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Globe-al Anxiety
The Boston Globe is going through its biggest shake-up in 30 years. What will it mean for the paper, the editor, the remaining staff, and the city itself?
BY MARK JURKOWITZ
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ē Blood from a stone: The Boston arts community reacts to Globe buyouts. By Mark Jurkowitz.

There were more lumps of coal than holiday cheer at 135 Morrissey Boulevard this Christmas season.

The invitation to the Boston Globeís December 8 "Combination Christmas Party/Survivor Celebration" included the gallows-humor header: "Do We Ever Need a Party!" Editor Marty Baronís year-end congratulatory e-mail opened with its own somber greeting: "Iím tempted, probably like many of you, to say good riddance to 2005."

The proximate reason for the Yuletide pall was the wrenching round of company-mandated buyouts that claimed 32 newsroom jobs and ended the Boston Globe careers of some of the paperís most identifiable bylines. As the year wound down, life at the Globe was marked by a relentless succession of bittersweet going-away parties for departing colleagues.

The editorial reductions struck hardest in Living/Arts ó the features and arts section ó claiming four critics, and the 25-year-old Life at Home section. The National department ó which included an African-American editor, a roving reporter, and a New YorkĖbased staffer ó was dismantled as well, raising doubts about the ambition and reach of a shrunken Globe.

"Thereís a shock to the system anytime you have to do anything like this," says Globe publisher Richard Gilman.

But the visceral shock of the buyouts was compounded by deeply rooted fears at New Englandís most powerful media outlet. Those fears were magnified because the Globe had fallen victim to the classic ills of the modern media world: cuts dictated by the out-of-town conglomerate that owns one of Bostonís distinguishing institutions at a time when the newspaper business is hemorrhaging jobs, circulation, and self-confidence, and everything from Knight Ridderís empire to Pat Purcellís Boston Herald is up for grabs.

Floating atop that simmering stew of anxiety is the nagging question of whether Baron ó a smart, hard-working editor, but an uninspiring newsroom leader without strong people skills ó can rally the sagging troops at what is the most uncertain, uncomfortable, and unsettling moment for the Globe since Tom Winship turned it into a national force three decades ago. (Yes, that awful 1998 stretch when the paper lost columnists Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith after they were caught in journalistic sins was traumatic. But now, the very character and future of the paper seem to hang in the balance.)

Metro columnist Adrian Walker has endured three Globe buyouts. "This one was the most emotional and difficult," he says. "There is the most concern that we have long-term problems."

Another staffer describes the mood as "uncertain and nervous and worried. Itís a question of buckling our seatbelts for the bumpiest ride ever. This is where leadership needs to instill some confidence, some resolve."

CHANGING OF THE GUARD

Not only inside the building, but outside as well, word of the Globe cuts rattled nerves.

Writing about the departing arts contributors, WBUR art critic Bill Marx declared that "the strategy is clear ó gut the section of expensive senior voices, use freelancers who work cheap, play up pop culture features and push the anemic Sidekick." That brought a rebuttal from Globe arts editor Scott Heller, who referred to Marxís piece as a "tired and woefully misinformed broadside."

One Globe staffer recalls talking to a long-time contributor to the paper ó someone actually familiar with its inside workings ó who told him that the word in the community was not only that the Globe was curtailing arts coverage, but also closing its Washington bureau. (The National desk died, but the Washington operation is intact.) Suddenly, "Chicken Little" scenarios were cropping up.

For some, recent events at the Globe have an all-too-familiar ring. The Globe is at least as central to Bostonís DNA as the BSO, Harvard, and Mass General, and the paper now symbolizes the chopping up or shipping out of some of the regionís icons ó from Fileneís to the Red Sox to The Atlantic Monthly. The Globe cuts were an unhappy reminder that decisions crucial to the cityís civic life are being made in offices hundreds of miles away.

"I think itís a tricky time for Boston," declares one worried local arts official, discussing the paperís departing critics. "I think the paperís symptomatic of that.... Theyíre trying to reach a demographic [that is] reading things other than the newspaper.... Thereís an edict from the guys in New York."

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Issue Date: January 13 - 19, 2006
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