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The two bidders are like night and day. One — cousins Stephen and Ben Taylor — is a nostalgic favorite. The other — Platinum Equity — is seen as a carpetbagger, with deep pockets but a slash-and-burn approach.
Both groups are offering a package of almost $100 million to buy the Boston Globe, less then a tenth of what it sold for 16 years ago. People who work at the Globe have mixed feelings about which bidder could successfully turn the newspaper around.
"Overall, people would like the Taylor family because they have such a wonderful reputation in this town and for the Boston Globe, although times have changed a great deal," said Beth Daley, a reporter at the Globe for 15 years. "We don’t really know what any new owner will bring us."
Under the Taylors, the paper won 12 Pulitzer Prizes and was internationally renowned. Since the family sold the Globe to The New York Times Co. for $1.1 billion, the paper has shrunk, there have been several rounds of buyouts and all foreign bureaus were closed.
Few employees think ownership under the Taylors would reverse the clock. Some express concern that the Taylors didn’t see the problems in the industry coming, and won’t know how to fix them. But the possibility of Platinum Equity as owners also worries employees, Daley said.
"They're worried that, you know, our core product will be stripped down even further," she said. "We all want to prevent that — I mean that’s all we have to offer to our readers and that’s our value."
Platinum Equity owns a wide range of businesses, including a fiberglass company and a commercial real-estate firm. In May, it bought The San Diego Union-Tribune. Platinum put a turnaround specialist in charge and, three days later, the new management laid off almost 200 people. A few months later, 112 more people were let go.
Under Platinum’s ownership, The Union-Tribune has eliminated some sections and reporters are covering multiple beats. And it's going hyper-local, said Andrew Donohue, editor of The Voice of San Diego, a non-profit online news service.
"I think what’s clear is that it's going to be a newspaper that’s a lot more focused on sort of quick, short, community stories," Donohue said. "It will be interesting to see if there’s any sort of dedication to in-depth or investigative or accountability reporting."
According to a former reporter who is in touch with newsroom colleagues, Platinum seems to be a decent boss. It's restored earlier pay cuts and 401(k) contributions and offered better health benefits. The owners are projecting The Union-Tribune will turn a $5 million profit this year.
Donohue said employees are optimistic. "For a long time the newspaper seemed sort of rudderless, it was directionless and it was for sale, and nobody really knew what was coming next," he said. "Since the new owners have taken over, you’ve seen at least a sense of purpose, an idea, a vision of where the newspaper is going to go and what they're going to do."
Platinum Equity and the Taylor family declined to speak about their visions for the Boston Globe.
"I'm not sure there's going to be a great deal of difference in how the two parties can operate the paper," said Mark Jurkowitz, who used to write about media for the Globe, and is now an analyst at the Pew Research Project for Excellence in Journalism.
"On the one hand, you’ve got these people who have loved and cared and nurtured for this paper for a long time. They have local roots," Jurkowitz said. "And then on the other hand, you have folks from out of town, who are all about the bottom line, maximizing profits, don’t have any institutional relationship with the paper. It seems like a no-brainer."
But it's not, Jurkowitz said. Any new owner will face tough questions about the size of the staff, whether they should still print newspapers or charge for online access. And any new owner is buying a demoralized staff, declining circulation and an uncertain future.
This program aired on October 1, 2009.
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