Phillip Crawley is standing in his downtown Toronto office showing off the Globe and Mail of the future, which looks very much like the Globe and Mail of the present—only smaller and somewhat shinier. This is the 18-inch-wide by 21-inch-deep prototype of a new format slated for rollout in the fall of 2010. The Globe’s CEO and publisher is particularly stoked about the new capacity to run colour on coated stock where desired, reflected by the many mocked-up high-end ads, among them a full page for the jeweller Tiffany & Co., whose serene blue background portends a lucrative oasis in the parched advertising landscape. Finally, he says, the Globe will be able to offer advertisers heat-set colour with the timeliness of a daily 24-hour deadline, rather than the weeks required by magazines: “That’s a significant advantage.”
So captivated was Crawley by the technology that he signed an 18-year, $1.7-billion printing deal with Transcontinental Inc. in August 2008, minutes before the economic downturn decimated advertising sales and 24-hour news cycles were replaced by Tweets. In the current print media landscape the commitment seems a high-stakes gamble by the self-anointed “Canada’s National Newspaper”—either the 21st-century equivalent of investing in state-of-the-art buggy technology at the turn of the 20th century or a shrewd counterintuitive vision of how people will still want to read news two decades hence.
The news about newspapers of late has been bleak. Earlier this month, the New York Times Co., beset by losses, hired Goldman Sachs to sell the Boston Globe, which it acquired in 1993 for US$1.1 billion. The money-losing San Francisco Chronicle, with whom Transcontinental signed a 15-year printing contract in 2006, is on the brink of being shut down or sold. Respected outlets such as the 146-year-old Seattle Post Intelligencer and 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News have shifted operations completely online. In late May, the Newspaper Association of America gathered top executives in Chicago to share ideas about how to preserve traditions of newsgathering in a digital age. Last week, the association reported that newspapers are increasingly being read online, a platform they have yet to figure out how to monetize: the number of unique visitors to U.S. newspaper websites grew 10 per cent in the first three months of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008. (Similar statistics aren’t available for Canadian newspapers but anecdotal reports suggest a similar trend.)
In the essay “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” new-media thinker Clay Shirky lays out a compelling rationale for why newspapers as we know them are dying: “It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem,” Shirky writes.
Yet the British-born Crawley, a 64-year-old Fleet Street veteran, expresses confidence about the future of print printed on newsprint, even as the Globe looks into other delivery systems such as Kindle and e-editions. “But people don’t want to get it that way,” he says, a fact another industry veteran chalks up to inertia: “Newspapers still have forward momentum partly because baby boomers don’t want to change.” Of Shirky’s thesis, Crawley is dismissive: “There are a million experts out there. But not many models with a track record.”
As Crawley presents it, the Globe, the country’s ruling-class broadsheet of record, differs from many American papers. “I’ve said it to a lot of advertisers: don’t lump us together, we’re not all equal,” he says. What makes the Globe special, he avers, is its ability to deliver an affluent demographic to advertisers. That he attributes to the paper’s strong brand identity, stemming from its respected journalists and the fact it projects a world view through Canadian eyes via a phalanx of foreign correspondents, unlike many U.S. papers which cut back on bureaus and turned to syndicated copy. He boasts of the support of its parent CTVglobemedia, a private company whose stakeholders include BCE Inc. (15 per cent), Torstar Corporation (20 per cent), Ontario Teachers’ Plan Board (25 per cent), and the Woodbridge Company Limited, the private holding company for the billionaire Thomson family (40 per cent). Being partly owned by Canada’s richest clan, who also owns Thomson Reuters, is a strength, says Crawley: “These people have a track record on a global scale over decades.”
The paper’s circulation drop—to some 295,000 average on weekdays, and 369,000 on weekends, as of March 31, down markedly from five years ago—was deliberate, the publisher says, the result of putting an end to giveaway copies to hotels and airlines to boost circulation numbers, a legacy of the battle with the National Post. “We’re making twice as much money,” he says. Combining print and online, readership is larger than it has ever been, at 2.9 million a week. The paper’s fully paid subscription base remains steady, Crawley says: “That’s the gold standard.”
