5 Other Reasons the Boston Globe Faces Closure

The urgency I’ve felt about the possible closure of the Boston Globe was put into stark contrast yesterday morning. As I walked home after accompanying my daughter to her elementary school, I was joined by another parent who had just completed the same duty. As we strolled up the street, I mentioned the story that I’ve been obsessing over the last few days.

Cadbury, put the Boston Globe next to the champagne and cavier. And send a check to some orphans.

Cadbury put the Boston Globe next to the champagne. And send a check to some orphans.

It was news to him. He neither knew about the Globe‘s crisis nor cared. He told me he hasn’t subscribed to the Globe in years. This was yet another example of a college-educated professional with no connection to his hometown newspaper (earlier this week I blogged about my unscientific survey of Gen Y professionals and how none of them subscribed to the Globe).

Clearly, I’m in the minority in how much I care about the Globe. Clearly, I’m part of an older demographic still clinging to concept of newspapers. But it made me wonder why so many people don’t read the Globe anymore. There’s no doubt that the primary reason is because of the easy access to information available on the web and the global financial crisis. But the Boston Globe has also made other big mistakes – and in the process lost the loyalty of their community.

Here are five of the biggest mistakes:

1. Embracing Elitism.

They did this in two ways:

  • First by its hiring practices of editors and reporters. The fastest way to get hired by the Globe? Have a degree from an Ivy League college. In the last decade, the Globe rarely recruited young talent from the smaller and regional newspapers in New England. I worked at the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester for more than a decade (the 5th largest newspaper in New England), yet not one reporter or editor while I was there was hired by the Globe – and it wasn’t for a lack of effort by the T&G staff. The Globe shunned locally trained journalists in favor of those with better pedigrees. As a result, they built a staff of like-minded individuals mostly culled from upper echelons of society.
  • Second they began to write specifically for this class of people – mostly white and affluent and living in the Boston suburbs. They became obsessed with real estate, gourmet cooking, home decorating, Harvard University, technology gadgets, travel, restaurants and child care. The content was often maddeningly skewered to this wealthy suburban audience often assuming that every reader faced the same challenges when redesigning a 1,000-square-foot kitchen or throwing a dinner party for 18 after a Tanglewood concert. This was the ultimate betrayal of the Globe‘s working and blue-collar readers.

2. Abandoning Boston

At some point, the Globe decided to cede its city coverage to the Boston Herald. Probably at the same time it decided to focus outward on the suburban audience. As a result, they no longer covered City Council or School Committee meetings. If you wanted to understand the politics and issues of Boston you wouldn’t find it in the pages of the Globe. Coverage of issues was spotty. Columnists – even the local ones – focused on national issues. There was more coverage of the Bush administration in the editorial and op-ed pages than of the Menino administration.

3. The Liberal Bias

I believe the Globe tries to balance each story, but I also believe it slants to the left in what it chooses to cover and how it covers it. The editorials have become preachy – and a bit heavy handed. And other than Jeff Jacoby there are few op-eds from the right side of the aisle. The Globe rarely gives thoughtful analysis or support to conservative and Republican issues, causes and candidates. While I don’t believe this bias is as bad as many critics say it is in reality – the perception is that the Globe is a liberal newspaper – even on its news pages. The Globe hasn’t successfully put that perception to rest. This, of course, alienated many readers in the center and on the right.

4. Cutting Coverage

The Globe – under the terrible stewardship of the New York Times Co. – has slowly, but methodically eliminated staff. With the long downsizing of reporters and editors – from foreign correspondents to sports reporters – the content has suffered. The Globe has relied on wire stories, freelancers, and younger reporters (without the institutional knowledge or experience) to generate too much of its content. And as the staff got smaller, they were forced to write more – and do less reporting. Quality suffered. When you put out a lesser product (and what the Globe is publishing right now is a sub-par sporadic dartboard of news). You lose customers when you charge more for less.

5. Insular Mentality

With the staff shrinkage came an entrenchment of the Globe establishment. The insiders ruled. Outsiders – or those that thought differently than the establishment – were either sent packing or left of their own freewill. This establishment became arrogant and blind to the realities happening outside of Morrissey Boulevard. They failed to innovate, failed to change with the times, failed to embrace new technologies and new revenue models. They stuck to the doomed course and are now suffering the consequences.

There is no doubt the web and the economic global crisis are the primary reasons why the Globe finds itself on the edge of closure. But the Globe needs to shoulder the responsibility for its own demise. And if it doesn’t stop thinking like this and start thinking like this – then it the newspaper’s closure is immenient.

10 Responses to “5 Other Reasons the Boston Globe Faces Closure”

  1. Excellent post. I live in Mass and have read the Globe daily for over 25 years. You made some excellent points, especially the second part of Point #1. You need only to read an issue of The Globe magazine on Sunday, just like the Times Magazine it caters to a small minority of people.

    I will miss the Sports which I read with a religous coviction,great reporting on that front.

