The Times They Are a Changin'…
Ghosts are looking over Richard Gilman's shoulder. There's the larger-than-life-sized portrait on his office wall of General Charles H. Taylor, the first of four generations of Taylors to serve as publisher of the Boston Globe. Across the room, before a window overlooking Boston's skyline, is the antique rolltop desk used by Charles' grandson, William Davis Taylor, when he held the job. This wing of the Globe building itself went up while Davis Taylor's son, William O. Taylor, was in charge.
Now the role is Gilman's, the first outsider in 126 years to run the Globe, brought in from New York by another legendary publishing clan: the Sulzbergers of the parent New York Times, who unexpectedly sacked the last of the Taylors in July in response to circulation drops and sluggish classified advertising sales.
A major and dramatic housecleaning was widely predicted to follow. It hasn'tÂ—at least not yet. Instead, after seven-and-a-half months under the very low-profile Gilman, New England's largest newspaper is sluggishly, deliberatively, almost imperceptibly, changing course. It is adding sections tied to reader interests in such areas as high technology. It is planning its first graphic redesign in 10 years, finally responding to long-standing subscriber complaints that regular features drift between one section and another from one day to the nextÂ—and, not coincidentally, saving money on ink and costly newsprint in the process. It is considering a daily version of its West Weekly edition covering the fast-growing western suburbs, which helps explain why the Times has scooped up the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for $295 million and put it under Gilman's supervision. A few of these changes already have been made. An expanded business section, for example, with new sections about technology and personal finance, was launched last month. More are expected to be announced this month, and the rest are to be phased in by September. If it works, says Gilman, he's planning on a long stay. If it doesn'tÂ—well, “We all have performance expectations we have to live up to,” he says. “And if I don't get the job done, I'll be gone.”
The first thing he plans to do in the meantime is move to another office.
General Taylor had a plan too. Called in to save the Globe from near-bankruptcy in 1873, he would lead it to local pre-eminence. His strategy was shrewd: Though a Yankee Republican, he chose to align the Globe with the mushrooming Irish Catholic population, the Democratic Party, and labor, precisely at the time when immigration and the second wave of the Industrial Revolution were changing the face of New England. It was a pragmatic move that looked for the largest reservoir of potential readers and tapped it. The Irish and the Globe prospered together, at least for much of their common history, and the newspaper came to dominate the region.
Richard Gilman, the little-known new man at the helm of what is arguably now Boston's most influential institution, has embraced an Information-Age variation on this theme. His idea is to match the paper to the shifting interests of a population that is increasingly consumed with high technology and finance, and is settling down in the western suburbs. There are other parallels between the General and Gilman. Like Taylor, Gilman was a journalist before he became a successful businessman. Like Taylor, he is stepping in at a time when the Globe is at a crossroads. In many other ways, of course, his challenges are different. The Internet brings both opportunities and threats, revolutionizing the nature and economics of the news businessÂ—and bringing into question whether newspapers as they now exist can be sustained. No less a player than a top executive at Knight Ridder, one of the nation's largest newspaper chains, has prophesied that they'll be gone within a decade. Gilman is also up against the erosion of newspaper readership in the face of other factors, ranging from apathy to cable television news. He is running a newspaper still reeling from scandals that saw two of its star columnists ousted in disgrace, and struggling with a legacy of identity politics and newsroom factionalism. Many on the staff are still squirming at the notion of serving out-of-town corporate owners, bitter at the way its long-time leading family was unceremoniously dethroned, and suspicious of this emissary from New York, who loyalists are sure has something up his sleeve. Among other things, the fate of editor Matthew V. Storin is the source of endless speculation, though Gilman says he has no plans to dump his editor.
Admittedly uncomfortable at the center of attention, Gilman, a youthful 49 with wire-rim glasses under a full head of silver hair, will also have to satisfy the city that its newspaper of record hasn't been reduced to branch-office status, like so many of Boston's other institutions. It won't, he says. They'll wait and see, Globe watchers say.
So far, Gilman has taken a few tentative steps. It's too early to tell whether something more substantial lies ahead. One thing is certain, though: The saga of the Globe itself remains as interesting as any of the stories in its pages.
