The Inside Track on Purcell-Henry meeting

Owners of Boston’s two rival dailies explored “mutually beneficial" opportunities

Now don’t breathe a word of this. Because nobody’s supposed to know. But Pat Purcell, the publisher of the Boston Herald, sat down with John Henry at his Brookline mansion after the Red Sox owner bought the Boston Globe. According to Purcell, the owners of Boston’s two rival dailies explored whether there are things they could do together, things that would be “mutually beneficial.”

In a brief interview this week, Purcell provided few specifics about his conversation with Henry. But he did offer a general assessment of his fellow newspaper owner and also shared his current thinking about erecting an online paywall for Herald content.

Purcell and Henry already have a number of business connections. The Herald currently pays the Globe to print and distribute its newspapers. The Herald also reports on Henry’s Red Sox, one of the hottest stories in a sports-rabid town. So it’s not surprising that Purcell would want to take Henry’s pulse, to see if the Globe’s new owner has any business plans that might affect the Herald.

Purcell spoke to me this week after a panel discussion on the future of newspapers held at the Mintz Levin law firm. During that discussion, Stephen Mindich, who was forced by financial pressures to shut down the Boston Phoenix earlier this year, suggested that Henry was in over his head with the Globe. “I don’t think he has a clue about what he’s going to do,” Mindich said.

But Purcell disagrees. He said Henry doesn’t have all the answers yet for stabilizing the Globe’s finances, but seems committed to supporting an institution he believes is important to the city and the region. The Herald publisher guesses that Henry will probably move the Globe and redevelop the property on Morrissey Boulevard, just as Purcell sold the Herald’s plant in the South End and moved his news staff to much smaller office space in the Seaport area.

One hint that Henry may have plans to redevelop the Globe site came last week when Henry announced his intention to sell the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester but not the paper’s little-used Millbury printing plant. Many insiders believe Henry might try to consolidate the Globe’s printing operations in Millbury, which would open the way for the Globe property to be redeveloped. Purcell cautioned that moving the Globe’s printing operation from Dorchester to Millbury could be expensive and difficult logistically. In addition to the Herald, the Globe also prints the regional edition of the New York Times, most editions of the Telegram & Gazette, the Brockton Enterprise, and the Patriot Ledger.

Purcell is a very savvy businessman. Since buying the Herald in 1994, he has managed to keep the city’s No. 2 newspaper afloat (and profitable, he says) even as the news business has taken a dive. He doesn’t try to compete against the Globe as much as do what it doesn’t. He also is a master at keeping expenses down and courting advertisers.

Meet the Author

Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

He is now struggling with a big business decision, whether to start charging for online content. He said he tried charging for access to Herald columnists early last decade, but backed off after howls of protest from readers. He said five years ago that, if the Globe erected a paywall, the Herald would, too. But the Globe put up its paywall in October 2011, and Purcell still hasn’t budged. He said he fears the paper might lose more than it gains by charging for its online content.

“The whole pay wall thing is going to evolve,” he said. “I’m still not sure where that’s going to go.”