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'Boston Globe' Owner Launches 'Stat News' Site Covering Life Sciences


The Boston investor John Henry is a hometown guy. He acquired control of the Red Sox, he bought The Boston Globe, now he's starting a new journalistic venture from scratch, Stat News. It'll focus on medicine, healthcare and life sciences. Today marks its official start. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik visited Boston recently to see what it offers.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: In recent weeks, reporters for Stat News broke news about research done by President Obama's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration, inspired Bernie Sanders to return a campaign contribution from a disgraced drug company CEO and also produced this story.


JEFFREY DELVISCIO: Donald Trump has sold a lot of things in his career. The real estate we know about, but what about urine test kits and customized vitamins?

FOLKENFLIK: Stat's reporting revealed apparently groundless claims made by a company Trump had licensed his name to. Not bad for a news organization that is only making its official debut today. When I visited Stat's newsroom in Boston, I told the executive editor, Rick Berke, the place looks so surprisingly nice.

I see this area has a fireplace. What's going on with that?

RICK BERKE: This is the old Taylor family publisher owned The Globe - this was his private suite.

FOLKENFLIK: The links with The Globe are impossible to ignore. Stat's stories run in the paper's pages, yet Stat News is a separate startup free of the obligations to worry about printing costs or union contracts or the historic expectations advertisers and readers might have for an existing newspaper. Some Globe journalists express ambivalence. They're delighted to have Stat's expertise in their pages, but last month, the company laid off and bought out dozens from newsroom jobs and the juxtaposition stings. Berke says, you have to distinguish between the two outlets - one regional, one with broader ambitions.

BERKE: Boston is the world epicenter for life sciences and medicine, but we're not stopping at any geographic borders to cover stories. We see this publication as worldwide. We have bureaus already in Washington, San Francisco, New York, and we're going to build from there.

FOLKENFLIK: Rick Berke was one of the most prominent political reporters and editors at The New York Times for many years. And he briefly served as the executive editor of POLITICO, which had dozens of competitors. Stat, Berke argues, has few.

BERKE: It doesn't have to be boring. These are issues that touch every human being, life-and-death issues. We can have fun, we can be serious, we can do deep investigative pieces. Nothing is going to be off limits.

FOLKENFLIK: Berke has been on a sprint since February to build a team of more than 40 journalists, many from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal. Jeff DelViscio, formerly with The Times, oversees eight multimedia staffers for Stat.

DELVISCIO: There are not a lot of outlets in this space doing this kind of work, you know, something that's visual, that's playful, that really takes advantage of what you can do on the web and applies that visual thinking to this problem of life sciences.

FOLKENFLIK: The result is often gorgeous, striking, even funny, but it all costs money. I spoke to a bunch of observers about Stat - the CEO of Vox, the former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, a top New York Times executive, and two media industry analysts. All were intrigued by Stat's promise, but none was sure how it would pay for itself.

ANGUS MACAULAY: We get to look at things with fresh eyes.

FOLKENFLIK: Angus Macaulay is chief revenue officer of Stat News. He says he intends to rely at first on branded content in which advertisers pay for posts that evoke themes that fit with their brands. And he hopes to charge admission to conferences built around the life sciences. He's even considering a partial paywall for its most devoted readers.

MACAULAY: The long-term objective is to try to diversify the revenue streams and build out different revenue opportunities as we build the brand over the next couple of years.

FOLKENFLIK: Fundamentally, Stat's founder, John Henry, will have to give the site money and a lot of leeway, making Stat not just a news organization that covers discoveries and labs but a kind of experiment in focused digital journalism itself. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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