The Globe was losing $60,000 a year, a fortune in the 1870s, when its original shareholders persuaded Charles H. Taylor to take charge. The paper had been started by a group of State Street businessmen, among them Eben Jordan, cofounder of the Jordan Marsh department store, in a bid to bring some dignity to the undistinguished world of Boston journalismÂ—and, in the process, make a tidy profit. But the $150,000 in start-up money was gone within a year, and circulation was barely 5,000, with more losses predicted as a deep depression settled in.
Taylor was a 27-year-old dockworker's son and printer's apprentice who had worked as a reporter for the Boston Traveler and Horace Greeley's New York Herald Tribune. He agreed to help out “for a few weeks” as business manager of the Globe, but on December 6, 1873, he took over as general manager and picked up 20 shares worth $100 each in the struggling company.
Taylor promptly made radical changes. Targeting Irish readers, he hired Irish reporters, including a Sunday editor active in the Irish Nationalist Party. He inaugurated help-wanted advertising to steer new immigrants to jobs at a time when workers traditionally advertised for employers, not employers for employees.
“The Globe will advocate all liberal measures which will advance the interests of the masses in their social and financial condition,” the reinvented newspaper promised in an editorial, “and will endeavor to promote their moral and intellectual welfare.” In addition to Irish causes, it championed such things as suffrage, a shorter workday, half a day off on Saturdays, and the Labor Day holiday.
Thanks to its new formula, the Globe thrived in a crowded market of 11 newspapers, and by the time Jordan died in 1895, he had named Taylor trustee of his Globe holdings. With his growing fortune, Taylor bought the Boston Pilgrims, later to become the Red Sox, and left another legacy to Boston: Fenway Park, built in 1912, while he owned the team. He challenged the establishment outside, as well as inside, the pages of his newspaper; blocked as a so-called Swamp Yankee from joining such clubs as the Somerset, the general cofounded the Algonquin Club, today the premier club for the city's leading businesspeople.
When Taylor died in 1921, his son, William O. Taylor, became publisher. And when he died in 1955, the mantle was passed to his son, William Davis Taylor. A first cousin, John I. Taylor, was named president. Davis Taylor's son, William O. “Bill” Taylor II, took over in 1977, and John I.'s offspring, Benjamin Taylor, followed in April 1997. Most of these generations of Taylors took what came to be known as the grand tour, from the newsroom to the circulation department to the advertising offices. They generally didn't throw their weight around, as publishers of other papers liked to do. Likewise, their philanthropy was generous but low-key, in the Brahmin manner. The Taylors worked behind the scenes as trustees of such institutions as the New England Aquarium, Wellesley College, and the Kennedy Library Foundation, and as directors of the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Boston Public Library, and the United Way.
The Globe's alliance with the Boston Irish was rewarded when John Kennedy moved into the White House in 1961, giving the hometown paper access to the corridors of power. Still not particularly distinguished for its journalism, the Globe set out that decade under Davis Taylor and editor Tom Winship to finish off its remaining rivals by following its increasingly affluent readers as they emigrated to the suburbs, giving them a new kind of sophisticated news coverage while continuing to lean left. The paper came out against the Vietnam War, printed the Pentagon Papers, and stubbornly supported forced busing to desegregate the Boston public schools, in spite of widespread opposition and occasional bullets fired through the pressroom windows. It won national prominenceÂ—and 15 Pulitzer PrizesÂ—in the process.
The Globe also remained one of the last major American dailies that was locally controlled, a holdout against the spread of corporate media ownership. But the trusts left for their heirs by Eben Jordan and Charles H. Taylor would expire in 1996, and the 110 surviving Taylors and 12 remaining Jordans chose to sell. That they sold out to perhaps the nation's greatest newspaper, the New York Times, was little consolation to a city that had already seen the rest of its print and broadcast mediaÂ—with the exception of the Boston HeraldÂ—slip away to absentee owners, along with many of its other local corporations, and even its department stores, including Jordan Marsh, now Macy's.
