Globe Editorial

Taylor’s vast spirit continues to inspire the Globe, Boston

William O. Taylor, Globe publisher, 1978-1997. William O. Taylor, Globe publisher, 1978-1997. (File 1998/The Boston Globe)
May 3, 2011

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WILLIAM O. TAYLOR was attached to the Globe before he was old enough to realize it. Like a favored sibling, the paper was a constant presence during his upbringing. His great-grandfather, grandfather, and father were all publishers, and young Bill knew he was next in line to serve as the paper’s trustee, guiding the interests of the Taylor and Jordan families who owned it. There was great privilege in his position, but also great responsibility. From his youth, Taylor, who died yesterday at 78, lived with the constraint of having been born to a mission and then having to go out and perform it.

Taylor not only accepted the challenge but molded it to his values. He gave the paper freedom to pursue great journalism. He left a more successful business than he inherited, and made shrewd, but often wrenching, decisions that shaped its destiny. As a civic leader, he set a standard of concern for Boston’s well-being that other businessmen could emulate.

It was never clear whether he enjoyed being publisher or was simply performing his duty with great care. In his mind, the two were interchangeable. The paper’s size and profitability soared under his tenure, which ran from 1978 to 1997. One Sunday edition in 1985 clocked in at 1,050 pages. Meanwhile, his early investment in McCaw cellular phones put the Globe’s parent company at the forefront of the development of new technologies.

He also invested in the paper’s editorial product, expanding its reach across the nation and world, while ensuring that local coverage was continually broadened and improved. Like other great journalistic families including the Sulzbergers of The New York Times and the Grahams of The Washington Post, the Taylors were a bulwark against any restrictions on press freedom. His ultimate constituency, he knew, was the citizens of New England, and his Globe existed to give them the fairest access to the news.

Bill Taylor, it turned out, carried a greater burden than his forbears. It was under his tenure that the trust controlling the Globe was set to expire. When it did, scores of Taylor and Jordan relatives would be free to sell their interests, and the paper would be vulnerable to a takeover. Before the trust expired, he sold the paper to the New York Times Company — a buyer that, he was confident, would preserve the Globe’s journalistic integrity.

Fourteen years after he left the publisher’s office, Bill Taylor’s standards for editorial independence and commitment to New England remain the paper’s creed. He not only carried the family torch, but advanced it farther than anyone could imagine. He then passed it to owners of similarly high journalistic values. The Globe, and Boston, continue to be the beneficiaries of his caring stewardship.