Many moons ago, when my hair was still black and Ronald Reagan was still president, Rupert Murdoch saved the Boston Herald by buying it.
A group of young turks was hired to reverse the tabloid’s sinking fortunes, and soon the newsroom was swimming in talent and enthusiasm. It launched the Boston careers of some of the more enduring figures in the local newspaper game: Frank Phillips, Brian Mooney, Shelley Murphy, Andy Gully, Matt Carroll, Joe Sciacca, Gayle Fee.
By the time I arrived, the newsroom was buzzing with energy and idealism. The only downside was watching the holdovers from the old regime depart, almost like exiles. One of them was Harold Banks, a real old-school newsman and something of a legend.
When he returned to the newsroom for the last few times, to finalize his retirement, Banks took pity on me, a clueless kid trying to find his way around the city. He offered a few tips, gave me a few names and numbers.
“Well, kid,” he said one evening, as he stood to leave for the last time, “good luck.”
I stood and almost bowed in reverence. I told him he was a role model and a gentleman.
“You didn’t have to help a nobody like me,” I said, shaking his hand. “Thank you, sir.”
“Why wouldn’t I help a nice kid named Cohen,” he said.
I sheepishly corrected him, telling him my name is Cullen.
Harold Banks stared blankly for a moment. Then he threw his jacket over one of his shoulders, put a comforting hand on one of mine, leaned toward my ear and said in a stage whisper, “Sorry, kid. Wrong tribe.”
And then he went home.
Newspapers are living, breathing organisms. Like all living things, they change with time. They change owners. They change personnel. For 20 years, this newspaper has been owned by The New York Times. That is about to change.
It’s just one more of many changes in this newspaper, in this business, in this city. It was always something of an odd fit. New York and Boston are different animals. They speak different languages.
But being owned by those who represent the gold standard in journalism does have its advantages. There’s no question the Times Co. forced cuts, but the cuts were nowhere as deep as at other papers in other parts of the country. The Globe retains a newsroom with considerable resources and talent.
A few years ago, when the Times threatened to shut us down unless we gave them back a ton of money, what bothered us as much as the threat was that no one in Manhattan had the decency to take the train up to tell us in person.
But, in the end, this is a business. It’s a noble business. When done right, it can do more than entertain and inform; it can change things for the better. But it’s still a business.
The change that is coming is about business, not journalism. As for the delightfully delusional people who see a change of ownership as a death sentence, the natural consequence of the Globe being part of the vast left-wing conspiracy, please, sit back, crack another cold one and adjust your tinfoil hats. Ask Sal DiMasi, John Tierney, and Mike McLaughlin, just recent examples, if they think the Globe goes easy on Democrats.
The Globe isn’t going anywhere. It’s changing owners.
Who knows, maybe Sir Rupert will throw his hat in the ring. Stranger things have happened.
Years ago, when Murdoch considered buying Newsday, I asked my pal Breslin what he thought about working for the guy who owned the gleefully right-wing New York Post.
“Does he pay?” Jimmy Breslin said. “If he pays, he’s a good boss. If he doesn’t pay, he’s not a good boss.”