In the end, the issue of local control nearly scuttled the deal. When the Taylors discovered they would be reporting to an intermediary, and not directly to Times patriarch Arthur Ochs “Punch” Sulzberger, they voted against the sale at the last minute. The final agreement took five more painstaking months, a personal meeting between Bill Taylor and Sulzberger, and a promise that a Taylor would remain at the Globe as publisher for at least five years. Taylor and Sulzberger had a good personal relationship; Sulzberger's son and eventual successor, Arthur Jr., even worked as a pressman at the Globe during a January break in 1971 while he was studying at Tufts, part of his own grand tour. The waters smoothed, the sale was approved on June 10, 1993; the $1.1 billion price was the highest ever for an American newspaper. Signs of problems in the marriage began the same day.
Newspaper circulation in America has been flat for a decade, which is bad news for an industry increasingly pressed to generate returns for its new corporate ownersÂ—worse yet for the Globe, with a circulation that has actually been dropping. Since the Times bought the newspaper in 1993, the Globe's weekday circulation has fallen from 504,869 to 462,850 and its Sunday circulation from 811,409 to 730,348.
These numbers were slow to be publicly acknowledged on Morrissey Boulevard or in Times Square. But on Wall Street, Times Company stock fell two-and-a-half points the day the deal was announced. Analysts contended that the Times had overpaid. And, in fact, it would be forced to spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying back stock to prop up its share price over the next two years.
On top of that, the Globe, which accounts for about a quarter of Times Company revenue, routinely missed its profit targets, despite an economic boom that saw even the hardscrabble Herald grow in advertising. Companies started turning to management search firms and online employment services such as Maynard-based Monster.com, instead of the Globe's help-wanted ads, which also went into decline. Circulation, too, kept dropping. In one six-month period during 1999, after the Sulzbergers' five-year noninterference deal with the Taylors had run out, the Globe was among 10 of the nation's 25 largest newspapers to report a loss of Sunday circulation, and among 8 that registered declines in daily circulation. In the second quarter alone, the Globe's Sunday circulation fell 4 percent, coming dangerously close to the 700,000 minimum on which advertising rates are based. And while revenues at the Times and its 21 regional newspapers were up more than 5 percent, the Globe was down 2 percent, and profits were an embarrassing 10 percent below the target set by the Times.
On the heels of these bottom-line financial setbacks came the humiliating and highly publicized allegations that two marquee writers, Patricia Smith and Mike Barnicle, had plagiarized and fabricated columns with a disturbing lack of scrutiny from editors. Ben Taylor, by now the publisher, was in the thick of things, thanks to noisy appeals on Barnicle's behalf by advertisers and the columnist himself. But Taylor was “a classic don't-bring-me-bad-news kind of guy,” one long-time associate said at the time. He and most around him seemed oblivious to one of the apparent sources of the scandals: that the paper's staunch liberalism had degenerated into identity politics, with Irish, African-American, and feminist columnists and editors protecting their competing fiefdoms. The resulting ideological jumble sometimes spilled over into the way the news was covered. The Times, for its part, seemed less and less inclined to continue watching from the sidelines. Times editorial page editor Howell Raines wrote scathingly about the way the Barnicle imbroglio was handled. Meanwhile, Bill Taylor had retired from the Times board of directors, and Arthur Sulzberger Jr. had taken over from his father as both publisher and chairman. In spite of his brief stint in the pressroom while at Tufts, Arthur Jr. had little patience for the way things seemed to be going at the Globe. “Seemed to,” because Times officials felt the Taylors were refusing to share information, thwarting every overture. But the circulation and advertising figures that were coming in alarmed them: They continued to go south. “Ben kept saying it would be okay,” one insider says. “But he had no plan.”
What happened next, “to a great degree, was a matter of style,” says a high-ranking Globe source. “It would probably not have happened if Punch Sulzberger and Bill Taylor had remained at the helm. They had a years-long, and very close, friendship. But [Arthur] Junior is of a much more direct character than his father was, and wanted to put his own stamp on things. He is a very decisive guy.”
And the younger Sulzberger had made his decision. He invited Ben Taylor to a meal at the Four Seasons in July and broke it to him face-to-face: Taylor was to be replaced. He had been fired from his own newspaper, though much was made of the fact that he would remain as chairman of the board.
“Ben Taylor has made many important contributions to the Globe during the past 27 years,” Sulzberger said then. “His experience and knowledge will be enormously valuable as we move forward.”
