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Former Globe Publisher Isn't Pointing Blame At The Times

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The New York Times Co. bought the Boston Globe in 1993. For most of its history, the paper had been published by members of a local family, the Taylors.

Ben Taylor was the Globe's publisher from 1997 through 1999, and spoke to WBUR on Wednesday to offer his perspective on the paper's current situation. Taylor started by describing his feeling when he heard about the Times' threat to shut down the newspaper.

BEN TAYLOR: It made me sick to my stomach, quite frankly. I also think that it would be a disaster if the paper was closed.

BOB OAKES: Your family controlled the Boston Globe until about 16 years ago, when it was purchased by The New York Times. How did you view the Globe and its role in the life of this community, at that time?

TAYLOR: The Globe has played an incredibly important role in the community -- it’s part of the lifeblood of the community, it presents a daily bulletin board for people to read, historically it’s played an important role for other news outlets in Boston and even in other parts of the country sometimes.

So, I continue to believe that the newspaper and all good newspapers play an important role in our community.

OAKES: I’m wondering if you feel that role has continued in the years since the Times took over.

TAYLOR: I do feel that. They do terrific work in my view. The investigative work is first-rate, the political coverage is very good. They cover the city, they cover the school committee, they cover New England.

The newspaper’s changed some because of the economic times, but it is still a fine newspaper.

OAKES: At the time of the sale, your cousin — then-publisher Bill Taylor — called the deal, ‘A superb opportunity to protect the franchise,’ and also said of the Times that, ‘We think their long term commitment to journalistic excellence is exactly what we are for. It’s a good deal for our shareholders and for the community.’ Do you feel that today, or are you having second thoughts now, given what’s happening at present?

TAYLOR: I think that it would be not fair to blame the New York Times Co. for what’s happening in the industry as a whole. Newspapers all over the country are struggling with the same problem.

OAKES: It was reported by the Globe back in 1993 that you initially held up a purchase offer from the Times, partly out of concern about the possible impact of out-of-town ownership. Given the challenges that all newspapers face today, do you imagine the state of the Globe would be different today if it was under local ownership?

TAYLOR: I’m not sure that any ownership could have anticipated the kind of slide that’s occurred in the newspaper industry over the last six or seven years. There certainly is great value in local ownership – historically, some of the great papers that were built were built by local ownership.

There were also some examples of not very good local ownership. So, I think the question of local ownership is partly a question of who the owners are.

OAKES: Which I think leads to this question: If the Globe were up for sale today — and we really don’t know that it is even up for sale – but if it was up for sale, do you think a local owner or local owners – in the form of some ownership group – could be found for the Globe?

TAYLOR: I don’t know. It depends on what the state of the newspaper is at the time that it’s being put out for sale. Are the costs more under control? What’s happening with pensions and so forth?

OAKES: I know you’ve been asked this question before and said, ‘You know, I’m not even sure it’s up for sale,’ but, could you be – would you be – interested in being part of any local ownership group, if the Globe were up for sale?

TAYLOR: I’m not actively pursuing anything with regard to the purchase of the Boston Globe. It’s just impossible for me to answer a question like that at the moment, I guess.

OAKES: Do you think that there’s a different type of business model that the Times and the Globe and all newspapers should be taking a look at, in today’s economy – in the age of the Internet?

TAYLOR: Part of the problem is, we trained readers to expect the content for free on the Internet, and the question is, ‘Is there a way to convince them that the content is worth paying for?’

I think that the content in the Globe and other good newspapers is valuable, I think readers know it’s valuable, and I think they’re willing to pay for it.

Just like at ‘BUR, you’ve convinced listeners that they’re willing to donate to pay for the news that they could get otherwise for free. I don’t know that that’s the right model, but I do believe that there’s got to be this idea that the consumers would actually be willing to pay for it, and I think they are.

OAKES: What role would you like to see the Globe play in Boston going forward?

TAYLOR: The role that it’s always played. The role of watchdog, of keeping people honest. And it’s a role of bringing the important issues of the world to the people who read the Globe today.

OAKES: And do you think it will be there?

TAYLOR: I’m an optimist. So I think they will find out a way.

MORE GLOBE COVERAGE: Hear all Bottom Line coverage of developments at the Boston Globe.

This program aired on April 9, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

Bob Oakes Twitter Host, Morning Edition
Bob Oakes has been WBUR's Morning Edition anchor since 1992.

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