Still, the Globe’s venerable history dating back to 1844 hasn’t insulated it from industry malaise. Revenues have slid in key advertising niches: jobs and careers, real estate and automotive. The paper laid off 30 staff earlier this year, its first job cuts since the 1982 recession. Last weekend, its union almost unanimously rejected a proposed six-year contract that demands wage rollbacks for 30 per cent of staff, a week’s unpaid vacation, extended work hours without additional pay, a pension plan restructuring that would cut benefits by up to 50 per cent for future retirees, and the ability to reclassify jobs. A strike or lockout could take place at midnight June 30.
Crawley is known to thrive on such combat. When he arrived in Canada in 1998 as the Globe’s president and COO, his first task was to stave off the upstart Conrad Black-backed National Post. Named publisher and CEO in 1999, he travelled to the U.K. to recruit Fleet Street journalists to tart up the “Grey Lady of Front Street.” With him was then- editor-in-chief William Thorsell, unaware he was selecting his successor in Richard Addis. That skirmish is now long over, the Brits returned home, and the Post’s current owner, CanWest Global Communications, is scrambling to restructure its massive debt to avoid bankruptcy protection.
Now Crawley faces not mere war, but industry revolution, though he prefers the gentler term “turning point.” The paper can no longer depend on traditional sources of revenue, he says: “People who do that will go the way of the dodo.” For his reinforcements this time, he has looked not without but within, reflected in an unexpected management shakeup on May 25 that saw John Stackhouse, the editor of the Report on Business section, replace editor-in-chief Edward Greenspon, along with a repositioning of vice-presidents on the digital and Internet side.
A memo sent out to staff spoke vaguely of the need for “new skills and different styles of leadership.” Crawley refuses to discuss specifics, only to say the management shift was “to signal change; it wasn’t personal.” He appears vexed that there’s interest in the human dimension of the story, even though it provides a lens into the Globe’s politics and power structure. “It’s the besetting sin of the media that you personalize this and turn it into ‘It’s all about John Stackhouse and Eddie Greenspon,’ ” says Crawley. “But the nature of the announcement is to say this world is changing fast; every department is being restructured.”
Generally newspaper editors’ departures are not noteworthy outside of the newsroom: their lifespans tend to be slightly longer than hockey coaches. And the 52-year-old Greenspon, an owlish, earnest man who’d been with the Globe 23 years had a seven-year run: he’d worked as the London-based business correspondent, Ottawa bureau chief, Report on Business chief and founding editor of globeandmail.com before being named editor-in-chief. During his tenure he presided over “reimagination,” a much-ballyhooed rethink of the paper that yielded changes that didn’t threaten to revolutionize the medium: a business website and a “life” section providing parenting and relationship columns and workplace dress advice.
His ouster became a chattering-class talking point because of its sudden, abrupt aspect, decoded within the Globe’s Kremlinology as a signal of how tough Crawley can be—coincident with the outset of union negotiations.
Only the week previously Greenspon had proudly rolled out a redesigned globeandmail.com, and starred in an online video introducing the Web team. At the National Newspaper Awards in Montreal the previous Friday, attended by Crawley and Greenspon, the mood was buoyant as the paper won six awards. The following Monday morning, Crawley met with Greenspon in the editor’s office; within the hour, Greenspon was walking out the front door, carrying his briefcase and another bag bulging with paper, visibly upset. Absent was the soft landing provided Thorsell, who remained at the paper running the editorial page until he was appointed CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum.
Praise for Greenspon’s contributions was scant in the memo Crawley sent out to staff. He’s equally circumspect in conversation: “Eddie had been a very good editor for seven years and he and I had many conversations over the years and he knew that editors come and go. It was time for a change.”
Tensions had been building, says a Greenspon friend. (Greenspon did not respond to Maclean’s requests for an interview.) “Phillip was becoming more intrusive in the newsroom. Ed was finding himself a little more cramped. They clashed more.” There were public fissures—the overwrought hubbub over Greenspon’s cancellation of the paper’s Queen’s Park column written by Murray Campbell being one. Campbell, a 31-year-old Globe veteran, was told that the seven-year-old column, a dutiful must-read among Ontario government bureaucrats, was being cut due to reduced space, and he was being reassigned to feature writing; a Queen’s Park reporter remained. Premier Dalton McGuinty, upset over dwindling media coverage, privately appealed to management to reconsider. John Tory, the former provincial Progressive Conservative leader and son of John Tory Sr., a long-time Thomson family lawyer and confidant, used his farewell news conference to upbraid the Globe for the decision. Displeased, Campbell quit, taking a position with the Ontario Power Authority. At his Queen’s Park farewell in early April, senior Globe editors were absent, observes a political insider. The fact Crawley showed up with his wife and stayed from the beginning to the end was viewed as signalling his disapproval with the decision. Crawley says a new Queen’s Park columnist will be named soon: “It has always been the plan to replace Murray Campbell after he resigned.”
