Can Aaron Kushner Save the Globe?

Aaron Kushner, the former CEO of a small South Shore greeting-card company, has a top-secret cure for the dying newspaper industry. And he plans to put it to the test by buying the Boston Globe.

WHATEVER DIFFICULTIES KUSHNER may have faced in the greeting-card business, he sees nothing but promise in the newspaper industry. That said, papers everywhere are shedding jobs. Globe editor Marty Baron tells me his paper is down to 345 staffers these days, about 40 percent fewer than the 550 it had in 2000.

As the Bristol Lounge grows quieter in the interim between late-morning coffee and lunch, however, Kushner is undaunted. Leaning forward, he says he’s going to increase staffing in the Globe newsroom. “Our plan is a very contrarian plan,” he says. “If you want to grow a business, you have to invest in that business; especially when it is at a weak point, you cannot cut your way to growth.” Where will the money for all this expansion come from? Kushner won’t say.

I change the subject and ask how he envisions editorial decisions being made at the paper. Would he, as owner, sign an agreement not to get involved in editorial? “I’m not sure why,” he says, speaking forcefully. “I actually think it’s unhealthy. If you don’t care enough about your product to have an opinion of it, why are you even in the business?” When I suggest that most credible newspapers maintain a sacrosanct wall between the business and editorial sides of the paper, his voice carries across the quiet room. “I think the existing editors have fabulous judgment,” he says. “It’s not a question of their judgment or their abilities…. But does that mean that I’m not going to care equally deeply and be very much engaged? Of course [I will]. As will our investors.”

Those ideas seem to me a departure from how reputable newspapers have generally operated. But Marty Baron doesn’t seem concerned. “I don’t know a single publisher or owner who’s totally disengaged from the editorial side of the business,” he says. “…So, it’s part of the business.”

BECAUSE HE WON’T SHARE DETAILS of his plan, it’s hard to know what Kushner has up his sleeve.

But as Dan Kennedy, a media observer and journalism professor at Northeastern, told me, the Times Company is not going to hand over the paper to just anyone. “People in the position to know have told me that back in ’09, the only person in ownership who really opposed selling the Globe was Arthur Sulzberger himself,” Kennedy says. “He really did not want it to be his family’s legacy that they had ruined the Globe. My guess is it still matters to them what sort of intentions the new owner would have for the paper.”

It seems that if Jack Connors, Jack Welch, and a multitude of others from the local power cluster weren’t able to convince the Times Company to sell to them, then an unknown former greeting-card executive has an even slimmer chance. (Abbe Serphos, spokesperson for the Times Company, says, “We do not comment on rumors of acquisitions or divestitures.”)