affiliated companies, it said.

The Times announced in February it was putting the Globe and related assets up for sale four years after calling off a previous attempt to sell it. The company’s CEO said at the time selling the Globe would help the company focus attention on The New York Times brand.

Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy confirmed the sale of the Globe and other media properties to Henry. The Times said the sale includes BostonGlobe.com, Boston.com, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Telegram.com, the direct mail marketing company Globe Direct and the company’s 49 percent interest in Metro Boston, a free daily newspaper for commuters.

Henry released the following written statement Saturday morning:

Today’s announcement by The New York Times Company should make it clear exactly how strongly I feel about the New England Media Group – The Boston Globe, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Metro Boston – and the essential role that its journalists and employees play in Boston, throughout New England, and beyond.

The Boston Globe’s award-winning journalism as well as its rich history and tradition of excellence have established it as one of the most well respected media companies in the country.

Until the transaction has officially closed and a change in ownership is completed, it would be inappropriate for me to comment specifically about the future of the New England Media Group. I wish to pass along my sincere thanks to The Times and its Board of Directors, in particular.

This is a thriving, dynamic region that needs a strong, sustainable Boston Globe playing an integral role in the community’s long-term future.  In coming days there will be announcements concerning those joining me in this community commitment and effort.

“We are pleased to see a local and deeply respected businessman take the helm of one of the nation’s most highly regarded media outlets,” the Boston Newspaper Guild, the employee union for The Boston Globe, wrote in a statement. “We welcome the opportunity to collaborate and innovate with him and his team.”

House Speaker DeLeo also released a written statement, in which he wished John Henry good luck and said he was “relieved we will still be able to say ‘The Globe’s here.'”

The Times bought the Globe from the family of former Globe executive Stephen Taylor in 1993 for what it said was the highest price paid for an American newspaper. The Globe and other newspapers have faced difficulties in recent years as advertisers have cut spending on newspapers and moved more ads online. Still, the Globe is a journalistic institution in New England and was lauded for its coverage of the April bombings at the Boston Marathon.

A round of cost-cutting in 2009, which involved pay cuts, helped put the newspaper on better financial footing and prompted the Times to call off a planned sale. In late 2011, the Globe started charging for access to its online version at BostonGlobe.com, which helped to boost circulation revenues.

The Times company doesn’t separate Globe revenue from New York Times revenue in its financial statements. But the Globe had an average weekday circulation of 230,351 in the six months through September, up 12 percent from a year ago, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. The newspaper’s increase in digital subscriptions more than offset declines in print. But the total is still down significantly from the nearly 413,000 it boasted in September 2002.

To discuss the sale and the future of The Boston Globe, WBUR’s Weekend Edition spoke with media critic and Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy, author of “The Wired City: Reimagining Journalism And Civic Life In The Post-Newspaper Age.”

Sharon Brody: Are you inclined to cheer, recoil or reserve judgement?

Dan Kennedy: Well, we always should reserve judgement, but I’m inclined to cheer. John Henry is a local owner with deep pockets who has a long record of being a good civic force in the community. So, given all those things, I think this is about as good an outcome as we could have hoped for.

John Henry has no newspaper experience. Do you think that matters?

Not particularly. Many owners of media properties don’t necessarily have direct experience in the business that they’re entering. The real question is what’s his vision and what is the team he’s going to put in place? Obviously, one of the first questions that needs to be answered is whether publisher Chris Mayer and editor Brian McGrory will be retained. They generally receive pretty high marks for the job they’re doing. Is Henry going to go with them or is he going to want to put his own people in place?

What do you think in terms of that whole conflict of interest thing — the Globe, at times, has been critical of Red Sox ownership and the team. Are you at all concerned that this sale could have any sort of chilling effect on editorial direction?

I would say that in terms of that Globe’s coverage of the Red Sox as a baseball team, I’m not particularly concerned. And, in fact, we’ve been down this road before. For years, The New York Times company was a part-owner of New England Sports Network, partners with the Red Sox, and the Globe always got those criticisms.

Where I’m a little bit more concerned is the Globe’s coverage of the Red Sox as a major business in this city, as a civic institution. That’s more important. The Red Sox do development deals, they ask for favors in the city. So people are going to be looking at that very closely. And, frankly, I suspect that no matter what the Globe does, no matter how straight they play it, they’re going to get some criticism.

If you could tell John Henry what his priorities should be, what his vision should be, what would you say?

Well, if I knew how to fix the profoundly broken newspaper business, I would be a high paid consultant. The Globe, fortunately, has benefited from reasonably benign ownership from The New York Times Company and has not suffered the kind of devastating cuts that we’ve seen at a lot of similar sized papers.

My advice to John Henry would be to try to grow by investing and not by cutting, as so many newspapers have done, as the Globe has done to some extent.

Probably the “it boy” of the newspaper business right now is Aaron Kushner, who is trying to rebuild The Orange County Register. And he’s been investing resources; he’s been expanding coverage. He’s got a lot of good marks. The one thing I would caution Henry against is that Aaron Kushner seems to be pursuing a print first strategy and kind of letting the Internet side of things wither. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think that technological innovation is going to be key. The Globe has a good track record in that regard, and I hope Henry continues in that direction.

Given the confusing state of the journalism business in this era, do you think John Henry is buying the Globe for prestige or legacy purposes? In 2013, who really thinks they can get richer buying a newspaper?

Well, I’m not sure John Henry thinks he’s going to get richer. And I do think that prestige and legacy probably have a lot to do with this. But John Henry is a really, really successful guy, and I’m sure he has a pretty healthy ego. And he may think that he’s the guy to figure out some of these problems that have been plaguing the news business for quite some time.

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