I have been asked repeatedly in recent weeks why I chose to buy the Globe. A few have posed the question in a tone of incredulity, as in, “Why would anyone purchase a newspaper these days?” But for the most part, people have offered their thanks and best wishes with a great deal of warmth. A number of civic and business leaders have also offered their help. I didn’t expect any of these reactions, but I should have.
Over the past two months I have learned just how deeply New Englanders value the Globe. It is the eyes and ears of the region in some ways, the heartbeat in many others. It is the gathering point not just for news and information, but for opinion, discussion, and ideas.
Truth is, I prefer to think that I have joined the Globe, not purchased it, because great institutions, public and private, have stewards, not owners. Stewardship carries obligations and responsibilities to citizens first and foremost — not to shareholders. This is especially true for news organizations. As the respected Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston once said, “Only one industry throughout America carries on its day-to-day business with the specific blessing of the Constitution.”
I invested in the Globe because I believe deeply in the future of this great community, and the Globe should play a vital role in determining that future. I invested in the Globe because it is one of the best and most important news organizations in the world. We saw this vividly in the days and weeks after the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, and we also see it in many other ways every day.
I didn’t get involved out of impulse. I began analyzing the plight of major American newspapers back in 2009, during the throes of the recession, when the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Company, considered shutting down the paper. As I studied the problems that beset the newspaper industry, I discovered a maddening irony: The Boston Globe, through the paper and its website, had more readers than at any time in its history. But journalism’s business model had become fundamentally flawed. Readers were flocking from the papers to the Internet, consuming expensive journalism for free. On the advertising front, print dollars were giving way to digital dimes. I decided that the challenges were too difficult, so I moved on.
Or, I should say, I tried to move on. I couldn’t shake off what I had come to admire about the Globe. I grew to believe that New England is a better place with a healthy, vibrant Globe. When the Times put the Globe up for sale this winter, I resumed my studies. I soon realized that one of the key things the paper needed in order to prosper was private, local ownership, passionate about its mission. And so decisions about The Boston Globe are now being made here in Boston. The obligation is now to readers and local residents, not to distant shareholders. This, ideally, will foster even bolder and more creative thinking throughout the organization, which is critical in an industry under so much stress.
I’m in this to make a difference, just like most of the people I have met in journalism.
How I arrived at this point
I have been driven by causes in almost every major endeavor in my life, beginning when I was a 16-year-old in Southern California where I wrote and published my own newspaper.
Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated during my first year of college. That summer, like so many other idealistic 18-year-olds, I offered my services to the upstart presidential campaign of Senator Eugene J. McCarthy.
I was assigned a difficult area for the senator — the South, where my father had a farm. I represented the senator at a meeting in Atlanta for the Coalition for an Open Convention. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley sent a telegram vowing a potential bloodbath if we bused in demonstrators to the Democratic National Convention, where Senator Hubert Humphrey was believed to have the nomination locked up. We simply weren’t going to be quiet.
It was heady stuff for a farmer’s kid just out of school. I strategized with civil rights leaders like Julian Bond and Allard K. Lowenstein, and played chess each evening with the charismatic Hosea Williams. By the time I reached Chicago that summer, I was a civil rights activist as much as a McCarthy operative.
Nevertheless, that convention, violent and demoralizing, disabused me of the notion that idealism was more important than hard and sometimes tedious work in pursuit of the right results. I retreated, literally and figuratively, back into what most of my friends thought was my primary talent at the time — writing and performing rock music. Continued...