Monday, April 6, 2009

Saving the Boston Globe

I've joined a dozen other bloggers in posting this message simultaneously:

"We have all read recently about the threat of possible closure faced by the Boston Globe. A number of Boston-based bloggers who care about the continued existence of the Globe have banded together in conducting a blog rally. We are simultaneously posting this paragraph to solicit your ideas of steps the Globe could take to improve its financial picture.

"We view the Globe as an important community resource, and we think that lots of people in the region agree and might have creative ideas that might help in this situation. So, here's your chance. Please don't write with nasty comments and sarcasm: Use this forum for thoughtful and interesting steps you would recommend to the management that would improve readership, enhance the Globe's community presence, and make money. Who knows, someone here might come up with an idea that will work, or at least help. Thank you."

11 comments:

Brian Ahier said...

They could make premium content available online to their print subscribers. If this content is attractive enough, and it is only available to print subscribers, then they could have a robust online presence while maintaining interest in their print publication.

Ben said...

Printing costs come to mind readily as something that needs to be eliminated. If I was in that business, I'd try to be the first to partner with an eInk or oLED manufacturer and create "Globe@Home", where you agree to subscribe for like three years or some junk, and they send you a free, wireless, newspaper-sized and thin pad that allows the reader to get his or her news straight to their pad each morning. Even better if they could get it to be foldable/collapsible for easy transport.

I would also like to second the "premium content" model. Look at most heavy-content sites, and they usually offer two services: one that's for reeling in the majority of people, and the other for the hopelessly addicted/hardcore user that needs their content, and bad. I don't know the Boston Globe, so I have no idea what that would take.

We do need to realize that print media is dying though, and the only organizations that are going to survive are those that can adapt. I think the Globe and organizations like it provide serious value and will be able to, but it's going to come at the cost of the margins and way of business that they've become accustomed to.

Hoots said...

My blog is very small potatoes but it's important to me and a handful of others. I have linked writers from the Boston Globe at least once a year. That paper has the most impressive stable of erudite contributors of any published in English. I wish I had some constructive advice how to save newspapers from oblivion, but any ideas I thought were original have already been floated. (Search engines are not good for the ego but do a great deal for one's humility.) I keep blogging because I only aim to reach the right people. And they are few and far between. It is ideas, not personalities, that make any real impact on the future.

Here's hoping someone will take time to comb the comment threads for ideas. Finding good thinking in comment threads, like real-time brainstorming, is like panning for gold. The work is measured in tons but the payload is measured in ounces.

John Halamka said...

Thanks to everyone for these comments. I'll make sure the Globe folks see them.

Ferdinand Velasco said...

You might find Clay Shirky's recent blog post about the future of journalism of interest: http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/.

jcooley said...

This is not intended to be snarky, but honest. Newspapers are in trouble for some very obvious reasons, some economic and some rooted in ideology. Each will require a look inward, with the latter item (ideology) being the harder one to accomplish. Here are six items:

1. They are a woefully inefficient way to distribute content. It costs a fortune to print one and they don't pay anywhere near the external costs they create in terms of disposing of tons of low-value pulp paper products.

2. They are one-size-fits-all product in a world of custom fits. I don't care about 90+ percent of what is in my local paper. I have no interest in sports, don't go clubbing, don't watch TV, and simply have no interest in most of what they publish or advertise. Why buy a whole meal when all you want is a tomato from the salad -- and then you throw away the rest.

3. Folks don't wish to hear this, but many newspapers have alienated large swaths of the reading public. If you are a conservative who generally votes Republican, what is in a typically daily newspaper that you find of interest? Newspapers are seen by many as overwhelmingly liberal Democrat in their news, views, and slant. While newspapers will try to argue this point, the perceptions of literally millions of readers cannot all be wrong. A "group-think" mentality on the part of publishers, editors, and news staff leads to what is perceived as cheer-leading for one side and attempts to sabotage the other. Newspapers are seen not as a neutral referee, but as someone who has a bet riding on the outcome of the game. At some point, folks simply do not wish to pay to subsidize their political opposition. The coverage of the last presidential race was a particularly low point in the mainstream media. Can anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty look at it and say it was balanced? What is going on is not that a subset of customers merely stopped buying these news products - the reality is that they are actively boycotting them. I am one of those participating in this unpublicized boycott.