  2. When I started high school in the late 1960s, the Globe was already excluding Boston public schools from its high school sports coverage. They made a very conscious effort to be a regional rather than a city paper. And over the years, they were happy to cede the watchdog beat to Howie Carr. There was a time when the elimination of patronage and corruption was at the heart of the goo-goo platform. Now, as long as the members of the Great and General Court vote the lefty party line, they are free to move the family into sinecures. The only reason the Globe went after Marian Walsh was that the publicity was getting in the way of raising taxes. If nothing else, I’d say that the bow-tie bumkissers have dug their own graves.

  3. Hi MarkB:
    Thanks for your comments. While I believe the Globe leans left, I also believe that it’s liberal bias is overstated and more of a perception problem that it didn’t deal with correctly.

    I disagree with your assessment of the Globe’s reporting. I’ve always admired the Globe’s dedication to digging out the news – where ever it lies. For example, the Spotlight Team reporting is terrific.

    (Dan Kennedy at Media Nation cites the 2003 Pulitzer for the reporting on Cardinal Law & the Catholic church sex scandal as another great example of Globe reporting).

    And while I believe the Globe bears responsibility for the position it is in, I also believe its real failure (and that of the newspaper industry as a whole) was its slowness to adapt to and capitalize on the web.

  4. I don’t think the Globe is THAT liberal, but honestly, I’ve lived here four years and have never subscribed, and don’t even go to Boston.com on a regular basis.

    My question is, what’ll happen when WGBH faces the same crisis? They have many of the same problems, including thinking they’re invincible.

  5. Hello, George –

    In order to explain why the Globe has been losing readers, don’t you first have to show that the Globe actually has been losing readers?

    Where do Boston.com’s 5 million-plus unique monthly visitors fit into your view of what’s wrong with the Globe?

    I don’t want to defend everything the Globe has been doing. Some of your observations — especially #1 and #2 — make a great deal of sense. I’m just trying to stick up for basic math here.

  6. Hey Dan:
    Thanks for stopping by. I’m all for math. The Globe’s circulation has been plummeting for years and is now at about 324,000 subscribers (from a peak somewhere in the high 500,000s in the 1990s if I’m not mistaken).

    That’s a drastic loss of paying readers in the Globe’s primary circulation area of Massachusetts and New England.

    I’ve heard the five million plus readers for Boston.com as well – impressive numbers for any online content provider. But I don’t have the breakdown on the traffic. So I don’t know, for example, how many of these uniques are one-time viewers from a search engine, an accidental click through or a hit that came from an image search.

    What does matter is how many of the five million are repeats – those returning regularly. So a telling number would be to know how many RSS subscribers Boston.com has. And how many of those RSS subscribers are the same 324,000 who are print subscribers and how many are not?

    Are readers landing on wire stories or Globe originals? (I’d also love to know how many readers are displaced Bostonians catching up on Red Sox scores and stories).

    I don’t know the answers, but the numbers at Boston.com are why I advocate the Globe putting all of its resources against a web strategy.

    I also want to clarify. The “other” reasons I listed above aren’t what I consider the primary problems the Globe is facing – just issues that have lead to an erosion of the brand and a loss of loyalty.

    That’s my main point: the Globe’s failure to maintain a strong connection with its community.

    Now I’m getting away from math and into my own observations. I’ve been surprised at the reaction of peers and neighbors to the Globe’s plight – or I should say the shrugs and “Oh, wells” I’ve gotten from them. There’s not a lot of outrage over the possible loss of the newspaper.

    I love the Globe (even when it drives me nuts) and can’t imagine not reading the print edition everyday – but I’m discovering that I’m in the minority.

  7. George, I think we can tell quite a bit even without doing all the work you propose.

    Newspaper folks have always known that most of their customers are casual readers. Given the opportunity to catch up with the Globe at work for 15 minutes, it’s logical that such casual readers would take advantage of it. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that.

    Boston.com visitors spend about 17 minutes on the site, which is much higher than is the case with most newspaper websites — and about what a casual reader would spend.

  8. Hi Dan:
    I disagree that a paid subscriber should be labeled a casual reader. They have committed their wallets to purchasing something they think has value.

    That’s much different than a net surfer in Sweden who happens onto Boston.com because he was searching on Google for the latest photos of Gisele.

  9. If you check out the metrics for Boston.com on Compete.com, it actually looks like the average number of minutes an average visitor spends on the site is actually 4:24 — a drastic 54.6% decrease from last year.

    I visit Boston.com everyday, and can’t imagine spending 17 minutes at a time on the site — let alone 17 minutes on average. The mere fact that the largest and most central story posted on Boston.com today is “Do you and your dog think alike?” actually made me X out of the site and sign into iGoogle to see what better news options awaited me.

  10. When news finally arrives, that one of the Flagships of the Obamedia, has perished in a sea of Red-Ink. Here is my suggestion for how all of us can join together, and give the paper a send-off they so richly deserve:

    ” … na-na na na, na-na na na, hey heeeey, goodbyeeee”

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