On Oct. 17, 2014, The Item turned a page.
By Bill Brotherton
People are always telling me to “Have a good one.” I’m not quite sure what that means. Have a good day? Have a good life? Have a good night’s sleep?
There’s a lot of good in my life these days. Near the top of the list, I recently rejoined The Item after 18 years at the Boston Herald, where I ran the Features desk and wrote about popular music. This is my second stint at The Item, where I learned the business from Red Hoffman, John Moran, Fred Goddard, the Gamage family and others in the 1980s and ’90s; and where I’ve worked side-by-side with some incredible journalists, including current News Editor Thor Jourgensen and Sports Editor Steve Krause.
I began my Item career with Ted Grant and Jim Wilson. Ted was a sports writer and now owns the place. Jim was a young photographer back then, and recently “retired” as deputy director of the photo department at the Pulitzer prize-winning Boston Globe. Today is his first day as chief operating officer of The Item.
Beth Bresnahan, a lifelong Lynner, is CEO of The Item and we consider her as the most significant hire of all. The impact she makes on a daily basis is remarkable.
Why would Bresnahan leave the high-profile job as executive director of the Massachusetts Lottery, the most successful in the country, to run this newspaper?
Why would Wilson leave the Globe to work at a paper with a daily circulation that’s about 230,000 less?
Why would I leave a job where I interviewed rock stars and reviewed hundreds of concerts? Why would anyone leave that job?
What gives? There’s no way a newspaper the size of The Item should have this pool of talent.
It’s because we want to reimagine newspapers. It’s why I’m here.
Today is a momentous day at The Item. Two years ago today, Ted (full name: Edward Michael Grant) and Essex Media Group (EMG: coincidence? I don’t think so) bought The Item from Hastings & Sons Publishing Co., which had owned the paper since 1877. Grant, the publisher, recruited six associates to invest in the operation and serve on its board of directors.
Each of the so-called EMG 7 has either a direct connection to the city or to the paper: Ed Cahill, who grew up on Cherry Street in Lynn, is a partner of HLM Venture Partners and is the son of Ed Cahill, the longest-serving sports editor in The Item’s history; John Gilberg has developed, owned and managed property in the Lynn area since 1989; Gordy Hall has run the Hall Company Inc, a real estate management firm, since forming it in 1981; Monica Connell Healey is a daughter of the legendary Bill Connell and wanted to “give back to the community that meant so much to my father”; Pat Norton, a lifelong Marblehead resident now retired, was managing director of PD-FAB LLC; and Mike Shanahan,who grew up in the Wyoma Square section of Lynn, is CFO of SevOne, a 450-member network software company. Shanahan is chairman of EMG. Shanahan, just out of Holy Cross, and Grant, just out of Boston College, met while both worked as sports writers at The Item; Shanahan covered high school hockey, and Grant covered high-school basketball.
The EMG 7 appreciate the history of The Item. Cahill spoke for the group when he said “We grab the wheel and initiate change. That’s what this group is about, to be a successful media company in the 21st century.”
Grant views it as “a 138-year-old start-up.”
“Our job,” he says, “is pretty straightforward: We’re to hold up a mirror to our communities. We’re to be neither positive nor negative, simply factual.”
The group undertook the most comprehensive survey of readers in the history of the paper, and learned that Item readers were more loyal to their paper than is the industry norm. We listen to our readers and respond accordingly. Grant cites a line from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles: “With every mistake, we must surely be learning.”
“Do we get everything right?” Grant asks. “No, but we’ll keep working at it until we do.” He encourages readers to give feedback, good and bad — particularly bad. “It’s the only way we’ll get it right,” he says.
When Grant walked into the old Item building on Exchange Street on Oct. 17, 2014 to address the staff, The Item was EMG’s sole asset. Today, EMG is one of the most ambitious, dynamic media companies in New England, maybe the country.
Throughout America, media companies are cutting back and slashing jobs. EMG is bucking the trend. It’s growing. In addition to the six-day-a-week Item, which covers eight cities and towns (Lynn, Lynnfield, Nahant, Marblehead, Peabody, Revere, Saugus, Swampscott), EMG also publishes the Peabody and Lynnfield Weekly News, a twice-monthly real estate guide and two quarterly glossy lifestyle magazines (01907 and ONE) that were started by Grant and his team. EMG has also developed an innovative mobile-first website and is about to relaunch the long-dormant, beloved North Shore Golf magazine.
And next month, Essex Media Group makes its boldest move yet, starting up an every-other-week Spanish-language newspaper, La Voz (The Voice), under the direction of Carolina Trujillo, a native of Colombia who most recently held a management position at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
Trujillo is building relationships with the city’s Latino and business communities, with hopes that La Voz will evolve into a weekly newspaper. “I appreciate the trust and leadership of Beth and Ted. I feel really supported … and the response from the community has been overwhelmingly positive,” Trujillo says. The ambitious plan also includes a Web-based product, a strong social media presence and live daily news reports.
Starting tomorrow, The Item introduces Scene, with a Lifestyle-oriented focus that will report on the region’s burgeoning arts/culture and restaurant community, gradually beef up its Food, Look! and Real Estate pages and establish a weekly Travel section. The Scene pages will be my responsibility.
Jourgensen, The Item’s award-winning news editor, has been with the paper for more than 28 years. He’s never enjoyed his job more. … or worked harder. Every day is like the first sip of water when you’re thirsty, he says, adding that more than ever the stories The Item covers reflect residents and what they mean to the city. He is quick to praise the staff, from longtime Item staffers like Krause, Owen O’Rourke and Ryan York to veteran reporters like Thomas Grillo and Adam Swift and young reporters who have really developed, such as Gayla Cawley and Bridget Turcotte. Also, a Sports department with an abundance of promising young talent and the newest member of the Massachusetts Golf Hall of Fame, Anne Marie Tobin. Thor’s news meetings are fun; everyone on the staff participates and there’s lots of laughter. And he even breaks into song on occasion.
He is most excited about La Voz, which will give a voice to Lynn’s Spanish-speaking community. “I can’t overemphasize how important this is for Lynn. We are giving a voice to people who have an elemental role in this city, the middle class of the future,” says Jourgensen.
Krause, the Item’s second-longest-serving sports editor, has been with The Item since 1979. He said the March 2015 move from its longtime home at 38 Exchange St. to new space at 110 Munroe St. was significant, a new beginning.
Wilson grew up on Collins Terrace in East Lynn and still sees himself “as a Lynn kid in jeans and sneakers.” The opportunity to rejoin a paper that remains independently owned and share his experience with young journalists thrills him.
“Bill,” he said to me, “you and I went to the big-city papers to learn all we could … and now we’re back to help the next generation. I talked with Ted the day he bought it. I saw the risk that Beth took. I saw the risk that you took. That was enough for me. I wanted in.”
It’s like the band is getting together again. The Item’s mission statement is to inform, educate, provoke thought and prompt a smile in reflecting the communities we cover. Every staff member aims to do just that.
Thomas Wolfe said “You can’t go home again.” What a misguided fool! Tom Wolfe said “Put your good where it will do the most!” He was right. Peter Wolf said “I musta got lost, somewhere down the line.” The Woofa Goofa nailed it. I was lost; now I’ve re-found happiness at The Item.
It’s great to be home.