Boston Globe Rescue Plan


This morning, when I dug my Boston Globe out of the shrubs, I was expecting additional details on  the New York Times Co. threat to close down the newspaper in 30 days if it didn’t receive $20 million in concessions from the company’s 13 unions (as reported on Saturday).

The Boston Globe needs a Ferris like effort to save it.

The Boston Globe needs a "Ferris" like effort to save it.

But there wasn’t a stitch of news inside today’s Globe.  No reaction from the editorial board.  Deafening silence from its columnists.

Too bad.  There are lots of unanswered questions. Northeastern University Journalism Professor Dan Kennedy and Boston Herald reporter Jay Fitzgerald have been scratching their heads over the money numbers.  The big question.  How does $20 million from the unions help a newspaper on track to lose $85 million this year?

There are many others: What is the New York Times Co. plan for the Globe?  Does it want to save it?  Sell it?  Close it?  What is the plan? What is the strategy going forward?  And what will be the fate of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette (the other New England property owned by the Times)?

These are important questions and suddenly the Globe has gone quiet.  Not a good sign.  But the answers also have enormous ramifications about the future of the Boston Globe and how it should proceed from this point.  If the Times Co. has no intention of investing back in the Globe and trying to save the newspaper – then everything is a moot point.

I’m going to assume (perhaps foolishly) that the New York Times Co. wants the Globe to succeed.  So for what it is worth: here is my 5-step rescue plan for the Globe (some of which I already outlined here).

Step 1: Go Virtual

Printing newspapers and delivering them to people’s homes once a day is a bad model in the age of instant communication.  Investing in printing and delivery is a waste of money, especially when we all know that eventually this model is unsustainable.  So kill it now.  With red ink mounting, the Globe no longer has the luxury of being a printed product.  This is a difficult and painful decision, but necessary.  Sell the printing plant.  Get rid of trucks.

Step 2: Go Local

The way to succeed is to provide news that readers can’t get elsewhere.  That means getting rid of comics, recipes, movie reviews, horoscopes, etc.  All of that is plentiful on the web.  What isn’t available is in-depth, probing news about Boston, Massachusetts and New England.  The main focus needs to be laser-like focus on local news, local business & technology news and local sports.  That’s it.  At least for now.  Expand out to other areas after the Globe figures out what works and what doesn’t in its online delivery.

Step 3: Charge a Subscription

This sounds ridiculous in the age of free content.  But the “free” model is not one that is destined to succeed in the long term online.  It’s not sustainable.  Good content is a commodity and should be sold – not doled out like an advertising flyer on the subway.  But that day hasn’t come yet so this is another tough decision – but the Globe is in a unique position to charge for its content while wrapping it in a charity like veneer.  The subscription rate can be marketed as a “Save the Globe” fee.  Still provide some basic content for free, but start putting the valuable stuff (columnists, sports features, etc.) behind the firewall.  This will be a temporary measure at first – to shore up finances as the Globe figures out what to do next.

Step 4: Tap into the Brain Trust

The Globe should convene a day-long brainstorm session with the best minds in journalism, web design, technology and marketing.  Tap into the amazing resources available in Massachusetts: from academics (Harvard and MIT) to technology (EMC and Akamai).  Get in touch with Kiki Mills at the MITX (Massachusetts Innovation & Technology Exchange) to find the best web designers and social media experts.  Talk to Paul Gillin, Josh Bernoff, Dan Kennedy, David Meerman Scott, Chris Brogan and many other new media pundits.  The goal is to collect the best ideas on how the Globe can capitalize and maximize its web efforts.  To succeed the Globe has to innovate online like no other newspaper before it.

Step 5: Build an Online Community

The problem newspapers have faced online from day one?  They treat the web like another delivery channel.  The Globe needs to build a web community with local news as its core.  This means listening – this means asking questions and figuring out what their audience wants and how they want it delivered.  The Globe should invest into social media technologies: video, audio, micro-blogging, blogging, forums, wikis and provide not only “news,” but become a destination where the people of Massachusetts can meet, exchange ideas and get perspective on the day’s events.  The Globe needs to leave the “newspaper” mentality behind and become an online news community.

These are the five steps the Globe should begin immediately – but there are many other ideas to consider:

  • Start a “Save the Globe” campaign by enlisting politicians, movie stars, sports celebrities, authors and novelists, media pundits, singers and songwriters, etc. to help spread the word on the value the Globe provides to the region. Use PSAs, YouTube videos, online petitions, advertising inside the Globe, bloggers, etc. to enlist the community in helping.
  • Provide a format that can be delivered to email boxes that can be printed off an inkjet to resemble a newspaper.  But the printing of it is the responsibility of end-user.
  • Customize the Boston.com so users can build their own homepages.  This means having every section, topic and columnist with a separate RSS feed so readers can drag and drop their favorites and build their own Globe experience (think iGoogle).
  • Don’t rely on third-party online advertising sellers like Double Click and AdSense.  Create a custom experience for buying ads on the Globe.  Focus on the local first – and charge reasonable rates, but not the rock bottom prices of the others.
  • Open up the archives of the Globe – getting all of the history from the last 123 years online.  Sell access to universities, researchers, historians, etc.  Make it so people can put together front pages for birthdays, anniversaries, etc.  Get the content searchable (hire Endeca – and they’ll do it for you). This is a goldmine that needs to be tapped into.
  • If the New York Times Co. is willing to let go – consider going non-profit.  Make the Globe a foundation of reporting excellence for the region.

There are many exciting possibilities and the ideas that can come out of tapping into the local brain trust would probably stagger all of us in their creativity and daring.

The biggest danger for the Globe right now is to do nothing.  To hobble along with the status quo and continue to die slowly.  This is a time for radical and fast action.  But that takes courage, determination and fortitude.

Does the Globe have what it takes?

3 Responses to “Boston Globe Rescue Plan”

  1. Agreed. And they can find a user-centric online revenue model at http://www.paycheckr.com

  2. Christ, dude. For a long-ish piece, this column has an awful lot of bad advice.

    First of all, the fee for online content? It has never worked for a mainstream publication. Ever, ever, ever. (Full disclosure: I say this as a journalist, and a former member of the Globe staff.) It worked for the WSJ, because biz folks will pay for actionable information; it failed miserably over at the Times. I don’t always agree with Jarvis, but he’s right about this: information wants to be free. No one is gonna pay for content that should be free, and they shouldn’t have to, either.

    Similarly busted is your idea about moving everything online. NO NEWSPAPER OR MAGAZINE – not Slate, not Salon, not the Monitor – has figured out how to make real money online. Certainly not the amount that would fuel the investigative local shit you mention above. I understand you’ve got some ideas here about approaching the “brain trust” in Cambridge but forgive Marty Baron and company if they decide NOT to throw up their arms and immediately wander into the digital hinterlands, hoping against hope that someone will figure out how to make cash online.

    Lastly, viz a previous post: I’m 27. I’m a Gen-Yer. I’m a college-educated, communications professional. Not only do I have a subscription to the Globe, but I also have one to the Times, and four magazines, which I prefer to read in print. Just sayin’….

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