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150 years and counting: A note from Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory

Reflecting on the work of earlier generations of journalists, and the work still to come.

Globe staff

A few years ago, and by years I really mean decades, the Globe had an obituary writer who lacked even the slightest semblance of charm and empathy — shortcomings he did nothing to mask when talking to grieving families of the recently deceased. Inevitably, justifiably, people complained. When an editor approached him with the wild notion of perhaps extending condolences to teary widowers, the obituary writer delivered a cold-eyed declaration: “I will not coddle the bereaved.”

I bring this up not in the way of penance, though perhaps I should, or even to set the stage for a genre column about the eccentric characters that make newsrooms such magical places. Rather, this obit writer is yet another reminder of the many moving, disparate, and often eclectic parts that go into producing The Boston Globe. That hasn’t changed in a century and a half.

The Globe has about 250 staffers in its newsroom and on the editorial pages, everyone good at something different. The morning starts early with reporters, producers, and editors who are experts in breaking news. Beat reporters arrive in the next wave, specialists in everything from public transit to professional football to Capitol Hill. They burn phone lines, knock on doors, launch e-mails, haunt news conferences. Our data reporters decipher thick sets of numbers. Our graphic artists make sense of it all. Our photographers and videographers are seemingly everywhere. Our investigative reporters dig fresh ditches. The night brings reporters and critics to the press box at Fenway Park and the seats of Symphony Hall. While a columnist is refining the ideal argument, our dining critic might be across town lighting into a bowl of lobster bisque. All along, our producers keep the reporting flowing to our website. Editors, designers, and copy editors bring it all together for the next morning’s print edition. And then it starts anew.

You’re not meant to see any of that, but when it all works, which it usually does, it’s something to behold. And though the way we deliver the news has expanded far beyond newsprint, the Globe you’re reading today is in no small way successful because of the Globe of generations past.

Put another way, trust is not transactional. Credibility is never earned on the spot. Our currency, this relationship with our readers, has roots that run strong and deep. The work we produce today, next week, and next year is vital and relevant because of the work of journalists who came a decade or a century before.

There’s one more aspect to it that keeps coming to mind lately, and it is this: The Globe was always meant to be different, something that remains true to this day. In the late 1800s, it was among the nation’s first papers to cover sports. It was the first in Boston to have so-called social pages designed to broaden its readership beyond men. It was among the first to have comics to appeal to younger readers. It published serialized novels and poetry.

In other words, it respected its readership — not just the readers it had, but the readers it wanted to attract. In serving them, the Globe didn’t just report what happened, but it explored how and asked why.

That mission continues all these decades later. The Globe has always been at its best when it gives voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise be heard and holds powerful people and institutions to account.

As we mark 150 years, we are many things — proud of where we’ve been, grateful for the readers we have, excited about where the Globe will go. These 150 years aren’t merely a milestone to celebrate, but a foundation to appreciate. And to build on.