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Globe veteran will be next publisher

Christopher M. Mayer Christopher M. Mayer
By Beth Healy
Globe Staff / October 30, 2009

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Boston Globe publisher P. Steven Ainsley, having shepherded the paper through the most tumultuous period in its 137-year history, said yesterday he will retire at the end of the year. Christopher M. Mayer, a longtime Globe executive who oversees circulation and operations, will succeed him Jan. 1.

Ainsley, 56, has been publisher for three years, and during that time the Internet has transformed the newspaper industry by capturing a growing number of readers and advertisers, eroding profits.

Earlier this year, the Globe’s owner, The New York Times Co., threatened to shut down the paper unless it cut costs dramatically, and more recently considered selling the paper.

Ainsley said he was glad he could help stabilize the Globe’s finances. “It’s been difficult but enormously gratifying,’’ he said. “Clearly we’ve had a lot of work to do here this year. I think we’ve made extraordinary progress in getting the Globe on sound financial footing.’’

Mayer has been with the Globe since 1984 and is the first insider the Times Co. has named publisher since buying the newspaper from the Taylor family in 1993. The Times Co. fired Benjamin Taylor in 1999 and installed one of its own executives, Richard Gilman, as publisher. Ainsley, who has run numerous regional papers for the Times Co., succeeded Gilman in September 2006.

Mayer already oversees a large portion of the Globe’s business, including circulation, information technology, operations, production, and distribution. Mayer was an architect of the Globe’s recent price increase, which succeeded in driving up revenue while holding onto the vast majority of the paper’s customers. He was previously chief information officer for New England Media Group, which includes the Globe.

As publisher of the Globe and head of New England Media Group, Mayer also will be responsible for the Globe’s website, Boston.com, as well as the company’s direct mail subsidiary and its investment in Metro Boston, a free daily newspaper. The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, which the Times Co. still may sell, also comes under his purview.

Mayer said he is enthusiastic about the Globe’s prospects: “It’s a big challenge but it’s also a great opportunity and a great institution.’’

Asked whether he anticipates making changes at the paper, he said that the Globe has “very talented people’’ and that he and his team will be working on strategies to take the Globe into the evolving digital era.

“There’s a lot of passion for what we do,’’ Mayer said. “The journalism is important, and we need a business model that enables us to continue to do that.’’

Janet L. Robinson, chief executive of the Times Co., said the company chose Mayer because he has a proven track record and broad experience across the Globe’s operations. “He has established himself as a very strong leader,’’ Robinson said in an interview. “He has a very unique ability to tackle very complex projects’’ and has delivered strong results, she said.

Robinson praised Ainsley for his service, calling him “the right leader at the right time’’ who led the Globe through a difficult period and groomed its next generation of leaders. During his tenure, the Globe won two Pulitzer Prizes.

“This is an opportunity for him to really feel great about what he has contributed to the Globe and a wonderful opportunity for him to start a new chapter,’’ Robinson said.

Ainsley said he had no immediate plans but is interested in nonprofit work. He has been in the newspaper business for 31 years, 27 of those with the Times Co. He came to the Globe in 2006 from Tampa, where he was running the Times Co.’s regional media group.

Ainsley knew he was facing a challenge when he arrived at the Globe - newspapers across the country were struggling as the Internet ate into their business. And the industry’s troubles accelerated on his watch. When the Globe was losing money early this year - at a pace that could have hit $85 million for 2009 - Ainsley was asked to take drastic measures.

He oversaw a series of cost reductions, including $20 million in concessions from Globe unions, a pay cut for managers, and the closing of a Billerica printing plant. In addition, he implemented the price-increase strategy. Together, those efforts improved the paper’s financial results, prompting the Times Co. to end its effort to sell the Globe earlier this month. While the Times Co. posted a loss in the third quarter, New England Media Group helped boost total revenues with an 18.4 percent increase in circulation revenues.

Mayer’s promotion from within to publisher is a positive sign, said Stephen Burgard, director of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism. “That tells me the Times Company believes they have, in-house, some people who know what they’re doing and who they can work with,’’ he said.

A graduate of Yale University and a father of four, Mayer lives in South Boston with his family. His rise to the top job at the paper came after stints running the company’s technology functions and, later, circulation. It was in his current role, to which he was assigned in 2008, that he emerged as a fast-rising talent, Globe executives said, because of the breadth of responsibilities he took on during a pressure-filled time. The Globe hasn’t decided how it will fill the job Mayer vacates.

As for Mayer’s new post, enormous challenges remain, said Burgard. “There’s still a big question about how the economic model is going to work,’’ he said. “There’s a whole host of really complicated problems that have to be sorted out.’’

Beth Healy can be reached at bhealy@globe.com.