Top of Mind: Mike Barnicle
Is it possible Mike Barnicle is still the most obsessed-about journalist in town? One could make the case: Consider the fuss when he joined Jack Connors and Jack Welch in trying to buy the Globe, and the further fuss that followed his rumored job talks with WBUR. Meanwhile, more than a decade after losing his marquee Globe column for sins against journalism, Barnicle is a fixture on NBC and MSNBC, and fields assignments from Newsweek and Time. On 12/5 at the Charles Hotel, he talked with Boston about those projects—and shared his thoughts on a few other topics, too.
Burnett: I guess I’ll be honest and say I’m surprised that you went as easy as you did on the paper. Given, only a year or two ago, some serious talks about you, Jack Welch, Jack Connors [making an offer to buy the Globe]…
Barnicle: They [The New York Times Company] should have sold it to us.
Burnett: So, usually if you want to buy it, that means you think you could do a better job.
Barnicle: Well that has nothing to do with Marty Baron. That has to do with that the New York Times Company. To them, the Globe might as well be the St. Petersburg Times, or any other regional paper they own. There is nothing that instills more pride in a product than when it’s locally owned, and no matter what they say in Times Square, this is a step-child. It’s not their principal product. I understand that. If I were Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the thing I would be most interested in growing, would be The New York Times. So as a result, the Globe is treated like a step-child.
Burnett: You said they should have sold it to us…
Barnicle: Just economically.
Burnett: How serious was it?
Barnicle: Very serious. There was an offer on the table. A pretty good one too.
Burnett: It’s a big number, for most people, but it’s not the crazy number you might think it would be.
Barnicle: Well it wasn’t then. It was a different economy then. It was a different world then. They couldn’t get one third of what that offer was today.
Burnett: Of what you wanted for it. How much was it?
Barnicle: I think it was around $600 million.
Burnett: Where was that… did you have bankers lined up?
Barnicle: You’d have to talk to Welch and Connors about that, because as I said initially, finance is not my strong suit. I exist on an allowance. But I mean, it was an entirely different world. The economics of that time, five years ago, it was a totally different time. You could get money like that. [snaps his fingers] It was a money party.
Burnett: Whose idea was it originally?
Barnicle: Jack Connors. Jack Connors wanted to buy it. He wanted to have a locally owned newspaper. He wanted to try to restore the impact and influence that a locally owned newspaper once had in this market. I got him together with Jack Welch, and the two of them had a pretty good financial plan put together. And after a few months, the Times Company decided to turn them down. You can’t tell me they wouldn’t love to have the offer on the table today. Think of it this way: In 1993, the New York Times Company purchased the Globe for $1.1 billion. Today the market cap of the New York Times Company is just about a billion. So the market cap, the value of their company, is less than what they paid for the Globe.
Burnett: I knew those numbers, but hadn’t thought of it that way.
Barnicle: Would have been good for them. Would have been good for the city. Would have been good for the paper.
Burnett: What kind of role did you imagine having?
Barnicle: No managing role, I can tell you that. One thing I’m not is a manager.
Burnett: Did you guys talk about it? Was that part of the process for you?
Barnicle: No. It never got to the stage, “You do this, and we’ll do that.” No.
Burnett: You think about that now and it’s a little bit of an albatross. They need to cut costs, but they can’t sell anything. Can’t get the money.
Barnicle: Who would want to buy it today? Who would want to invest in the newspaper business today? Right after you invest in Chrysler?
Burnett: It would have to be someone with a lot of local pride, someone with a real interest in the city…
Barnicle: That’s what it would have to be.