4 Reasons Why the Boston Globe is Still in Trouble

The Globefather makes an offer employees cant refuse.

The Globefather makes an offer employees can't refuse.

It difficult right now to determine what is going to happen between the Boston Globe and the Boston Newspaper Guild.  Supposedly, the sides have reached a tentative agreement.  How that would work after reports yesterday of Globe management wanting a 23 percent cut in pay for Guild members is anyone’s guess.  Both sides remain close-mouthed about the alleged deal.

However, as Media Nation notes the threat of an immediate closure seems to have passed.  The New York Times Co., owners of the Globe, are required to file paperwork 60-days before any closure.  So the Globe survives – for the time being.

But even if the Globe management and the Guild reach a compromise, the Globe is hardly out of the woods.  Here are four reasons why the newspaper is still in big trouble:

1. It’s obsession with “paper.”

Delivering “news” several hours old once a day on a flimsy sheet of paper is a dying model.  There is no future in it.  The web has completely destroyed that business model – in favor of instant news delivery through RSS and other formats.  Yet all of the Globe‘s recent efforts have centered on saving the paper product.  It continues to employ hundreds of printers, drivers, and workers who insert advertising flyers into the paper.

This is the equivalent of a horse and buggy dealer deciding that those newfangled “automobiles” are just a fad – and if we just make cuts in salaries and benefits and reduce the cost of manufacturing the buggies – we’ll be all right.  That’s wishful thinking and one that will fast make the newspaper industry obsolete.

Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor and blogger at Media Nation, offered up a compelling idea of the Globe giving out Kindles to subscribers. This might not be the ultimate answer, but its the kind of innovative thinking that the Globe needs to be engaged in.

2. Stop killing the golden goose.

The golden goose, of course, is news.  The Globe has been constricting for years.  The scope and depth of its coverage is reduced every year and as a result its quality suffers.  In this age of information, the Globe should be expanding its news operations, especially locally.  But the obsession with “paper” forces it to cut its most valuable commodity – it’s ability to gather and report news from New England.

This leads to treating all employees the same.  So it continues to employ all those obsolete job functions (delivery drivers and pressmen) in order to deliver on its dying business model rather than invest more in news gathering.  It has placed itself into a perpetuating Catch-22.  It continues to lose subscribers at an alarming rate which reduces its ability to sell advertising so it cuts more reporting staff which leads to a lesser quality product and more canceled subscriptions.  No business can survive for long by undermining the quality of its primary product.

The Globe needs to start delivering news through other channels: video, audio, web and social networking.  This should be the primary focus: monetizing and exploring new delivery methods.  Yet there’s scant evidence that the Globe is investing in or exploring new ways to do that.

3. We don’t need no stinkin’ plan.

There’s a lot the New York Times Co. isn’t telling us about the fate of the Globe. Other than slashing the pay and benefits of its workers and increasing the price of its product, they have offered up nothing in the way of a future vision.  I suggested last month that the Globe should convey a open brainstorming session with some of the technology and social media experts in the region.  They should be tapping into this brain trust to help it figure out innovative ways to reach readers.

What will the Globe look like next year?  The year after?  What are its move forward plans?  Instead, it seems as if the Globe is content with the status quo.  And if they do have a plan – why aren’t they sharing it?

4. It’s alienated its dwindling loyal readers

The Globe lost its audience years ago when it abandoned Boston and focused on attracting yuppies and suburbanites with pandering articles about gourmet restaurants and remodeling McMansions.  They have catered to this crowd for years.  And guess what?  They don’t care that the Globe is struggling.  But those loyal readers who are left – about 300,000 of us – do care.  Yet the New York Times Co. and the Globe management showed us how much they cared about us when they decided against communicating honestly with us during the last month.

It is apparent that Globe management doesn’t value transparency nor openness with its customers.  Management stonewalled its own reporters in covering the story of its closure and remained tight-lipped through the whole process.  It hasn’t even tried to ease the fears of readers with assurances that they are dedicated to keeping the Globe a thriving business.  This allowed speculation to run rampart and for misinformation to proliferate (sometimes to the benefit of management).

For example, it is now clear that the New York Times Co. didn’t really plan on shutting down the Globe on May 1 even if it didn’t get concessions from the Globe unions.  Yet they threatened to do so several times.  It’s also clear that management wasn’t just looking for cuts in the tune of $20 million from its unions, but also an end to the life-time employment guarantees (which I believe means it will soon be “laying off” veteran workers because they are higher paid than new employees).  Now they appear to be trying to slash Guild salaries by one-fourth – which is a ridiculously high amount.

I know my own opinion of the New York Times Co. and Globe management has been negatively influenced by its behavior over the last 30 days.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  The Globe should be strengthening relationships with its readers – building a strong and viable community via the web and social media – not alienating them.  They have – so far – shown they don’t care to do that.

5 Responses to “4 Reasons Why the Boston Globe is Still in Trouble”

  1. While perhaps not taking full advantage of the online mediums available (video, feeds, etc.) I think you’re harsh on the Globe. They are indeed providing many of these services online now. Seems to me they’re doing it even more in the last few weeks (coincidence or just me noticing it more?)

    Many stories now appear online long before they arrive on the doorstep. Better advertising this would, of course, bite into their paper subscriptions though, so your catch 22 remark is well taken.

    Should they do more of it? Yes. Should they only be doing that? I’m not sold on the idea of scrapping the “flimsy sheet of paper.”

  2. Hi Jeremy:
    Boston.com gets great traffic for the Globe, but really its just a depositor for offline stories. I think a lot of traffic comes from Red Sox fans living in different parts of the country – but that’s another conversation. That said they are getting much better – but have a long way to go.

    I can’t see a future for news delivery on paper – at the Globe or anywhere else. The days of “newspapers” are limited in the age of the web, iPhone and Kindle and there isn’t much that can be done to save it.

    It isn’t my intention to be harsh – just direct. But I’m sure the Globe can handle it 🙂

  3. It would be nice to have a complete newspaper beamed directly to my email. Newspapers seem to be a very unique medium that transcends “breaking coverage” both newspapers and magazines have time that radio and TV don’t have to interpret and analyse a particular event. Periodicals and Internet journals are different in the way that the periodicals are finite and bounded, that is you can finish reading it and be ready for the next edition, while an online news feed will constantly update, and a news junky like myself will need to exercise powerful discipline to pull away long enough to do other things, like shower and eat.

    Look at Full Circle Magazine:

    It may not be your demographic, but I like the delivery and want to see something main-stream, like the Globe, to produce something just like it daily.

  4. I would read the globe if they would just report the facts. The paper’s liberal bias comes out in what news they cover and the news they don’t report. It seems your reporters were absent the days in college,that impartial journalism was taught. I believe a lot of people just buy the globe for your sports section, which is outstanding.Honest unbiased journalism is that to much to ask for?


  1. A Reprieve, For Now « Safe Digression - May 7, 2009

    […] links to a blog I had not read before, George Snell’s High Talk, where Snell lays out some really great observations on things the Globe needs to do next: pow-wow with the new media braintrust, focus on news, rebuild […]

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