... A look back at the Boston Globe management
Earlier this month the Greater Boston Community lost two of its most influential leaders, Davis Taylor, Publisher of the Boston Globe and Tom Winship, one of the great Editors of his generation or indeed of any generation. The Silver Stringers (senior citizens) of Melrose, Massachusetts are the Publishers of this newspaper, The Melrose Mirror. This publication came into being as a cooperative effort between The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab and the aforementioned Silver Stringers. Jack Driscoll, now retired, was one of the successors to Tom Winship as Editor. In his supposed retirement he is serving as Editor-in-Residence at the Media Lab and has taken on the additional responsibilities of acting as mentor and advisor to the personnel of this newspaper. His contributions to us have been invaluable.
Jack Driscoll had a long relationship, both professional and personal, with Davis Taylor and Tom Winship. It occurred to me that reading about those relationships would not only prove to be interesting but valuable. With that thought in mind, I questioned Jack about being interviewed. I felt that his personal reminiscences would help to define both men and give readers a better appreciation of the importance of their influence on the cultural, educational, and political life of Boston, our state, and in indeed all of New England and beyond. Jack Driscoll's own Horatio Alger-like rise from copy boy to Editor-in-Chief of one of this country's great metropolitan daily newspapers is a story I felt was also worth telling.
I had intended that the interview be face-to-face but time would not permit that. We had a deadline to meet if the interview was to be published in our April edition. As an alternative Jack suggested that we use e-mail to which many of us have become addicted. I accepted that suggestion with alacrity.
The series of questions is a collaborative effort of Jim Driscoll, my editor, and myself. In addition one of the questions included was suggested by my young friend and computer mentor, Bob McCarthy.
Jack Driscoll's detailed answers accompanied by each of the submitted questions appear below.
Jack, you had a distinguished career with the Boston Globe. For a time reference, tell me a little bit about yourself growing up, the year in which you graduated from Melrose High school, and your beginning position when you were hired by the Globe?
I actually worked for the Globe -- and the Herald, and the Post, and the Traveler and the Record-American/Sunday Advertiser while I was in high school. In my junior and senior year (1952) I was the sports correspondent responsible for Melrose coverage for all those papers. Mostly they wanted box scores and line scores, but sometimes they wanted more detail. I recall once being asked for more detail on a Waltham touchdown scored on an end run. "I can't help you," I told the person I called in the game to the Globe. "Why not?" he asked. "Because I was at the bottom of a pile and couldn't see," I answered, thus divulging that I not only covered the game but played in it.
When I got to college at Northeastern University, I needed a part-time job and had pretty good background (wrote for the Melrose Free Press for 3 years), so I got a night job as what they call a sports receiver. I was now the person receiving stories from correspondents (we called them stringers). I wrote mostly short to medium-length stories. On a Saturday night it wasn't unusual to write 30 stories. I was in the work-study program, so during my second and third years of college I worked as office boy and reporter for United Press. In fact I covered the entire Celtics' season of 1954-55. Meanwhile I worked throughout my school years at the Globe at night. I also was editor of the university newspaper but resigned with four editors over a dispute with the president.
Did you succeed Tom Winship as Editor or were there one or more others before you were named to take over?
When Tom was first Editor, we had two Managing Editors, one for the morning paper and the other for the evening paper. My title was Night Editor when he became Editor. Counting both papers, there were three other MEs before I got the job.
My staff positions (as I recall) were sports writer, sports and news copy editor, assistant night editor in 1961, night editor in 1963, assistant to the editor in 1968, assistant executive editor I forget when. Then I was Tom's assistant and Managing Editor of the Evening Globe conterminously in 1978. We got the PM Globe popping, but the economics of the times forced the PM to be closed in 1980. At that time the morning and evening newspapers were merged, and I became ME of the all-day Globe. In 1982 I became Sunday Managing Editor, then Executive Editor, then The Editor in 1987 until I retired in 1994.
I know that Tom Winship had a long and distinguished career with the Globe as had his father before him. What was the approximate year and what was your position when he became your direct boss?
I actually was hired as a staff person by Tom's father, Lawrence, in 1958. We called him LLW. We called Tom TW. Tom came to the Globe in 1961 as Assistant Managing Editor for Features. He became Managing Editor about two years later. His night editor was Ed Doherty, who also lived in Melrose and was the best Page One layout editor the Globe ever had. I was assistant night editor, then night editor in 1963.
I lived in Boston during a time period when the Boston Globe was not the dominant daily newspaper in our metropolitan area. It was either second or third in circulation and readership; was that the situation when you joined the Globe?
