Doug Franklin, a former door-to-door newspaper subscription salesman who later served as publisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and chief financial officer of media conglomerate Cox Enterprises, will become the new chief executive of The Boston Globe.
Franklin on Jan. 1 will replace Mike Sheehan as CEO of New England’s largest news operation, said Globe owner and publisher John W. Henry. Franklin, 59, who currently lives in Sarasota, Fla., was chosen after a 10-month national search.
He will take the reins of the Globe at a perilous time for the news business nationwide, with print advertising and revenue in decline and the industry racing to reinvent itself to match the changing habits of its readers.
“Doug has experienced virtually every challenge our industry faces today — and succeeded at every turn,” said Henry, who has owned the Globe since 2013, in a memo to staff circulated Thursday. “As I’ve gotten to know Doug over the past few months, I’ve come to understand that he is fearless, energetic, articulate, and passionate in his desire to help the Globe achieve our long-term goal of creating a sustainable business model for high-level journalism.”
Franklin, in a telephone interview Thursday, said he was enthusiastic about the work and is “more bullish now about the pathway forward than I was 10 years ago,” despite ongoing headwinds for the news business.
“There are no silver bullets for the industry, but quality storytelling and great journalism tied to the subscription model has promise,” he said. Franklin said the Globe would remain an important forum for Globe advertisers to reach their customers.
Sheehan, 56, is the former chief executive of advertising giant Hill Holliday, whom Henry tapped to be the newspaper’s CEO in January 2014. Known for his genial manners and deep connections in the community, he has overseen the establishment of the Globe’s new print operation in Taunton and laid the plans to move the newsroom next year to downtown Boston, from its current home on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester. It was commonly known within the Globe for several months that Sheehan would depart, by his choice, at the end of his original three-year agreement, and he played a key role in the search for his successor.
Sheehan said in an interview that he plans to refocus his attention on his own businesses and his positions on corporate boards. “It’s been an honor to have done this job,” he said. He said he will treasure the “high-impact journalism” the Globe produced during his tenure, including work that was honored with three Pulitzer Prizes. And, he said, he takes enormous satisfaction from the Globe’s new printing plant, which is forecast to save millions of dollars. “It’s very rare in business when you can improve the product and save money at the same time.”
Henry said Sheehan “understands the vital role the Globe plays in the region, and he vigorously promotes our mission throughout the business community every day. In fact, of all the things I’ve grown to admire about Mike, that might be what I admire most.”
“But beyond his devotion to the mission of journalism in our community, he has for many years been the ideal ambassador for many organizations in Boston,” Henry said. “He is deeply respected within the business community and has been one of the most important behind-the-scenes individuals in the charitable sector.”
Globe editor Brian McGrory called Sheehan a “model human being and deeply effective leader” who also pulled his weight when it came to digging out news stories. “I probably shouldn’t say it, but he’s one of our biggest sources of tips,” McGrory said. “Everyone thinks he’s a choir boy, and they tell him everything. He’s actually a sieve, thank God, and the Globe is better for it.”
After a 38-year career at Cox, an $18 billion, Atlanta-based company with 50,000 employees, Franklin retired in 2015 as executive vice president and chief financial officer. He is a former newspaper publisher who oversaw four Ohio newspapers, including The Dayton Daily News from 2004 to 2008. He served as publisher of The Palm Beach Post and became The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s publisher in 2009.
Franklin’s favorite job, he said in Thursday’s interview, was president of Cox Media Group, a $2 billion enterprise with 10,000 employees. “I led a lot of talented people in journalism and sales in a variety of platforms.”
A friend who learned of the Globe CEO search suggested to Franklin earlier this year that he would be a good fit. Franklin was not looking for work at the time, though he acknowledged “retirement is pretty boring. . . . I don’t have to work; I like to work.”
Sheehan said Franklin earned the job because he is deeply experienced in the business and “a good cultural fit” for the Globe. “He’s passionate about the mission and believes it can be done; that the business can achieve sustainability.”
The path to sustainability — the ability to make enough money to pay for the news operation without looming fears of continuing cutbacks — has bedeviled newspapers for more than a decade. The Globe has experienced cuts in the newsroom and across the operation, both under Henry and under the paper’s prior owner, The New York Times.
Positioning the institution so it can sustain itself has been Henry’s driving goal — and will be one of Franklin’s core missions.
“Doug’s responsibilities at the Globe will include all business aspects, including production as well as the newsroom,” Henry said in the memo to staff. “He knows that we have made many tough decisions over the past few years, and there are undoubtedly more to come in an industry that is still coming to terms with massive, continuous changes in advertising and delivery — both in print and digitally. We have no choice but to succeed, and we will. This vibrant region depends on it.”
Franklin said he views his role as “a champion” for the paper, its employees, and its journalism. He intends to “get senior management aligned and speaking with one voice,” and to “find ways to take advantage of all the exploding platforms out there” to deliver news and provide audiences to advertisers. And he said the Globe will “protect our content.”
The incoming CEO describes himself as a huge sports fan, though having moved around a lot as a military brat in his youth, he is not supremely loyal to any professional teams. He said he is looking forward to attending games in Boston. He and his wife will be relocating soon, most likely to someplace near the Globe’s planned new headquarters at 53 State St. “My timing as far as the weather goes is probably not top-notch,” he said from balmy Florida. Franklin said he has not spent extensive time in Boston and acknowledged he has much to learn about the city and its culture.
“I enjoy a challenge,” he said, “and I think I can make a difference.”