Almost no one noticed when Taylor was also quietly eased out as chairman, his only remaining Globe post, three months ago. The board appointed the new publisher, Richard Gilman, to succeed him.
In his own way, Richard Hays Gilman came young to the newspaper business. Gilman was not the scion of a publishing family. His father worked in the embryonic computer industry, moving his wife and children from suburban Detroit, to Georgia, and to Arizona. It was in a junior high school in Tucson that Gilman got his start, putting out a newspaper printed in blue ink on a hand-cranked mimeograph machine.
When he went on to Palo Verde High School, Gilman started yet another newspaper, because he was impatient to write but ineligible as a freshman to join the official Palo Verde Post. As an upperclassman, he wrote a sports column for the Post, and became a high school sports stringer for the Arizona Daily Star.
There was no doubt Gilman would go on to journalism school at the University of Arizona. But there was some question about how he would afford it. His father had died, and his mother was supporting his four brothers and sisters. So after working for the university newspaper as night editor for a year beginning in 1969, he accepted a full-time job as a reporter at the Arizona Daily Star.He was a sophomore at the time, continuing to take a full schedule of classes while working 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the paper covering the night police beat. It was an impressive feat; out of 300 journalism majors, one of Gilman's university instructor recalls, only three or four managed to land jobs with the local dailies.
“That was quite a thing for someone to do that as a student,” says Charlie Waters, executive editor at the Fresno Bee in California, who was two years ahead of Gilman at the university. “Even then, he was serious, very thoughtful, very directed, very talented. It was obvious that he wasgoing to be successful.”
“Serious” is a word that many of his friends and past coworkers use to describe Gilman. “Even when he was a sophomore in college, he acted like he was at least 40 years old,” says Steve Emerine, who taught Gilman as an instructor at the university and later worked with him at the Arizona Daily Star.
By most accounts, he was also a pretty good newsman. Gilman was a finalist for the William Randolph Hearst Award, the Pulitzer Prize of student journalism, three years straightÂ—not unprecedented, but rare, according to the sponsoring foundation. He came in seventh nationally in 1970, second in 1971, and first in 1972. A friend who visited Gilman at the New York Times noticed that the Hearst awards were hanging proudly in his office two decades later.
“It was obvious to me from the beginning that Rich was a star, as young as he was,” says Maria Parham, who started at the Arizona Daily Star around the same time. “He was really very serious about newspapers. He got promoted to assistant city editor before I had figured out how to find City Hall.”
In 1972, with fellow student David Carter, who also worked at the Arizona Daily Star, Gilman started a journalism review, a popular kind of independent watchdog of the press in that antiestablishment era. In this case, however, the two were less fanatic than pragmatic, persuading the journalism school to give them class credit for it. On the other hand, Carter and Gilman were risking their jobs at the newspaper, which would be a frequent target of their criticism.
The review was called The Pretentious Idea, which was what a scornful local editor had called the project when he heard about it. Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant agreed to draw the first cover: an illustration of two armadillos taking on a rhinoceros. “We read the Columbia Journalism Review, and we thought this was something that ought to be done in southern Arizona,” says Carter, now a property developer, who has been close to Gilman since high school. “It just seemed like a void that needed to be filled. Most of the professors were not keen about the idea. They just saw it as something that was going to cause them grief, but they reluctantly agreed to let us do it.”
The first issue criticized the local dailies for omitting from a prominent cattleman's obituary the fact that he had been accused of profiteering from a public land purchase. It denounced a new community center for spending $6,700 in tax money on a reception for journalistsÂ—$1,739 of it for liquor. It even rebuked the Arizona Daily Star for publishing news of Gilman's Hearst awards and prizes won by other of its own reporters, while ignoring similar honors accorded the rival Tucson Daily Citizen.
After graduation, Gilman continued full-time at the Arizona Daily Star. He remembers seeing an inmate being led out of the county jail one night bruised and bloody. “I asked what happened to him, and I didn't get a very good answer,” Gilman later told a student journalist. “So the next day, I pursued it with people at the county hospital and others who had been involved with him, and found that it was very apparent that the jailers had beaten the crap out of this guy.” The result, says Gilman, was one of his better news stories. One of his oddest came when, on the way from one murder scene to another, Gilman was stopped for speeding. “The cop walked up to the car, and he said, 'What do you think you're doing?'” he recalls. “And I said, 'Well, I'm between murders.'”
