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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

What hath Pinch wrought?

The Boston Globe is about to undergo another round of buy-outs that will be devastating to what was once a great newspaper -- before The New York Times came to town.

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Eileen McNamara is bolting for academia. That moves follows a similar one in the last round from investigative reporter extraordinaire Walter Robinson. Also rumored to be looking to the door are veteran reporters and editors such as Steve Kurkjian, Charles Radin, Bob Turner and Peter Howe.

The only good news is that rumors about the demise of business columnist Steve Bailey are false.

Bitter comments from Globe haters aside, this round cuts even deeper into the muscle of a newspaper that could once proclaim itself among the nation's elite. The impact of the previous cuts can be found in a drastically smaller news hole, the demise of the national desk and all foreign bureaus and a brain drain that has robbed the newspaper of its institutional memory.

The cuts all stem from the desire to protect the Mother Ship on West 43rd Street. To stave off the expectations of Wall Street that newspapers earning less than 20 percent profits are disasters, Arthur O. "Pinch" Sulzberger Jr. is starving the subsidiaries.

The Wall Street attack mirrors the ones that eliminated the once-esteemed Knight-Ridder chain, weakened the Los Angeles Times and driven more and more news consumers to the web instead of dead tree versions of the papers.

In the case of the New York Times Co., the focus of the "savings" has fallen heavily on the New England division, which includes the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Part of the problem in New England is consolidation in other sectors. Remember Jordan Marsh and Filene's? Their advertising clout is a distant memory.

I fear the constant cost-cutting is starting to represent a death spiral: eliminate staff to make up for lost advertising revenues, shrinking the news hole and experience level of the reporters filling it, and so on and so on.

What's even more frightening is the lack of alternatives to the penny Pinching.

Remember the boomlet for local ownership that turned up interest on the part of former GE head honcho Jack Welch? Remember Welch's view on the necessity for anything other than local news? Think Herald.

Ink on paper is a dying form of news delivery -- even if the writing style is more necessary than ever in this world of 10-second sound bites and the hysterical focus on Britney and Anna Nicole.

Encouraging the talented people who can help newspapers make that transition by bringing their sharp questioning and bright writing should not include helping them out the door.

And it also means all parts of the company should share the pain in transition. Hey Pinch, you're close to destroying the Globe. Isn't it time to look elsewhere?

UPDATE: Here's the official word from the Globe and a surprisingly unsnarky account from the Herald.

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Blogger Ryan Adams said...

Fantastic blog! So many of the problems we've all discussed in the blogosphere are exacerbated by the NYTimes treatment of the Globe. If it had more funds, perhaps we wouldn't see so many hack stories? The NY Times should learn from its mistakes and sell off its subsidiaries, preferably to local owners. From here on out, newspapers should avoid being publically held companies too. In the never-ending quest to have super profit margins for stock holders, very profitable companies are making a mockery of themselves. How much profit does one need to make?

A lot of companies are switching to being privately held for that very reason, newspapers being one of them.

March 22, 2007 1:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Must feel really good to be one of those people who signed up for the buyout and then were told "no thanks." What a moral booster!

March 22, 2007 6:11 AM  

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