Boston Globe—Brief History

The newspaper about to challenge the Catholic Church had a storied history. Founded in 1872 by a group of businessmen led by Eben Jordan, co-founder of the Jordan Marsh Department store, it struggled to find a readership in a city already served by 10 newspapers. But it began to grow under publisher Charles Taylor and, by 1886, it had the largest circulation of any paper in the country outside New York.[1] Taylor descendants managed the paper for generations.

The Globe remained a private company until 1973, when it went public as part of the newly formed Affiliated Publications. From the beginning, the Globe’s editorial page had been staunchly Democratic. Legendary editor Tom Winship (1965-84) took the Globe’s editorial stance even further to the left in the 1960s and 70s, when the paper developed a reputation for liberalism—bold liberalism to supporters, knee-jerk liberalism to detractors.

When Matthew Storin came to the editor’s position in 1993, he sought to make the Globe less liberal, or at least less predictably so. His tenure was marked by both success and scandal. Under Storin, the Globe ended a 10-year Pulitzer drought, winning four prizes. According to a 1999 poll of editors by the Columbia Journalism Review, the Globe was (tied for) the sixth best paper in the country. But in 1998, Storin accepted the resignations of two star columnists who had fabricated quotes and characters.[2] The dual scandals prompted speculation about Storin’s future. He hung on for two more years.

Business side. Meanwhile, the ownership of the paper was changing. In 1993, the Taylor family—owners for 126 years—sold the Globe to the New York Times Company for $1.1 billion, the highest price ever paid for a newspaper. The sale was a blow to a paper that prided itself on independence, and to a city that viewed New York as a rival. As part of the deal, the Times Company agreed not to intervene in the Globe’s operations for five years.

Six years later, it abruptly replaced publisher Benjamin Taylor with one of its own top executives, Richard Gilman. The Taylor family’s day-to-day management of the Globe had come to an end. At a meeting, Globe staffers greeted Gilman with silence; it had “the feeling of a hostile takeover,” according to columnist Ellen Goodman.[3] Gilman was a specialist in circulation and operations, and some analysts saw his appointment as an effort to improve the Globe’s financial performance. The paper, although profitable, had fallen short of goals set by the Times Company. Other analysts said the Times Company simply wanted to broaden control.

By the time Baron took over in the summer of 2001, the Globe, like most newspapers across the country, was losing readers. In 1993, when the Times had bought it, the Globe had a daily circulation of 504,869 and a Sunday circulation of 811,409. In the first half of 2001, amid a slowing economy, those numbers had declined to 467,217 and 710,256.[4] Still, the Globe was by far the largest paper in New England and one of the 15 largest in the country (one of the 10 largest on Sunday). Its readership, moreover, was educated and affluent; as such, it appealed to advertisers. Baron’s new job was one of the top in journalism.



[1] Louis M. Lyons, Newspaper Story: One Hundred Years of the Boston Globe (Harvard University Press, 1971), p.60.
 
[2] The columnists were Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith.
 
[3] Howard Kurtz, “The Shot Heard Round the Globe: N.Y Times Co. Fires Publishers in Consolidation Move,” Washington Post, July 13, 1999.
 
[4] From the New York Times Company Website. http://www.nytco.com/investors/financials/boston_globe-circulation.html.