4. Newspapers are part of a larger mass media that seems to operate from the perception that "the customer is always wrong." They are judged as arrogant because, lets be honest, they often act that way when someone disagrees with them. Again, note the vehemence that they will deny a liberal bias. Yet, if millions of readers think it is pretty obvious, why is it that those millions of readers simply must all be wrong. What if these former readers have a valid point?

5. Newspapers are seen as increasingly hostile places for those who conform to traditional family values or maintain a deeper religious outlook. This was made clear to me when the cover story of the entertainment magazine insert of our local daily had a big story on "Lezzy Rock."

6. Newspapers act as the "middle-man" of a lot of news that the Internet now enables people to get for themselves. I can watch my state legislature in session, read each bill they debate, and obtain first-hand information that used to require someone sitting down there gathering it. Of course, once I do this, I can readily note the differences between what I saw for myself and how it was reported.

I speak as someone who spent years actually working in the media and who had over a million words published. My local paper does not interest me, as they frankly seem openly hostile to many of the views and values I hold. My time spent covering political news also showed me firsthand stories they missed (or actively avoided) that would have been damaging to the fortunes of one political party or favored local politicos. I saw it with my own eyes as someone who worked in the print media industry: the watchdog was acting like a lapdog.

If I am in any business, it is a poor business model to chase away roughly half of my potential customers. Perhaps, when faced with the reality of bankruptcy, some newspapers may actually try to figure out how to cover both sides of an issue again.

As mentioned earlier, this requires a serious look inward that will not be easy to do. Nobody likes to ask: "Did we do something wrong"? But, one must ask hard questions of yourself when survival is at stake.

As a doctor, you undoubtedly have had to tell patients that something they really like to do is killing them. It probably wasn't easy for you and the patient might not have always been receptive to it. Yet, you had an obligation to them and to the truth.

I offer this critique of the newspaper industry in the same spirit.

Brian said...

Find an way to shut down Google and Craigslist, and newspapers will start making $$$ again.

Seriously though, we don't need newspapers, we do need journalism. Similar to people not needing horses and buggys, but actually needing transportation.

Pavel said...

Do I think the Era of newspapers in print is over? Yes. Do I worry about where the news is going to come from? Yes. How the reporters are going to get paid? In the meantime Boston Globe should create a website where people could go and contribute money to the newspaper by credit card. (If it doesn't exist already) I don't read the Globe every day nor do I want to subscribe to it, but I would contribute a few bucks if it meant another year of existence for the paper. Is it going to work? Maybe not, but it is better than nothing.

Hoots said...

"Newspapers are seen by many as overwhelmingly liberal Democrat in their news, views, and slant. While newspapers will try to argue this point, the perceptions of literally millions of readers cannot all be wrong. A 'group-think' mentality on the part of publishers, editors, and news staff leads to what is perceived as cheer-leading for one side and attempts to sabotage the other."

jcooly,

These observations are correct but your conclusions are not. When you argue that "the perceptions of literally millions of readers cannot all be wrong" you overlook the fact that print journalism (and ordinary books, for that matter) throughout history has been at the forward edge of progress from the invention of printing. Not to put too fine a point on it, newspapers in one form or another have always shaped public opinion and not the other way around.

As someone reared in the South I can assure you that some of the most hated people of many a small community have been newspaper publishers, with Ralph McGill (Atlanta Constitution) leading the pack. In that instance millions of people were not only wrong but stubbornly and stupidly so. And I can assure you that many unreconstructed Southerners to this day have not thrown in the towel.

