Save the Dying Boston Globe


The stink of death hovers over the Globe

The stink of death hovers over the Globe

In an extraordinary front page story today, the Boston Globe announced it was on the brink of closing down.

“The New York Times Co. has threatened to shut The Boston Globe unless the newspaper’s unions swiftly agree to $20 million in concessions, union leaders said yesterday,” according to the article.

The article says that the newspaper is on pace to lose $85 million this year and is seeking massive concessions from the company’s 13 labor unions.  Pardon the cliche: but its seems like shutting the barn door after the horse, cows, pigs and chickens have all fled (probably moving onto the Internet).  It is difficult to imagine – and heartbreaking to consider – Boston without the Boston Globe.

My advice would be immediately cease print publications. The Globe still has more than 200 drivers, a printing plant, and enormous printing and circulation operations.  Get rid of them.  Move everything online.  Firing reporters and editors – the staff of which is already bone-thin from previous lay-offs – to tantamount to suicide at this point.  News is the only valuable commodity that the paper owns.  It’s the only thing they can sell.

Restructure the editorial staff for a focus on news, businesss and sports from Boston, Massachusetts and New England – only.  Get rid of feature writing (movie reviews, record reviews, etc.) and use freelancers.  No more cooking, recipes, comics, etc. And then charge a nominal subscription fee for the content – temporary and call it the “Save the Globe” fund if they want. The fee is to shore up finances as they scramble to save the operation.  Painful, but necessary.

Then start to experiment, restructure and try to make a go of it as an Internet only operation.  Infuse blogging, social media, and user generated feedback.  Build forums and wikis.  The Globe needs to dive into the Web like no other newspaper before it. They should immediately create a Globe Technology Council, a board of web experts to help – tapping into the amazing innovation and technology expertise from Boston.  It’s readers can help save it.

They should read my series on Improving Boston.com.

But the Globe needs to do this now.  No more bleeding slowly to death.  Go for it.

My fear is that they are going roll over and die without a fight.

7 Responses to “Save the Dying Boston Globe”

  1. mike saunders April 4, 2009 at 9:54 am

    “Restructure the editorial staff for a focus on news, businesss and sports from Boston, Massachusetts and New England – only. Get rid of feature writing (movie reviews, record reviews, etc.) and use freelancers. No more cooking, recipes, comics, etc.”

    An interesting point that completely devalues the arts, but we’ll let that slide for now.

    Killing food content would kill grocery ad revenue; in fact, the mid-week placement of food sections is a response to requests by advertisers. A better solution would be aggregating the trove of recipes the Globe currently has to make them useable. Hire a couple of database engineers and make the site something akin to foodnetwork.com or epicurious.com. Make the data earn its keep.

    “And then charge a nominal subscription fee for the content – temporary and call it the “Save the Globe” fund if they want. The fee is to shore up finances as they scramble to save the operation. Painful, but necessary.”

    Agreed.

    Put a PayPal tipjar on the site. Track useage and make the first 5 visits nag-free, but subsequent visits get a funny, well-worded plea for pledges. Have each writer put together something witty that pops up randomly.

    Put some of that “choice” content you named earlier behind a pay wall. Bob Ryan draws eyes, as do most of the other sportswriters. Let people read the top of stories and make them pay for the rest. (Bet this totally inverts the inverted pyramid…)

    Which brings me back to the arts: Freelancing all arts copy will yield short-term savings, but you’ll lose site visitors in the long run.

  2. Great points, Mike. My point about recipes, etc. has more to do with resources in a crisis. Right now movie, book reviews and recipes can be found all over the web. I’m not sure focusing a reporting resource on movie reviewing is the right move right now.

    The Globe’s exclusive “news” is about Massachusetts and New England. No one else can provide that as well or with as many resources. Right now they need to focus on what they have that others don’t.

    So I mean no slight to the arts. It is important from a local perspective – so focus on local arts as part of the news package.

    I agree that they need to aggregate content and start using it for value. I’ve advocated for them to put their entire archive online – from the 19th century online – and charge for it.

  3. What a shock. Now that they have hemmoraged readers and are about to go under, suddenly they decide to report full force on pension abuse, political corruption, one sided state politics, etc. Maybe if they had shown an ounce of balance for the last 3 decades they would still have readers and not be in this mess. Put my vote in the “No great loss” column. I will miss the sports columnists though.

