Wednesday, April 06, 2005

PURCELL SPEAKS. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell popped up on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) last night to discuss the future of his troubled paper with Emily Rooney on Greater Boston. (So did I, in the set-up piece.) Purcell's strategy apparently was to sound candid without making any news. He succeeded.

Asked about the devastating cutbacks he announced on Monday - 35 out of 140 or so union positions will be eliminated in the newsroom, and that only accounts for $2 million of the $7 million he intends to slice out of all operations by June 30 - Purcell blamed the advertising market, and asserted that other papers, including the Boston Globe, have seen at least as steep a falloff as the Herald.

"You've got a period of economic softness that you have to fight your way through," Purcell told Rooney. "We've fought our way through for the last 20 years, and we're going to fight our way through for the next 20 years." He also insisted the Herald will be competitive on news, noting that, since 1984, the number of newsroom employees (union and non-union) has grown from 118 to 210. In light of that, he said, the paper should be able to eliminate some positions without affecting the coverage too much.

Purcell added that the paper now has "all sorts of other information that we can utilize," citing the Internet and his own chain of more than 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts.

Asked by Rooney what role high-priced star columnists will play in a dramatically downsized Herald, Purcell replied, "We're taking a look at everything.... I think it's safe to say that we're looking at all of our expenses." However, he added, "We're not going to do anything to shoot ourselves in the foot." Translation: Barnicle, Howie, et al. stay if Purcell is convinced that getting rid of them would cost him too much in terms of circulation. Otherwise - look out.

Asked about the possibility that he might embrace the free-distribution model being tried by the Examiner papers in San Francisco and Washington, Purcell conceded there has been "a lot of speculation," adding, "We have a business plan to do our own free competitor to the Metro." But what about the Herald itself? He noted that the reincarnated San Francisco Examiner has been on the streets for only six months, and the DC Examiner for less time than that, making it "a little funny that people [moi?] say this is a model for success. Who knows?"

Asked whether the Herald's current round of downsizing is being driven by the New York Times Company's acquisition of a 49 percent share of Boston's Metro - something Purcell tried unsuccessfully to fight by filing an antitrust complaint with the Justice Department - Purcell replied, "It just makes it that much harder to compete." He noted that the Times Company now owns the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, a chunk of New England Sports Network (through its minority share of the Red Sox), and nearly half of the Metro. However, he claimed, in the three years that the Boston Metro has been in existence, it "really didn't have an impact on us."

Asked whether he would consider selling if he's unable to succeed with a slimmed-down Herald, Purcell said, "The only way you can be sold is if somebody's interested in buying it. I think this is more of a strategy to make sure that we are viable. We've fought the good fight for a long time." (On February 25, I reported that Purcell had had serious talks with the Hollinger chain, which owns the Chicago Sun-Times and a string of suburban papers. However, since that time, principals at Hollinger have taken to suing each other, making a purchase pretty unlikely.) Purcell added that the other segments of his local media holdings - Community Newspaper Company (CNC) and his Internet properties - are doing well.

Two years ago, the Herald morphed itself from a somewhat sober purveyor of local news into a glitzy, gossip-heavy tabloid. Rooney asked Purcell, "How will you settle on what works? Is Boston really a tabloid town?" Purcell didn't quite answer the question, replying that the Herald has been a tabloid for a long time and that the Globe is now partners with a tabloid, the Metro. Come on, Pat - Rooney was clearly asking about sensibility, not size. Still, he then went on to say that the Herald would retain what he called its "entertaining" approach, and added that he's convinced it's had some success. "We're seeing less erosion. I think we've arrested the slide," he said. He also offered an unsolicited shoutout to business editor Cosmo Macero, saying, "Cosmo is doing an absolutely phenomenal job on the business pages."

Rooney's final question: will the Herald appeal a $2.1 million libel verdict that it lost earlier this year in a case brought by Superior Court judge Ernest Murphy? "We're still in the process of evaluating that," he said. "I think in all probability we're going to appeal."

THE LONG GOODBYE. You will find news about what I'm up to in the "Names" column of today's Globe. Scroll down to "Last Writes."

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dan--The news of your imminent departure comes as a shock to all of us who rely on your perspective to bring some sanity to the media circus. Thank you for the many insights. Best of luck in the new gig! --Jack Burlingame, editor, Volunteerist magazine (www.volunteerist.org)

Anonymous said...

Dammit, Dan, we need your voice of sanity!

I also found Purcell's Cosmo Macero reference interesting.
Macero came into the job talking up a storm about how he was going to shake up the Boston business world.
Is there any evidence at all that he's had any impact?
Is anyone in Boston talking about the Herald's biz page?
Has it produced any substantial scoops at all?
Someone oughta call Macero on the swagger, I think.

