The Boston Globe has enlisted its newsroom's help in its ongoing reinvention, according to a memo from Editor Brian McGrory — but may be forced to lay off some of that newsroom staff in the near future.
WGBH News media analyst Dan Kennedy obtained a Globe memo outlining a "very broad vision statement" for the future of the paper, following the solicitation of ideas from about department heads and "thought leaders" in the newsroom.
Now, four teams of 12 people each are working on recommendations for the future of the paper, focusing on newsroom culture, workflow, editorial mission, and the business side of the paper.
"… we’re not here to move deck chairs around," McGrory writes in the memo. "We’re here to profoundly, meaningfully change our culture, to create the organization that we’d fear the most, to offer readers ever more journalism that will compel them to subscribe, to find creative ways in which we can contribute to the bottom line—always with our values intact."
McGrory also notes 19 recent departures from the newsroom, either through a company buyout or other unnamed circumstances, and McGrory says "I don't know" regarding the possibility of layoffs, but adds, "I’m preparing for the possibility of a small number of layoffs."
Read the Globe Memo Below:
I want to bring you up to date on a few important fronts.
First, the buyout. In all, 19 people either accepted it or gave notice under different circumstances. Some have already left. Others will be leaving over the next couple of months. It is truly heartening that the offer worked this well for this many people.
That said, we’re losing an astounding amount of talent, commitment, and experience. We’re also losing many world-class colleagues – smart, delightful, deeply engaged people who not only understand our mission to their core, but helped define it over an awful lot of years. This is what happens in these buyouts, and this is what we’ve come to accept as another cost of doing journalism in an age of dizzying disruption. It doesn’t get any easier with time.
The questions naturally follow about the possibility of layoffs. The answer at the moment is unsatisfying: I don’t know yet. The front office committed to cuts in all other parts of the building before turning to the newsroom, in hopes of lessening the reductions here, and execs have been good for their word. Meantime, we’ve worked to pare down our budget in other ways, mostly by eliminating open jobs that have accumulated this year through departures, renegotiating vendor contracts, cutting our freelance spending, and trimming page counts. Factoring all this in, I’m preparing for the possibility of a small number of layoffs. I will let you know as soon as I have clarity, which should be in the next few weeks.
Second, the reinvention. It’s gained significant velocity in the past few weeks, and the next couple of months will be vital to the effort. About a month-and-a-half ago, I asked about 20 department heads and other thought leaders in the room to write up vision memos for what the Globe needed to be, followed by a conference room session to pick through the ideas. It was pretty damned great – the creativity, the boldness, and the ambition behind the ideas. I’ve distilled those, with the help of David Skok and Chris Chinlund, into one very broad vision statement, which aims to outline what we’re trying to accomplish. I’ve attached it to this email, with a pair of caveats. First, it will almost certainly change as the process evolves, and second, you’ve heard that old phrase about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. Keep that in mind as you read it.
As important, Chris, David, and I have appointed four working groups of about a dozen people apiece to explore various aspects of our work and mission. These groups have been asked to take two months before recommending key ways in which the newsroom needs to change. The groups will focus on:
- Newsroom culture. It will analyze how we can become a more nimble learning culture, with a collective understanding that we need to constantly experiment and change, tolerate failure, and become more entrepreneurial. This will require more training across the room, but what kind of training do we need? How do we transform our mindset? How, in general, do we behave more like a startup and less like a legacy company as we fight for our lives?
- Workflows. Consider this the byplay between print and digital. What's getting in the way of us becoming a more streamlined and effective digital-thinking organization? How do we take advantage of every position we have? Again, who needs what training? Do we need a separate print desk? Can we free up department heads from the obligation of filling sections? Do we have the right technology?
- Editorial mission. This looks at where we devote our resources -- and why? Should we still be covering the same beats we have for the past half century? Should we have beats? Should we have departments, or at least the ones we have now? Is there a better way to present our material online and in print? Can we get away from certain kinds of stories and coverage areas and redirect our resources to focus on specific aspects of greater Boston?
- The business of journalism. The organization needs revenue, and we need to help drive it driving it. How do we gear our newsroom for more digital subscription growth? How do we work with advertising more closely while maintaining the values that we cherish? Are there other creative ways to make money that go outside of what we do today?
I’ve also attached a roster for all the working groups, which are charged with being as inclusive as possible. If you have ideas for the reinvention, get involved. Approach the right group. Write a memo. Come see me. The more voices, the better. There was more art to science in how these groups were assembled, so offers of help are more than welcome.
The groups have been given until the end of September to develop their findings and compile separate reports. Once they’ve done this, we’ll present these reports room-wide, giving everyone an opportunity to take the measure of the ideas in front of us and weigh in. By year’s end, we’ll start implementing some of the initiatives.
It’s important to emphasize, we’re not here to move deck chairs around. We’re here to profoundly, meaningfully change our culture, to create the organization that we’d fear the most, to offer readers ever more journalism that will compel them to subscribe, to find creative ways in which we can contribute to the bottom line – always with our values intact. We have a sprinting start on much of this. You’ve been transforming for years, to significant effect. We’re currently up about 20 percent in traffic on bg.com over last year at this time – and last year set records for us. We’re constantly experimenting with novel ways to tell stories. Our new Sports rollout was a sweeping success, and we’re aiming to replicate that in other coverage areas. The presentations on projects have been strikingly good. But we absolutely can’t afford to stop or even pause. You know that already.
Finally, a bit on our journalism. It would be easy to tap the brakes, given what else is going on here and across the industry. You, however, have done no such thing. Our Washington bureau is the best the Globe has ever had – and that, admittedly, includes when I was there. Its coverage of this election season has been the most creative and energetic I’ve read anywhere. Look at Spotlight. Gone are the days of the annual event, excellent as it was. We are currently amid two vital projects, one on sexual assaults and cover-ups at private schools, the other on the state abandoning its obligation to those with mental illness. Both have and will lead to deep and necessary change.
Our professional sports coverage only gets better, defying all odds because the department has fewer people. Our arts critics regularly prove why they are the best in the country. Business is helping to lead the room in the digital transformation. And Metro has delivered can’t miss stories, the latest of which – the Allen/Ramos look at the Methadone Mile – is some of the best writing and reporting I’ve read in a long, long time. Our photography, as you know, is in a class by itself and keeps getting better.
We are in a moment here – a fascinating, sometimes exhausting, but utterly exhilarating moment. The work we do now in rethinking and ultimately reinventing our culture, our work, our mission, and our very sustainability will matter for years and perhaps decades to come. I can’t imagine a group that is any more talented and better equipped for this role than what we’ve got right here, right now.
This note probably disqualifies me from continuing to complain about our story lengths. As always, I’m around for questions and comments.