    That said, the industry advertising model needs to be reinvented. It needs to be proven to the market that banner ads work, which I believe they do. The web model needs to be the revenue generator and not the free hook. Subscription is not the answer, too few people are conditioned to pay for content now on a fee basis and there are too many free outlets to get news. There needs to be a better job done selling the banner/click ad model as a paradigm shift to advertisers.

    We can’t have a news world of pure aggregators though. Someone has to pay for the news reporting. The revenue model may need to push out to the aggregators on a “click fee” basis. News content generators (“papers”) would need to charge or receive a click fee for hits to an aggregators site driven by the link of their content. The trading industry has faced similar challenges with disparate liquidity centers and has built revenue sharing models based on flow.

  4. mike saunders April 4, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    JD, We’re on the same page about the need for reinvention. Online ads do work, but not in the quantities needed to support a full-fledged robust newsgathering operation. In fact, it would be tough to support just the sports section on just current ad revenue. Few people understand that news reporting is an expensive proposition. You seem to get that, so it’s heartening to see.

    re: I the Globe had shown “an ounce of balance:”

    The Globe’s liberal editorial stance has little to do with the news side of the paper, and even less to do with the global economic slide, the rise of Craigslist or the widespread availability of “free” online news.

    Nor is there some sort of a flurry of hard news action as the paper navigates tough straits. Remember that the paper was relatively fat and happy when it alienated a huge part of its readership by investigating the decades of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

  5. First, I don’t want to hijack George’s piece into an anti-Globe rant but I do think that the editorial vision and influence extends far beyond the op-ed pages in many papers. The Herald is no exception either. Story selection, placement, length, and tone all create a flavor, for lack of a better word, that few papers are without. I would say the FT, and for the most part WSJ are more neutral.

    Back to point though, I think the entire revenue model can be rebuilt. It is not unprecidented in other businesses. When was the last time you went into a store and bought a CD? Yet artists and music companies are still making money. Aggregators like Drudge get massive volume but a free ride. One possible solution is to create a revenue sharing model from the aggregators to the content generators. If the Globe picks up an AP story and Drudge links to it, AP gets the click fee share, not the Globe. Maybe the Globe gets a distribution kick from AP. If the Globe reporter generates the story, then it gets the fee.

    People are conditioned now not to pay for content outright and I would guess the if it was charged people would reject it and the revenue would cover not much beyond the infrastructure costs of the site itself. Much the way the $1.00 paper cost covers just the printing.

    Years ago people bought papers not in spite of the ads, but in many cases FOR the ads. Local sales, coupons, car deals, etc. What needs to be changed is the way online ads are delivered to us. That is gone online because of centralization. Who cares about a furniture store sale in Kansas City when browsing news headlines. But I refuse to believe that the model of online ads could not be reworked to be A. targeted to a specific audience; B. streamlined so our eye actually focuses on it instead of being repelled by it. Drudge and Snorg Tees are a perfect example of this in it’s simplicity. (see George’s article on revamping Boston.com). In advertising, I do believe that less is more in terms of eye content, busyness, etc.

    Electronic execution and off-exchange network pools have crushed the commission based trading market. Old school specialist are gone. Commissions are 15% or less than a decade ago. Yet a multitude of brokerages are very profitable, just different now. I’m sure there are enough smart people in media to figure out how the Music and Brokerage industries have reinvented their revenue models.

    One final thought. The Music industry faced an even more dire issue with Napster and other free file sharing sites. The artists joined with the music companies and beat that back. News content generators may need to have a similar revolution with the aggregators.

  6. One final-final thought…
    Probably all of our parents said they would never pay for TV service yet everyone does today. For the monthly fee we get certain channels beyond the locals. For an extra fee we get more. What if the news generators joined with the broadband companies and instead of paying $50/mo you payed $55 and got the Globe/NYT/Herald or whatever the package is?

  7. Hi Jay:
    Some good ideas to kick around in the ad revenue model that are certainly worth exploring more fully. And you didn’t hijack the topic – you made it better! This is how comments can deepen and enrich a blog post.

    Journalists like Mike (I’m assuming he is one or was one) are loathe to admit that their newspapers – outside of the editorial and op-ed pages – are anything but neutral. And, you’re right, most newspapers fail to do it.

    However, and this is a big however, most newspapers like the Globe strive for balance. That is a stated objective of the newspaper and one skill that every journalist is trained to do.

    The difference these days is that outlets like FOX-TV and MSNBC do NOT strive for balance – yet claim they do. This unbalance then infects other outlets that do strive for balance and people can then paint the entire industry with broad strokes and say every outlet is biased.

    I answer that: some are more biased than others.

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