Working his way up, Gilman was made city editor at only 23. Reporters who worked for him remember him as thoughtful and deliberate. “There was a joke that you could never tell when Rich was finished talking to you because he took so long thinking things over,” says Parham. Adds Emerine: “He sometimes would irk me because he would want to have the reporter check one more thing, talk to one more person, make one more call. And he was usually right. He was cautious but supportive. If you were headed in the right direction, he would argue to get the resources and the time for you to get the job done.”
When Gilman served as city editor, colleagues recall, he pushed to put the daily news into perspective. Instead of running one- or two-paragraph briefs about individual convenience store holdups, for example, he would order up a longer piece, looking for patterns and trends among the incidents. “He saw stories where the rest of us didn't, and he was invariably right,” says James Kiser, now editorial page editor. “His news judgment was very sound. He knew what questions hadn't been answered.” Gilman continued to rise, winning a promotion to assistant managing editor in 1978. Around that time, the newspaper began investigating the athletic department at the University of Arizona, exposing apparent recruiting violations and ultimately winning a Pulitzer Prize in the process. This despite threats from local car dealers and other powerful local businesses to pull their advertising from the paper as a protest.
“The pressure to back down was tremendous,” says William Woestendiek, who bore the brunt of it as executive editor. “I'd go to breakfasts with bank presidents and political leaders who would tell me, 'You're going to ruin this university.'” As for GilmanÂ—who helped to supervise the projectÂ—as an alumnus of the university, Woestendiek says, “He got pressure I probably never even knew about.”
In 1981, Gilman left the paper and came to Cambridge to attend Harvard Business School. “I decided I wanted a say in all things about a newspaper,” says Gilman. “It's not an opportunity I had had up until that point. And the only way to gain credibility to participate in those discussions was to know what I was talking about.” Carter says Gilman “felt that he would not be taken seriously” without an MBA.
Raised in sunny Tucson, Gilman shivered through the cold New England winters, wearing gloves indoors at his desk. For two-thirds of his time at business school, Gilman says now, he intended to go back to reporting but ultimately decided to give the front office a try first. “I never wavered in my conviction that I was going to return to newspaper work,” he says. “But then I decided I needed to practice what I had learned for a while. Once I did that, it became difficult to jump back over the fence to the journalistic side. I guess I anticipated that editors would regard me as suspect because I had done something outside the newsroom.”
Gilman took his freshly minted MBA and joined the New York Times in 1983 as an assistant to the vice president of circulation. His sense of purpose served him well, too, as he rapidly worked his way up. He became the newspaper's first national edition circulation manager, helping boost Times sales while the Globe and other major dailies were hemorrhaging readers. In 1992, he was put in charge of all business and news computer technology, including new systems for processing advertising orders and laying out the paper electronically. Six months later, Gilman was appointed vice president for systems and technology, and oversaw the transition to a new production plant in Queens that allowed the daily edition of the “Gray Lady” to be printed in color for the first time. Within a year, he was senior vice president for operations; in 1998, oversight of the circulation department was added to his duties. Gilman had become the company troubleshooter, sent from one Times hot spot to another.
In July 1999, he was alerted to be ready for a trip to Boston.
Gilman wasn't exactly warmly welcomed by the Globe newsroom staffers waiting for him in the William O. Taylor Room, many of whom were reacting to the removal of Ben Taylor as if they were just learning for the first time that the Times had bought the Globe. Globe columnist Ellen Goodman said it felt like a hostile takeover. The reaction outside the paper was equally dramatic. The Christian Science Monitor story was headlined, “First Babe Ruth. Now the Boston Globe.” The New York press rubbed it in. “Times Can Now Circle the Globe,” said the New York Daily News. “Globe Insiders Brace for Boston Massacre,” screamed the New York Post.
Gilman says he was as surprised by the events as everybody else. “There was an awareness that the Globe was having a tough early part of the year,” he says. Days before the July 12 announcement, Gilman says, he was told only that “something might happen, and if I was willing to go, I should be ready to jump in.”