The Globe was the fifth best paper in Boston when I started, based on circulation, advertising and editorial quality.
If that was indeed the situation when Tom Winship became Managing Editor, should he be credited with being the person who turned the newspaper into the dominant force it has become?
Davis Taylor, the publisher, and later his son, William (Bill), made all the right business moves. They also gave Winship the support to make drastic changes in staff and approach. Meanwhile, the Herald was making too many poor decisions.
When I was working one of my superiors used to say that a successful organization results from a lot of relatively little things being done well. Was that Tom's approach? Did he look at each of the various components that made up the organization, define its strengths, recognize weaknesses if any, and then seek advice from employees and others on how to improve the particular department on which he was focusing?
Tom would have failed business school. He managed by gut instinct and relied on me to worry about the details. He was a big-picture person on the one hand, but he also was a whirling dervish with his fingers in every pot at the other hand. He must have dashed off 30 or 40 notes a day, all of them bristling with enthusiasm. They came to be known as "tiger notes," because he called everyone "tiger". Ultimately he became known by the staff as "The Tiger".
Did he attempt to rectify perceived deficiencies all at once or did he do it piecemeal? Put more simply how would you describe his management style?
Tom was relentless. After a horseback ride, he took the train to work, then a cab from North Station. The conductors and cabbies had to be saints, because he would leave behind him a pile of torn-apart newspaper and other papers, strewn about the floor. His first stop was at the Publisher's office where he lobbied for staff, space, etc., winning some, losing some. He strode through the newsroom to his corner office and you could feel everyone's adrenaline soar. He was the original multi-tasker. He could be meeting with you, talking on the phone and doing paperwork all at the same time. His ideas bounced off the walls.
What were the personal qualities such as decisiveness, courage, amiability, flexibility, concern for others, and so forth that made him successful? Was there one defining quality that more than any other defined him as a person and a great editor?
Tom was a crusader. He was driven to make the Globe better, because he thought we could make the community better that way. He cared with a passion about social and political issues. His gift was inspiration. His staff couldn't do enough for him. He was a born leader. His weakness was that he sometimes got too close to the staff. He was constantly giving personal advice to staff people who had marriage problems or whatever. He was irrepressible. He also was highly ethical, to a fault. One of his most courageous acts was giving up control of the Editorial Page. For years The Editor was in charge of the news and editorial pages. He realized it was a conflict of interest, even though he loved initiating editorials and editing them, line for line.
Did you ever have any strong disagreements with him and if you did would you care to tell how they were resolved?
We had disagreements all the time. He fostered dissent. His style was to thrash things out. I can't recall ever going home without a dispute being resolved.
Over the past few years, were you able to keep in touch with him? If so did he offer any opinion about the current Boston Globe or newspapers in general?
We have had lunch from time, talked by phone a lot and ran into each other at various events and places, because he never retired. He ran a school for foreign journalists right up to the end, operating out of Boston and running around the world. He had lots of criticisms of the Globe, just as he did when he was Editor, but he also would have high praise for certain stories or writers. There never was a hidden agenda with him, so I am sure he said the same things to the incumbent Editor that he would say to me and others.
Was he aware of your contributions to MIT as Editor-in-residence and also to the Silver Stringers as our mentor and advisor?
He was very much in touch with my activities at the MIT Media Lab. He visited the lab a couple of time. Hardly a conversation would go by without him being on my case: "Jim, you've gotta write a book. You've gotta tell what's going on at the Media Lab, how the newspaper business is behind the times." Now, you might wonder why he called me "Jim"? It goes back to the days when George Frazier was a columnist for the Globe and I was his deadline enforcer. Frazier had a knack of calling you by a different name as a putdown. So he called me "Jim", and he called Ellen Goodman "Ellen Goodson." Winship thought that was hilarious, so for years he called me "Jim" and her "Goodson".
Tom Winship, center, with Editors Jack Driscoll and Bob Phelps. It is believed that this photo was taken in 1975 when news came in that the Globe had won the Pulitzer prize for school desegration coverage. (Photo provided by The Boston Globe.)
Thanks, Jack, for taking the time to respond to our questions. The back of the picture I gave you (similar to above) bears a caption that reads as follows:
"Presented to Jack Driscoll in sincere appreciation by a grateful subscriber on whom the Boston Globe has had a profound and enduring influence for more than 50 years. Great newspapers and great newspapermen do make a difference."
Jack's characteristically modest reply: "I certainly saw what was on the back of the photo and appreciated it. Often we wondered whether we were making a difference, but I guess we wouldn't have kept at it if we didn't really believe that."