From the beginning, the business model the Globe envisioned for Crux seemed tenuous. The pitch was twofold. First, the paper has been a leader in coverage of the Church, which is a huge cultural and political institution in Boston. Fresh off its Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into widespread clergy sex abuse—an effort that was recently featured in the massively popular, Oscar-winning film Spotlight—the Globe anticipated a big local and national readership for in-depth coverage of the Church. Second, it was betting that there was an untapped market for advertisers who would want to be associated with this coverage—from Catholic hospitals and charities to companies that were looking to appeal to a specifically Catholic readership.
That’s the part that failed. “If you see the financial security of something like this resting almost exclusively with ad sales, that’s a very dicey proposition,” Allen said. Most religion-specific publications that aren’t supported directly by a religious institution get their money from non-profits and donors—Tablet, for example, in the Jewish world. It was a big and fairly novel gamble for the Globe to try and fund its Catholic coverage through an ad-based revenue model. “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,” McGrory wrote in his letter to staffers.
Eighteen months is not a long time for any new venture to get firmly established. But the scariest part of the paper’s abandonment of Crux is that the vertical actually did get established, at least with readers. Allen said the section rallied roughly 1 million monthly readers, and those numbers “easily doubled” during big news events related to the pope, such as his recent trip to Mexico. Within the religion-journalism world, Crux quickly became a must-read, and Allen’s reporting is widely respected as some of the best-sourced in the business. The Globe could not have run a cleaner experiment in terms of testing market viability—as McGrory himself emphasized, the journalism was extremely high quality, but the dollars just weren’t there.
“It clearly is worrying for people who do this for a living to see a mainstream news organization like The Globe who launched a big project like this and then 18 months later backed out,” Allen said. Religion journalism is a notoriously tough sell for publishers, and the fact that the Globe would emphasize the editorial quality and importance of Crux while still choosing to shutter it suggests a fear of investing in topical coverage that isn't directly appealing to advertisers. A spokesperson for the Globe maintained that the paper will continue its same level of coverage of the Church—this without Allen and the laid-off staffers, and with the editor of the vertical, Teresa Hanafin, being “redeployed [in] an exciting new position as an early morning writer for Bostonglobe.com,” as McGrory wrote in his memo. “I expect if The Globe had launched a vertical exclusively dedicated to coverage of the Patriots and Red Sox, we would not be here,” Allen said.