He still seems exasperated by the reception, where he found himself repeatedly forced to promise he had come alone. “I think the feeling on the part of the staff was that something was going to occur instantaneously, that hidden behind the door was a horde of other people, and clearly that was not the case,” says Gilman. “That was not our plan. There are no plans for wholesale changes today. There never were.”
Then again, that didn't stop Gilman from conveying his first impressions to his staff, namely that the paper's news coverage could be more sophisticated and that it has too many columnists. For now, he seems content to add staffers and sections, not subtract them. As Charles Taylor once tied his paper's fortunes to the rise of the immigrant Irish, Gilman hopes to do the same with a new wave of imigris drawn to Boston as a cradle of the new information economy. His hope is to attract new readers with such things as expanded coverage of technology, a strategy that saw the paper launch a bigger business section last month. “One of the missions we have set for ourselves is that we should excel in the areas in which the region excels, matching up the talents and focus of our staff with what makes Boston special,” Gilman says. “What we need to do is put together a series of strategies and programs that will be attractive to potential readers, or to infrequent readers, and each of those would have some circulation targets attached to them.”
Some of Gilman's work was done for him. The Taylors set in motion a Saturday bulldog edition of the Sunday paper, which was launched October 23. The objective: to increase Sunday circulation by about 23,000 copies. (Insiders say the net so far is a disappointing 10,000.) Major contract agreements with editorial, advertising, circulation, business, maintenance, and delivery employees also had been hammered out before Gilman arrived. Among other things, they won the Globe the right to hire lower-salaried, high-commission retail advertising salespeople and deliver more newspapers per truck. Even as Ben Taylor was being shown the door, advertising revenues were starting to go up, although they still fell short of goals. (Ad sales for the quarter ending December 31 rose 17 percent at the Globe, compared to 24 percent at the Times.)
There are also plans to expand the Sunday magazine and add a daily “zoned edition” that targets the western suburbs, wrapping hometown news inside the paper as West Weekly does on Sundays. The Times Company's acquisition of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in October opens the way for a “clustering strategy” under which the Globe could save money by collaborating with the Worcester paper on some operations or jointly selling advertising. “We recognize the attractiveness of all the activity that's going on along that [Interstate] 495 corridor,” says Gilman.
The Globe already has begun converting its presses to produce a paper that is an inch narrower, using less newsprint and ink and cutting costs, a measure already taken by the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and 150 other dailies. It has also started on its first graphic redesign in 10 years, with updated typography and better organization, addressing a long-standing and pronounced complaint of many readers. The changes will be launched with a marketing and public relations campaign beginning in September.
All these things together, Gilman is convinced, will save the Globe. But others question whether newspapers will survive at all. Bob Ingle, president of new media operations for the newspaper chain Knight Ridder, doesn't think they'll last 10 years. “Before too much longer it will be more cost-effective to give away electronic devices than to maintain circulation systems and departments,” Ingle, himself a former newspaper editor, told industry executives at a conference in December. “We'd all better keep an eye on the date when it no longer makes economic sense to make investments in press capacity.” This month, Knight Ridder will complete the creation of a separate business unit for its own local and regional Web sites, giving them managerial autonomy and financial independence from the rest of its newspaper division. Even the New York Times seems to be remaking itself into a sort of daily magazine, offering breadth and depth at a time when readers can get the news itself more quickly on the Internet.
The Globe, too, will adapt, its new publisher says. “A newspaper is like any business in the sense that it needs to constantly be innovating and changing or else it's going to fall into decline,” says Gilman. “I'm not judging anything going backward,” he says, sidestepping the question of whether its years-long circulation troubles mean the Globe became complacent. “But going forward, these are the things we need to do if we're going to remain a successful paper.”
Gilman also has been making overtures to civic leaders in private breakfast meetings and a dinner last month organized by members of the Globe's board of directors. Like the Taylors, he prefers to work behind the scenes, a characteristic that stands in contrast to the style of publishers such as the Herald's Patrick Purcell. “If I had the choice between being in the spotlight and not being in the spotlight, I'd prefer to avoid it,” says Gilman, who sweats through an interview and grimaces at questions about his personal history. “I do think there's a purpose to be served by being present in the community. I don't know if I could do it to the degree that Pat Purcell does, but I'm hoping that as things sort themselves out a bit, I'll be able to do more.”