Mike P. said...

Say it ain't so, Dan!

You've done great work and the Phoenix (and people who care about truth) won't be the same without you.

Best of luck at Northeastern, and with anything else you pursue.

Any chance you'll still be blogging? Please?

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Dan!

I suspect NU IT can support a website and blog, if you don't set up on -- which as a *visiting* professor might be a good idea.

I hope the NU gig will let you continue or increase your Greater Boston TV exposure.

Bill R

Anonymous said...

Oh, Dan! Please don't leave us. I don't know who could possibly take over your role here.

(I recall that a few years ago, you briefly 'left', but quickly returned.)

Ron Newman said...

Oh, Dan! Please don't leave us. I don't know who could possibly take over your role here.

(I recall that a few years ago, you briefly 'left', but quickly returned.)

Anonymous said...

To the gutless dolt who logged in as "anonymous" to question whether there were any scoops in the business section under the Cosmo Macero era.

I'll suggest a few:
-- A serious kicking of the Globe's butt the night the Gillette deal was announced. (As duly noted by Dan Kennedy -- whose absence this town will feel. Damn.)
-- A complete thrashing of the Globe on the Brad Bleidt story.
A FEW OTHER STORIES THE HERALD HAD FIRST:
-- Sox expansion plans that included the purchase of the WBCN building in the Fenway.
-- A pending increase in Sox ticket prices.
-- Celtics ticket-sales woes.
-- Fidelity's consideration of buying the old FleetBoston headquarters building.
-- Affiliation talks between Tufts New England Medical Center and Children's Hospital.
-- The Cambridge Street fiasco.

Perhaps you missed them while trolling for Oxycontin .

Finally, to inflict a little logic -- I doubt you "think," despite your claim otherwise: to the extent there was any of the so-called "swagger" you mention, it was not Cosmo's. He was praised by the man who promoted him.

Eric Convey
Financial Editor -- proud #2 to Cosmo Macero
Boston Herald

The Troll said...

Good Luck Dan, it will be a nice break working in a university enviornemnt rather then a newsroom. I do hope you start a blog of your own. You have a place in Boston journalism and opinion. Don't completly leave us.

Ryan said...

Ouch! Dan, it's sad and geekish to say, but I look forward to few things in my week more eagerly than your Phoenix columns. My Thursday lunch break will never be the same. Please keep blogging and providing links to your work. Good media crit is hard to find.
All the best.

m said...

Wow -- what a schizoid little discussion...

Okay, number one: very sorry (especially for out-of-Boston readers like myself) to hear that you are hitting the bricks, Dan. I have often looked to your blog as a way to stay in touch with Boston media.

I wish you all the best.

On the other score, I am a former Herald writer. I was sorry to see -- albeit from a distance -- the swing toward superficial gossip as the dominant theme, rather than just an amusing component. I am sorrier still to see the guts ripped out of the newsroom.

I always liked and respected Pat Purcell, though I found his politics appalling (and, had he ever asked about mine, I know the feeling would have been mutual). I was, however, convinced that he was committed to hard news as well as material success.

Unfortunately, there's a limit to how much you can do without a parallel commitment to the people who make it happen. It is always cheaper and easier to do gossip, scandal, sensationalism.

Boston is one town that has the appetite to support two papers. But in this era of Net and television and free papers -- not to mention falling literacy -- maybe Boston doesn't have the economics to support two real newspapers.

Given the Herald's sometimes-past as a tough and entertaining reporter of politics and sports, along with the Globe's arrogance and laziness, that would be a shame.

/m

Steve said...

Congrats and good luck, Dan.

I hope that the blogging bug has bitten you hard enough that you will continue at whatever frequency you can manage.

m said...

Wow -- what a schizoid little discussion...

Okay, number one: very sorry (especially for out-of-Boston readers like myself) to hear that you are hitting the bricks, Dan. I have often looked to your blog as a way to stay in touch with Boston media.

I wish you all the best.

On the other score, I am a former Herald writer. I was sorry to see -- albeit from a distance -- the swing toward superficial gossip as the dominant theme, rather than just an amusing component. I am sorrier still to see the guts ripped out of the newsroom.

I always liked and respected Pat Purcell, though I found his politics appalling (and, had he ever asked about mine, I know the feeling would have been mutual). I was, however, convinced that he was committed to hard news as well as material success.

Unfortunately, there's a limit to how much you can do without a parallel commitment to the people who make it happen. It is always cheaper and easier to do gossip, scandal, sensationalism.

