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March 11, 2016, 1:48 p.m.
Business Models

The Boston Globe is shutting down its Catholic vertical Crux, citing a shortfall in advertising

But the site may live on under other management. “We simply haven’t been able to develop the financial model of big-ticket, Catholic-based advertisers that was envisioned when we launched Crux back in September 2014.”

The Boston Globe’s coverage of the Catholic Church is certainly in the news right now, with Spotlight‘s win for Best Picture at the Oscars. But nonetheless, the Globe is shutting down Crux, the standalone Catholic news site it launched in 2014.

Back at the launch, Globe editor Brian McGrory told Nieman Lab that the Globe “saw an opportunity to fill a need” for coverage of Catholic issues, particularly in the light of the appointment of Pope Francis. “There’s a real hunger. We’re at a unique moment.” Crux appeared to have a built-in local audience in Boston’s heavily Catholic population, but — more importantly — a national and global audience of potential readers.

But the site’s content was generally ahead of its business model, which didn’t stretch far beyond advertising. “We simply haven’t been able to develop the financial model of big-ticket, Catholic-based advertisers that was envisioned,” McGrory and Globe managing editor/VP for digital David Skok wrote in a memo obtained by Dan Kennedy. (This afternoon, the two ads on the Crux homepage were for a master’s degree program in church management and a Christian film about a child’s miracle cure.)

The memo, in part:

We want to bring everyone up to date on a couple of digital fronts.

First, Crux. We’ve made the deeply difficult decision to shut it down as of April 1 — difficult because we’re beyond proud of the journalism and the journalists who have produced it, day after day, month over month, for the past year and a half. At any given moment on the site, you’ll find textured analysis by John Allen, the foremost reporter of Catholicism in the world. You’ll find an entertaining advice column, near Margery Eagan’s provocative insights on spirituality. You’ll find Ines San Martin’s dispatches from the Vatican, alongside Michael O’Loughlin’s sophisticated coverage of theology across America, as well as the intelligent work of ace freelancer Kathleen Hirsch. All of it is overseen, morning to night, by editor Teresa Hanafin, who poured herself into the site, developed and edited consistently fascinating stories, and created a mix of journalism that was at once enlightening and enjoyable. Readers and industry colleagues have certainly taken note with strong traffic and awards.

The problem is the business. We simply haven’t been able to develop the financial model of big-ticket, Catholic-based advertisers that was envisioned when we launched Crux back in September 2014.

Let’s be clear that this absolutely can’t and won’t inhibit any future innovations. We in this newsroom and all around the building need to be ever more creative and willing to take risks. We also need to be able to cut our losses when we’ve reached the conclusion that specific projects won’t pay off.

There will be several layoffs involved in the closing of Crux, which is our biggest regret. To the good, we plan to turn the site over to John Allen, who is exploring the possibility of continuing it in some modified form, absent any contribution from the Globe. Teresa will be redeployed in the newsroom, most likely in an exciting new position as an early morning writer for Bostonglobe.com, setting up the day with a look at what’s going on around the region and the web.

Allen told Politico that he and San Martin “are committed to doing our damnedest to keep Crux going in some form.”

The memo also says the Globe will be ending BetaBoston, the Globe’s tech news vertical, as a separate site, bringing its content onto BostonGlobe.com and behind the paper’s metered paywall. It will “become a fully integrated part of the Globe’s business coverage in practice and presentation,” McGrory and Skok wrote.

Crux and BetaBoston were relatively small bets for the Globe, with low headcounts. The memo made no mention of the Globe’s most recent (and much bigger) bet, the health/biotech/medicine site Stat, which has earned plaudits but which must eventually find a way to support a much larger operation.

Photo of Vatican City by Christopher Lance used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     March 11, 2016, 1:48 p.m.
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