Insiders say Crawley was also displeased with Greenspon for sending an open letter to Oliphant commission counsel Richard Wolson that refuted former Prime Minister Mulroney’s claim that the Globe had spiked a 2003 story that would have put his dealings with Schreiber in a more positive light. “That’s something a publisher should have done,” says someone close to the situation.
Greenspon’s apparent ambition to succeed him as publisher is also believed to have irked Crawley. “Phillip has a very strong sense of his own dignity,” says a former colleague. “He would think it was unseemly and degrading to him to have someone jockeying for the position while he’s in the seat.” Asked when his contract ends, Crawley bristles: “You don’t tell people what the exit date is,” he says.
Crawley’s strategic cunning is so legendary, it’s been suggested that’s what is at play here. “Sometimes when you want to show your bosses you’re still up to the task you replace the people underneath you,” says a former colleague. “If you’re Phillip and you want to protect yourself, getting a new editor, particularly one who’s not that well known, who will need Phillip’s guidance—it’s not a stupid thing to do.”
If Greenspon’s sudden eviction came as a surprise, Stackhouse’s ascension did not. The 20-year Globe veteran, known for his intensity and gruelling work ethic, was regarded as the heir apparent even before being named ROB editor in 2004. Born and raised in Toronto, the Queen’s University commerce graduate joined the Report on Business magazine as a writer in 1989, then covered development issues while based in New Delhi between 1992 and 1998 with his wife, the photographer Cindy Andrew. Back in Canada, he proved himself talented and flexible, as foreign editor, national editor, and winner of a record number of NNAs, including one for a diary of hitchhiking across Canada, which became the basis of his book Timbit Nation.
Richard Addis, now running a media consulting company in London, says Stackhouse would have been his choice to succeed him back in 2002, though he had “less than zero” say at the time. “He’s a superb writer, so he’ll promote good writing; more than anything that’s what editors have to do now,” says Addis. He describes the 46-year-old as “almost insanely brave,” noting: “He has convictions and will fight for them; he can be really stubborn; he won’t do things because he’s being bullied by the management board.” He has gravitas, he adds: “He’s not a flibbertigibbet.”
That was evident at the town hall convened the day of his appointment, at which Stackhouse told the staff he wanted stories that were “accessible and consequential.” In an email declining Maclean’s request for an interview, he said he’d prefer to wait until later in the summer to talk, “once I have the management team reorganized and laid out a more detailed strategy for staff.” And, he noted: “We have some ambitious plans.” Those include recasting the “Globe and Mail newspaper” to the “Globe and Mail news organization across various platforms,” says a CTVglobemedia insider: “Eddie was useful in calming the newsroom after Addis; John will take us where we have to go.”
That is uncharted territory. As Shirky points out, “There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the Internet just broke.” Crawley speaks of Stackhouse pushing for the paper to be more “authoritative,” a word that could also describe his management style. Three days after his appointment, the new editor flew to Ottawa to tell the bureau he wanted it to concentrate more on policy and governance, less on partisan feuding or gossip. Last week, a senior official in the PMO marvelled that a Globe reporter called to check a fact, noting: “That has never happened before.”
Within the Globe, there’s some skepticism real change is under way. “If you want fundamental change you don’t get people who have been working at the paper for decades,” says one staffer. Stackhouse is not known as a Web evangelist, though his supervision of the revamp of Globeinvestor.com, a 10-year-old site that provides investment news and portfolio tracking tools, clearly impressed Crawley. The 18-month project proved him skilled at working across departments, or, as Crawley puts it, “cross-functional business initiatives,” another future model. The site met its April launch deadline, though there was internal griping that it was rushed out before kinks had been worked out. Crawley points to Globeinvestor.com, along with the job site Workopolis.com and used-car site AutoHound.com, in which the Globe is partnered, as potential revenue generators.
