1209 John Henry
John Henry was a steel-drivin’ man. That’s the John Henry of the folksong. Modern technology in the form of a steam drill threatens to overtake and superannuate his hand work, but he wins a drilling contest to the joy of his friends, family, fellow steelworkers and hundreds of guitar pickers.
The modern John Henry is a businessman. He owns the Red Sox baseball team of Boston and soon also the Globe newspaper of the same town.
In baseball, he is both the hand worker and the steam drill. Let’s see what he can do with one of America’s few remaining great newspapers which he bought from the New York Times at a firesale price, $70 million.
The Times spent more than one billion dollars to buy the Globe 20 years ago. Talk about discounts! Still, 70 million is a lot of loot to put into something that old fashioned and in a business which when it isn’t shooting itself in the foot is rolling into the sea like a herd of lemmings followed by an avalanche.
Let’s look at what he did at the Red Sox; why he’s both the hand worker and the steam drill.
The Sox started with a bang in 1901. You couldn’t beat them for love nor money until 1920 when they traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees. Curse of the Bambino, some call it.
Though they had their greats -- Yastrzemski, Fisk, Boggs, Clemens, Dent -- life was iffy at Fenway Park until 2002 when Henry and his partners bought the team.
It’s been pretty good since then. Good to the point that the fake rivalry with the Yankees turned real.
Henry remodeled Fenway, tiny by major league standards and sold out nearly every game. Quite a feat even with a low capacity park and easy access to games on TV.
He brought in the right people at the right prices at the right times.
The Globe needs no such renovation. But the newspaper industry on the whole does. The Globe has a formidable internet presence and one that apparently makes money. Good potential, but not yet enough revenue.
Although it recently lost its top editor, it has a strong bench... stronger than the Red Sox had in ‘02... either ‘02.
It knows what to do in a crisis. No one covered the Marathon bombings as well. Nearly as well. It knows what to do when there isn’t a crisis. It has some of the best front office officials in sports. It has fine pitching and catching staffs. It has a brilliant and storied history.
But it’s still a newspaper. And that’s not the best thing to be in the digital age.
The other John Henry “died with a hammer in his hand.” Let’s hope the current name holder when he eventually dies wasn’t beaten by the digital steam drill either.
--John Palmer’s picture should be in the dictionary next to “Gracious.” When he died last Saturday at 77, the world of reporting lost one of its most prominent and best voices. Even in retirement, he brought class to the TV screen with reports on networks far less important or widely seen than NBC, his home for so many years.
--John brought class and the solidity of a diamond to a medium that had become stuffed with what his onetime colleague David Brinkley called “sensation seeking journalists.” As a viewer, we always heard the ring of truth in his reports. As a co-worker, we looked forward to co-working with a no nonsense man with superstar status, a rare bird in the world of TV.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2013