Boston is one town that has the appetite to support two papers. But in this era of Net and television and free papers -- not to mention falling literacy -- maybe Boston doesn't have the economics to support two real newspapers.

Given the Herald's sometimes-past as a tough and entertaining reporter of politics and sports, along with the Globe's arrogance and laziness, that would be a shame.

/m

Anonymous said...

Ah, get over yourself, Convey; you're not as good as you think you are, and your paper's still gonna lose the war.

Anonymous said...

Eric,
Understand that The Phoenix does not exactly share your demographic. Those who await your demise will have a long wait, (weed extends time perception, I'm told). No one would like to see the survival of the Herald more than Dan K., I'll wager, for both professional and personal reasons. Dan will be back, he's too talented to do otherwise. Notwithstanding the pontifications of certain bowtied ACLU members on Morrissey Blvd., many of us need both a micro and macro perspective, (H and G respectively). If everyone takes a deep breath and worries more about the work than throwing mud, things will work out, they always do. (Hell, there's always Public Radio!)

Anonymous said...

Another example of how much we are going to miss Dan is the fact that the new Ombudsman of the New York Times is coming from The Wall Street Journal and no one has mentioned it. Either the WSJ is not the knuckle-dragging Neanderthals some claim or things are about to get REALLY interesting at The Times.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Dan...but I can't help but be disappointed. I not only eagerly await your columns each week, but check Media Log daily. Your reporting & insight on a wide variety of issues will be sorely missed. Hope you can keep up the blogging...

Anonymous said...

First off, Dan, I'll miss your columns and your MediaLog. Like everybody else here, I hope you keep blogging.

Now, regarding WSJ, you have to differentiate between the very talented staff and the Idiots-R-Us editorial board. I assume the NYT didn't recruit its new ombudsman from the latter.

hmeighan said...

best of luck in all your endevours dan. also thank you for your outstanding work, as a newspaper employee in this town, you were the reason i purchased or sought the phoenix each week.
also i think pat has been blinded by his consultant, and quality of content and production are sure to suffer. and i think cosmo rules!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to see Dan go, I've had a great time becoming enraged by his self aborbed, elitist, liberal pablum. College professor is the perfect place to continue his pursuits, only now he indoctrinate instead of irritate.

Anonymous said...

Talk about burying the lead! Media criticism's loss is academia's gain. Sorry to see you go, Dan, and thanks again for stepping up to the plate on the Herald story.

Secret Agent Cathy said...

Gah! Don't leave us to the puny clutches of the Dig's "Media Farm"!

Sincerely missing you in advance,
S.A.C.

Sly Jones said...

Fun discussion to watch, though less so knowing that it may be one of the last here with Dan K.

First OxyContin, then weed ... judging from the mudslinging here, seems like people who criticize the Herald are assumed to be on some sort of drug.
(And we all know: Only losers use those!)
I'm staying well clear of the whole thing myself, except to say I'm gonna miss Dan writing about all the jousting.

Anonymous said...

Dan:

Good luck.

I want your former job.

Instructions?

Anonymous said...

Anon.5:17:
Barney Calame was Deputy Managing Editor of the WSJ. Far enough up the masthead for you? "When you assume, you make an ass out of ....."(Idiots-R-Us indeed.)
Bailiff, next case!

AnthonyG said...

Farewell to a Class Act & Honorable Man.

Coming so soon after I began posting here, I'd like to think that I, like a drill seargeant at OCS, drove DK to quit. But Dan Kennedy is no quitter, he is a fighter, and I'm sure he will bring the same level of integrity, professionalism and excellence to academia as journalism.

(Dan: just e-mail me your Blogger password and leave the keys under the Phoenix doormat --I'll pick-up Media Log & your column without missing a beat)

Actually, Dan, there is no reason you shouldn't continue 'blogging as "Professor Kennedy" once you move on... then you can officially join the ranks of heroic real Bloggers who are not also published in print.

And BTW -- now that I only have two-plus months left to kick your ass in this forum, I intend to get my money's worth ;-)

AnthonyG said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

good luck Dan... I appreciate all your work with the Phoenix

Al/Peabody

Anonymous said...

Wow, another body blow.... Like when Jimmy Breslin abruptly announced his retirement in Newsday with his thankz for the use of the rented hull... Or Hunter S's sudden leap into the void...

Dan, your voice was a much needed tonic in an age of cheapening rhetoric and corporate doublespeak.

Bad news and more bad news... The sun is, incrementally, being blotted out... Noise and hubbub drowning out reasoned discourse...

EmperorNortonII@yahoo.com