But then fate turned. I found out that Balboni, a legend in Boston broadcast journalism, had been developing a similar idea, one he had nurtured for more than thirty-five years, to create a collaborative for foreign correspondents, but not as a nonprofit. Phil had already put together a convincing prospectus for investors, one with a clear business plan and modest projections for revenue, built around a confident assessment that ad dollars were shifting from print and TV to the Web. I loved a part of his plan that allowed for the correspondents to own shares in the company, which meant they would be vested in its success.
Perhaps most importantly, it was written with a philosophy that I had come to respect: quality journalism has value and it needs to be paid for. Great, independent journalism should be self-sustaining. I realized I was in the presence of a rare entrepreneur: a journalist with a strong business sense and a track record. Balboni had founded the New England Cable News (NECN), and his success there had led to several key investors who were already on board. We met and combined our editorial visions into a single plan. A partnership was taking shape, and I was excited about the possibility of creating a new news organization.
Newsrooms, I believe, have a tendency to crush the entrepreneurial spirit, and those of us who love the business should resist that part of the culture. Yet every time I felt the entrepreneurial urge, I reminded myself that I had a family to think about. I was at a crossroads, unable to sleep. The buyout offer was pending. I had to decide.
The moment of clarity came thanks to my wife, Julie. In the middle of a sleepless night, she said, “For ten years, you have been getting shot at in war zones for a living. So why are you so afraid of taking a risk when it comes to your own career? You’ve got to do what you love.” The next morning, I worked out the final terms of a deal with Phil, and I signed the buyout papers on St. Patrick’s Day.
On my last morning at The Boston Globe, as I walked past its glorious fleet of green delivery trucks, I was sad, and took in all the things I love about the paper. The biggest part was the chatter with colleagues who know how to tell a great story, who know precisely how and when to give you a hard time, and who could make you laugh even on a bad day. I had it out a few times with some editors, but I knew I would miss the old-school types who loved the craft and had great respect for the tradition of the paper and its place in the city.
I savored one memorable sound from the newsroom in particular—the thud of the huge rolls of newsprint hitting the cement loading docks. It shook the newsroom just a bit on Thursdays before the big Sunday run. To me, this was the sound of a big city newspaper, the heft of it all.
I didn’t know it then, but as we were building this start-up, two statistical lines were crossing. Print newspaper readership was trending downward and being surpassed by the rising number of those who got their news online, according to a Pew Research Center report that would be published in December 2008. We could all feel the trend advancing even if we didn’t yet have the facts. And that’s why on that last day of work, the wondrous thud of the newsprint hitting the docks seemed more ominous, like thunder. And the news of the industry since I left has been devastating. More newspapers have had layoffs, the Minneapolis Star Tribune went bankrupt and The Christian Science Monitor ceased its daily print edition; the Globe is staring down the barrel of more buyouts and likely layoffs.