Top of Mind: Mike Barnicle
Burnett: Giving you a tip, or pitching you for a piece. So the material would be there, clearly. Back to the newspaper industry, because you’ve got strong opinions about it, and I thought your comments were particularly relevant to the Globe… What should it be? If someone said to you, “Here’s the keys,” what do you do?
Barnicle: I don’t know if I would be doing a whole lot of things differently than what they’re doing right now. I think Marty Baron is a terrific newspaper editor. It’s a struggle each and every day to put that product out, given the diminishing resources, given the lack of energy that exists around the entire industry, given the cutbacks. I don’t know that I would be doing anything a whole lot differently. It’s still a pretty good looking paper. We get it in New York at 6 o’clock in the morning. Good-looking paper today. I have no idea how many people are in that newsroom today, but I’ll bet you it’s less than half the people who were in the newsroom 10 years ago. So, finding people who can write now, maybe a couple of stories a day, as opposed to a 10-15 years ago, people who would take 3-4 days to write one story. That’s tough. It’s a tough job.
I might try to beef it up with a little more humor. I might actually go over to the Lampoon and hire a couple of kids and have a “funny thing happened to me yesterday” page. Because at some point, if you don’t start attracting people your age to look at the paper, to buy the paper, then it is going to disappear, and it is going to only be online. So you have to keep thinking about ways to get new readers. And I’m not talking about 52-year-old guys who moved here from Battle Creek, Michigan. I’m talking about kids who go to school here, who might pick it up for the sports page, and eventually stay here, maybe live here, to get them to keep buying the printed product.
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.
Burnett: The question that’s relevant here I guess is how you feel about it. Is it the Times Company coming in and being corporate raiders of a kind? The Taylor family [the Globe’s founding owners] being greedy at the time, not anticipating where this would go? How it’s been diminished, now it’s a satellite.
Barnicle: I never sat around the table with the Taylor family and the [then co-owning] Jordan Trust, so I don’t know what pressures were brought to bear upon [former publisher] Bill Taylor to sell that paper. I understand it was pretty complex, with certain members of the family wanting to get out of the newspaper business. I think the Times bought the paper with the best of intentions, obviously. They’re a great newspaper company. Think about it, it was 1993, we might as well be talking about.
Burnett: It certainly feels that way: different era, different era. Do you have a relationship with the family at all?
Barnicle: With the Taylors? Yeah. I used to see [former publisher] Ben Taylor. I haven’t seen him in several months. Bill Taylor I never see.