Kevin Phelan, a civic leader and commercial real estate broker with Meredith & Grew, has met with Gilman over breakfast and calls him “an excellent listener. He knows the newspaper business backward and forward. But he's still walking on eggs about what Boston is all about. And Rich is not going to be able to say, 'Well, New York is going to make the decisions.' He's going to have to have his own sense of what the right civic obligations are.”
The Taylors, Phelan says, “were quiet but effective. You knew they were there. They put their time, energy, and money where their mouths were.” (They still do. Bill Taylor is a trustee of the Boston Public Library and a director of the Boston Public Library Foundation, Ben Taylor was named chairman of the United Way in January, and the family continues to practice philanthropy thanks to wealth that includes $298 million worth of New York Times stock.)
Phelan adds that Gilman “doesn't have to be on the stage, but he's going to have to be out there. That's a very delicate high-wire act. You can keep a low profile, but by dint of who he is and the pulpit he enjoys, and the economic muscle of the Globe in this community, he's going to have to step out to a degree.”
Even Globe reporters admit to disappointment that Gilman seldom stops by the newsroom, as Ben Taylor did most mornings. Gilman has had some involvement on the news side, reviewing editorialsÂ—including the Globe's endorsements of Al Gore and John McCain in the New Hampshire primaryÂ—”with, I suppose, the opportunity to object if I feel strongly, but that's not something that happens regularly.” Or he will return from his breakfasts on occasion with a story idea for Storin. “He's free to do with that what he sees fit,” says Gilman. “In some cases there are things he feels we have covered adequately already. It's his call.”
“My view of the role of a publisher is that he or she helps set the general tone and direction of the newspaper and that it's then left to the staff to determine the specifics of what the newspaper will do,” says Gilman. “So I participate to that degree, in both the business side and the editorial side of the newspaper. But the content of the newspaper is determined entirely by the editor and by the editor of the editorial page. My interest in that, as much as anything, is being sure we maintain the church-and-state separation and making sure that they are free to exercise their editorial freedom. I hope they see it the same way.”
In an era when few publishers have legitimate newsroom experience, some of Gilman's contemporaries see his journalism background as a major asset. “We should all be so blessed,” says Fresno Bee editor Charlie Water. “We talk the same language. That doesn't mean the publisher's always going to agree with the editor, but it does mean you start from the same place on the page.”
When the Los Angeles Times disclosed that its reporters had worked on a special section about the city's Staples Center without disclosing it was splitting the profits with the arena, “one of the most astonishing things was that the publisher came out and said. 'Gee. I didn't know that there was anything wrong with what I was doing,'” says the Arizona Daily Star's James Kiser. “A journalist does know.” (The Globe has admitted that, in 1995, before Gilman arrived, it published a guide to the FleetCenter under an arrangement through which the FleetCenter earned a commission on the sale of some advertising.)
“The people in New York are aware of my journalism background, and it certainly factored into their thinking as to my suitability to do this job,” says Gilman. “I hope it makes me a better publisher.”
Still, some observers thing the Globe needs more than a marketing strategy to lure back readers. “I can tell you in three words” Publish some news,” says one, Jon Klarfeld, a professor of journalism at Boston University and a former Herald media columnist who has been harshly critical of the Globe.
“Things like that bulldog edition, that's a step away from the news,” Klarfeld says. “Everybody in the business is reinventing things when they don't have to get reinvented. How are you going to beef up local news? Hire some reporters. Get some editors who understand the city. The strength of newspapers in the changing media landscape is that they have the ability to give their readers things they care about. And the farther away from that they go or the higher-sounding they make the task, the worse off they are.”
For his part, Gilman says he's bullish about the future of newspapers. “With the splintering fragmentation of the media that has occurred, we're all being given the means of pursuing just our own little individual interests,” he says. “But I think newspapers offer the means of providing glue for the community, of telling the general readership not just about the things they know they were interested in, but things they didn't know they were interested in, and that we all have in common.”
Meanwhile, Gilman says, he is settling in and preparing to move to his new office. And unlike his days Harvard Business School, he no longer feels the need to wear his gloves indoors. “I'm definitely acclimated now,” he says.