Editor Martin Baron Marks A Decade At The Boston Globe

By Emily Rooney

Sept. 16, 2011

Watch the video piece that aired on Sept. 15 on 'GBH's Greater Boston.

BOSTON — Over the summer The Boston Globe editor Marty Baron passed his ten-year mark at the helm of the newspaper. During that decade, The Globe has won five Pulitzer Prizes including one in 2002 awarded for the paper's investigation into clergy sexual abuse. The Globe has also changed its look and size and most recently, its web presence

Not A Short-Timer

When Marty Baron took over the reigns of The Boston Globe he was largely deemed to be a short-timer. He had come from The Miami Herald and speculation was he'd soon be headed to The New York Times.

Martin Baron, editor of The Boston Globe since July 2001. (via Greater Boston)

"I remember coming back from lunch when I was meeting people and one of my colleagues in the newsroom said, 'the word on you is you're two years and out.' And I've since reminded him his sources were wrong on that subject and I told him so at the time, that I would be here for quite some time," said Baron.

Under Baron's watch The Globe has won five Pulitzer Prizes. Most noteworthy, the Prize the paper took home for its dogged work on the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal.

"When I first came, before I even came, I was reading stories in The Globe about Father Geoghan and that he was alleged to have abused 80 children," recalled Baron. "It was an extraordinary story and I thought, what could be done with that? I read a column by Eileen McNamara who was a columnist for us at the time, who had said these documents were under seal and perhaps the truth would never be known."

But Baron was determined to keep at it. "It came up at my first news meeting here. I raised the question of what we could do, what more we could, and whether we could try to open these records."

Pushing The Envelope

Baron and his investigative team consulted with their lawyers and decided to push ahead with the story. Baron says they were trying to look at the abuses— and also to get a handle on the Archdiocese's responsibility and what it was doing to protect children.

The Globe's Spotlight Team broke the story wide open. A decade later, the Boston-born story has taken an international turn.

Detail of The Boston Globe's Spotlight Team's early coverage of the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal. (via Greater Boston)

"I still remained stunned that there are these cases coming out now, there are these raging controversies in Ireland and Germany and Italy and all sorts of places in Latin America. And there are still allegations that the church itself is covering up. You can see what's happening now in Philadelphia where there are indictments. And I think it's extraordinary that this story continues a decade after our first story — a big story for quite some time to come."

Over the years, The Boston Globe has published compelling investigative reports on state agencies like the Probation Department and powerful political figures like former House Speaker Sal DiMasi. "There's no one formula," said Baron. "I think our basic principle is that powerful people and powerful institutions should be held accountable."

Baron cited The Globe's work on the probation department, the Big Dig and and the investigation of Sal DiMasi that many say contributed to his indictment on corruption charges.

Baron has also been at the editorial helm of The Boston Globe during the worst decade in history for the print news business. The industry has been hit by layoffs, buyouts, a huge decline in ad revenue, and a loss of morale.

The Boston Globe front page from May 24, 2010 showing the Probation story. (via Greater Boston)

Changing With The Times

"We're in an industry that's been disrupted primarily by what's happened on the web in the way that other industries have been disrupted by what's happened on the web," he said.

But while the web brings new challenges to The Globe's business model, Baron said it brings new opportunities as well. "Undeniably [the web] has had a dramatic impact on us. It has affected the revenues that are available to support the journalism that we do…but it's also been a moment of great gratification. The reason I say that is because we now have an opportunity to tell stories in a way we've never been able to tell them before."

In fact, Baron said the web has given paper new tools to play with and has changed the way The Globe thinks of itself as a traditional newspaper.

The Boston Globe offices in Boston. (via Greater Boston)

"We're using video, we're doing updates throughout the course of a day, we're using social media tools. We are able to reach a larger, a far larger, group of people than we've ever been able to reach before. In the past we were putting out one, maybe two, newspapers in the course of a day. Now we're able to keep people up to date all the time," said Baron.

Of course, one of the toughest stories Baron had to cover over the years was the one about the paper itself, when The New York Times threatened to shut the paper down if it didn't come up with $20 million in savings.

"As far as The New York Times Company is concerned, they were dealing a very tough situation here at The Globe," said Baron. "We were losing money, we were losing lots of money. That was a situation that needed to be corrected."

"We needed to arrive a sustainable model for The Boston Globe. And I don't envy the position that they were in. It was certainly tough to be dealing in an environment where your parent company is asking major concessions of the employees who worked here, threatening a shutdown and putting you up for sale. Certainly it was a very difficult time."

While The Globe's fate was in limbo, Baron faced the daunting task of keeping the newspaper's staff focused on producing solid journalism, even while the security of their jobs was on the line. "It was very difficult and I'm not sure I kept morale up because morale took a hit for obvious reasons. Concessions were being asked of employees here and there was a threat of a shutdown and then we were up for sale, so it's very difficult in an environment like that to keep morale up."

The New York Times building in New York. (via Greater Boston)

Leadership In Hard Times

But with the threat of a shutdown looming, Baron said he tried to keep the staff focused on work at the same time understanding The Times Company had its own work to do. "What I wanted to do really was keep people focused on the work and also to understand the rationale for the kinds of concessions that were being asked and for the kind of sacrifice. And it was a real sacrifice being asked of employees here. Those were the two things to really understand what was going on."

The shutdown threat eventually passed, and Baron said today the paper is in a much better position.

"I think we've arrived at a good point," he said. "After a lot of pain, we did arrive at a good point for The Globe and we're on stable ground right now."

But the paper's financial problems revived the persistent issue of local ownership. Every few years, since the Taylor family sold the paper to The New York Times, a dream team of Bostonians' names circles as a possible local community group that will swoop in and buy the paper. But Baron said he does not give much thought to local ownership.

"I don't think about the good ole days," said Baron. "I think it's pointless to think about the good ole days. We're in a new era and our business has changed dramatically. I think people need to recognize that. [I'm] very comfortable with the kind of commitment that the New York Times company has made to this organization. Very happy with the quality of journalism that we're doing right now and I leave it up to others to decide."

'The Pursuit Of Excellence'

So does local ownership make a difference anymore? Baron said it's not as simple as yes or no.

"I've looked at this issue across the country and I see instances where local ownership is really good and I see instances where local ownership is really bad. I've seen instances — people used to talk about, is it public or private, is it good to be a public company or a private company? I've seen instances where public companies are really good for their local news organization and I've seen instances where public companies are really bad. I've seen private companies that are really good and private companies that are really bad," Baron said.

"I believe it's most important for us to be independent. That we are able to pursue whatever story we need to pursue without interference and that's certainly been the case here under New York Times company ownership."

Someone once made an observation about Marty Baron, that his motto is "the joyless pursuit of excellence." Has that changed?

"Maybe that's a motto that someone came up for me," laughed Baron. "I don't think that's…that's never been my motto. I think people should enjoy what they're doing. But certainly the pursuit of excellence. Absolutely."

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