The loss of old-fashioned "gumshoe reporting" supported by newspapers is the biggest loss when a paper goes under. Hopefully those "boots on the ground" journalists (as opposed to opinion columnists who traffic more in ideas than facts) can free-lance or find employment at magazines and broadcast media.

No one would argue that newspapers are as heavily Liberal as talk show hosts are Conservative. The difference is between rhetoric and printed words, with rhetoric being far more pliable and quicker to trigger non-reflective reactions. My own admittedly slanted opinion is that when editors read what they are putting into print they are more apt to sound Liberal, having more sympathy for victims, tragedies and social problems of all descriptions, because they nave seen them up close. Those more distant from reality are also more likely to cast the same issues in Conservative ideological language. Hence the expression "bleeding hearts."

Thanks to C-SPAN I, too. have seen the pontificating that goes on in legislatures. Often what I hear seems to be in competition with the talk show hosts, calling for a response more visceral than reflective. I suppose political opinions, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.

Brian Ahier said...

Newspapers can still survive. However, there may be some truth to the idea that being overly ideological can hurt business.
Hearst stopped printing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but the Seattle Times thrives. Scripps shut down the Rocky Mountain News, but the Denver Post is still doing business.
The Globe reported: "This week, the Globe newsroom completed cutting the equivalent of 50 full-time jobs. But the deteriorating economy has made the Globe’s financial outlook much worse … The Times Co. is seeking (new) concessions from the unions because the New York company, which is also suffering from the recession, can no longer subsidize the Globe’s losses…"

jcooley said...

I found an article on the topic of the newspaper business model in the age of Google that looked like it might be useful to add to the mix:

http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/News-publishers-misdirected-online-anger/story.aspx?guid={2A02035C-952D-40F5-8DB0-6B228B0A05B4}

Here is the headline: OUTSIDE THE BOX
News publishers' misdirected online anger, Commentary: Aggregators aren't the problem, it's the business model

I also noted one comment directed specifically to me, so I will respectfully respond:

"These observations are correct but your conclusions are not. When you argue that "the perceptions of literally millions of readers cannot all be wrong" you overlook the fact that print journalism (and ordinary books, for that matter) throughout history has been at the forward edge of progress from the invention of printing. Not to put too fine a point on it, newspapers in one form or another have always shaped public opinion and not the other way around."

While I labored in the field of the printed word, I cannot concur that this form of media is always the "forward edge of progress." While I may wish this to be the case, I can point to some very nasty ideas that had their roots in books and popular print. While books and newspapers may indeed elevate, they may also feed the negative aspects of human beings just as effectively. That is why the word "propaganda" has such a negative connotation.

I must respectively disagree that "newspapers in one form or another have always shaped public opinion and not the other way around." One may find numerous issues (or candidates) where near uniformity exists among editorial boards that stands 180 degrees opposite of popular opinion.

I can cite two examples from one topic. The press in Texas was overwhelmingly opposed to permitting the concealed carrying of firearms. It was passed into law anyway and a governor who very popular with the editorial boards vetoed it. The results that followed: Concealed carry was passed again to strong public support and the governor was replaced by the voters in the next election.

In this case, the press was strongly on the opposite side of the general public on both an issue and a candidate. The public's view didn't change. Some of them however, may have simply quit reading their local newspapers. In that situation, the ability of the local newspaper to change their opinion became moot.

Please note that I strongly agree with one point the commenter made and wish to leave upon this note of agreement:

"The loss of old-fashioned "gumshoe reporting" supported by newspapers is the biggest loss when a paper goes under. Hopefully those "boots on the ground" journalists (as opposed to opinion columnists who traffic more in ideas than facts) can free-lance or find employment at magazines and broadcast media."

I agree completely. I add: Perhaps a renewed focus on hard news reporting might help some of these papers attract back readership.