But the former journalist also knows the Globe’s brand is based on the quality of its news and commentary, not its ability to sell used cars. He speaks of a fresh two-pronged approach: at one end, Angus Frame, newly minted VP of digital, working on the technical business solutions; at the other end, says Crawley, is Stackhouse, “whose prime focus is the creation of best quality content as well as figuring out how to deliver that content across a number of platforms.”
All of this talk about “content” and “platforms,” of course, blurs the fact that the task of a newspaper remains much as it has always been, even more so in an age in which news quickly becomes old: to provide a vital and engaging link to the wider world by creating news itself. And in this regard, the Globe is being newly nipped by the Toronto Star, revitalized under editor Michael Cooke, who arrived from the Chicago Sun-Times in March. The Star broke the Ruby Dhalla nanny scandal and recently ran a world exclusive interview with the Uighur Guantánamo detainees who were resettled in Bermuda. The paper’s also aggressively poaching talent: last week it announced Jennifer Wells, a recent NNA winner, is returning from the Globe. Cooke, who ran full-page ads making hay of Campbell’s departure, is gunning for a fight: “Phillip Crawley is a tough newspaperman who’s old school. I respect him immensely. But he’s not going to take this sitting down.”
The digital revolution presents exciting possibilities for journalism, says Wayne MacPhail, a former print journalist and board member of rabble.ca who has developed online content for Canadian corporations. He is less optimistic about the future of the traditional newsroom. Newspapers have been warned for more than 15 years about the Internet and did nothing, he says: “It wasn’t that they were blindsided; it’s more like they were data blind in the Thomas Kuhn sense of not seeing data outside of your paradigm.” MacPhail believes the Globe is doing one of the best jobs in Canada online, primarily because of Mathew Ingram, the paper’s communities editor. But he’s skeptical that the paper, like others, understands the innovation required to have a successful Web presence. It’s not enough to reproduce a newspaper online, he points out. “They’re trying to wedge old business models that should be retired into a new social media framework.”
The old competitive Fleet Street newspaper model is archaic in the digital age, MacPhail says, citing the unwillingness of newspaper websites to link to one another’s stories. “That’s heartbreakingly stupid, so opposite the ethic and spirit of the Web.” These habits are entrenched: the Globe downplayed the Ruby Dhalla story for days because the Star got there first. The question of whether to charge for website content is another topic that reveals an old school/new school divide. Rupert Murdoch, the CEO of News Corporation, says yes, as does Crawley. Naysayers believe newspapers need to figure out how to build relationships with readers who don’t normally come to the site, and then monetize that—the successful example being the Guardian in the U.K., which provides all of its content for free, provided the newspaper is credited. It makes its money from the embedded advertising.
MacPhail blames an entrenched institutional arrogance. “Unlike the best Web-based organs, the Globe is burdened with historical, emotional, attitudinal and infrastructure baggage,” he says. To his credit, Crawley has tried to break through this. A former Globe senior editor recalls the publisher bringing in one of the authors of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns to speak in the spring of 2004. It was the hot management book then, arguing that market leaders don’t have the peripheral vision to see change, and even when they do, they can’t respond to it because they’re locked in structurally. That provides an opportunity for upstarts to work their way up from bottom end niches, the classic example being Japanese carmakers in North America. One person at the Globe seminar asked if any leading company had successfully recast its own enterprise. The answer was none. “It’s like the lobster in the pot,” says the former employee. “You don’t know what’s coming and you’re done. It happens in degrees.”
Geoff Beattie, chairman of CTVglobemedia and president of Woodbridge, is optimistic about the Globe’s ability to reinvent itself amid revolutionary change, but believes radical change is required. The industry has drifted too much into the business of entertaining at the expense of informing, Beattie says. A fundamental, profound shift in the way newspapers regard revenue stream is necessary: “We have to see the reader as the customer, rather than the advertiser as the customer,” he says, citing the Economist and the Financial Times as must-read brands that have figured out the formula. Whether Phillip Crawley’s ad-friendly Globe and Mail of the future will find its way onto that list remains a newsworthy work in progress.