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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Who killed the Boston Globe?

Word that 23 more experienced Boston Globe staffers will be walking out the door and on to better things is distressing beyond belief.

While the names are anonymous for now, the devastation from this round of belt-tightening is already broadly known -- and includes names such as Helen Donovan, Michael Larkin, Steve Bailey, Peter May, Jackie MacMullan and Gordon Edes.

When I learned of two more buyout takers (a confidence I will keep) I audibly gasped. The level of talent -- and the devastation this will cause in just one area -- is hard to describe.

While it's a popular past time to trash the Globe (something I have not been above myself) it is impossible to overstate what has happened to this once great metropolitan newspaper since it was sold to The New York Times Co.

Wave upon wave of buyouts (and high profile departures like Bailey) have led to a shrinking news hole and things I once thought were impossible -- for example an Associated Press story on the front page of today's business section.

Not all of the blame rests on the Times -- CraigsList, Monster.com and a variety of automobile websites -- not to mention the demise of the department store, all play a role. That an industry attitude that considered operating margins of under 20 percent a disaster.

And truth be told, the Globe has squandered the potential resources of Boston.com.

But the Grey Lady is to blame for taking it out on the newspaper it bought with great promises and high hopes. It is only in this round of cuts that New York is suffering, for the first time, the morale destruction that comes from talented, dedicated people walking out the door.

And yet the problems have escalated because of bad business decisions made by the corporate suite in Times Square (or in the state-of-the-art tower on Eighth Avenue across from the Port Authority bus terminal.)

The newspaper's presence on the web is strong. The corporate presence, not so much. It has been continually outfoxed by Rupert Murdoch (who is ready to move in for the kill with a double dose of The Wall Street Journal and Newsday).

To those leaving I say good times do await. It was wrenching to give up reporting when the I left a once-great news operation that had fallen apart after decades of wretched leadership. But things have turned out well for me, as they will for you.

For the once-great Globe, it's clear a change is desperately needed. The Times should turn it over to local control. The Jack Welch solution discussed about 18 months ago would not have been a good fit.

Instead I see one prominent Boston leader with a solid track record of turning around a moribund operation as the leader of a group that could buy the paper and try to right it.

What do you say Bob Kraft?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please tell more. What did the NYTimes do that aggravated the situation? I thought most of the Globe's problems were self-inflicted.

April 25, 2008 6:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Globe has been a mess for some time now, and is getting worse by the day. It's sad to see this happening but I'm not a romantic - the poor reporting and increasing leakage of laziness and deference-to-officialdom (easier to quote a spokesperson than to do the actual research) means the Globe's no longer in a protective, checks-and-balances role... and nothing in Boston or the Commonwealth provides that function right now. In other words kids, we're on our own.

First sign of this was the years of lame-o, quoting-press-flacks coverage by Mac Daniel, capped by his departure to the Turnpike Commission where he flipped roles to quote bs to the interns they backfilled the transportation beat with.

Among Mac's most notable moments: repeatedly quoting the MBTA line that the T "is one of the least expensive public transit rides in the country". I spent a couple of hours actually compiling rates and sent in my report. The Globe stopped using that line afterward, but no thanks came my way.

Frankly, what the hell good is a newspaper if the readers have to fact-check it all? That's what the paper itself is supposed to be doing.

- James O'Boston

April 25, 2008 8:31 AM  
Anonymous Rich said...

The Globe has been spiraling down for years, long before the internet, but so have many other big city papers. Personally I think it began when every writer began to see himself/herself as a "journalist" and not a reporter. We now subscribe only to the Sunday edition, and I just do the crossword.

April 25, 2008 12:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Globe had a very strong ad sales revenue flow that the Times squandered. It was in very good shape financially pre-Times involvement. Clearly Times never wanted the paper to succeed. Not sure however, about Bob Kraft as the next Winship. Maybe Bloomberg after his stint as NYC Mayor?

April 25, 2008 6:42 PM  
Blogger Outraged Liberal said...

Anon 6:33 -- Anon 6:44 does a pretty good job answering your question!

The Globe is guilty of a lot of self-inflicted wounds, but none of them financial (at least anything they could control).

They suffered with the loss of classified, automobile and department store ads -- as did other newspapers. They haven't figured out how to make money from the web -- same as everyone else.

The problem is that as things started sliding across the industry, The NY Times Co. protected the mother ship at the expense of the step children. That means the drop in earnings led to buyouts at the Globe (and Worcester Telegram & Gazette).

As staff decreased and the size of the newshole decreased, the paper entered a spiral -- because there is no advertising revenue, the space available for journalism shrank, which turned off more readers, which led to circulation losses, less advertising and less news and on and on.

The big problem is the Times has failed to come up with an overall strategy to sustain itself. The Washington Post Co, for example, owns Kaplan Testing, a solid revenue source.

And their Internet decisions have been rotten. The Times bought About.com. Rupert Murdoch bought Myspace. Need I say more?

And so as the parent company bottom line suffers because of both a downturn in advertising revenue and the lack of a solid growth plan, the Times has taken it out on the Globe. See the circle?

Had the Globe been in a position to fend for itself in the cold cruel world (as it did under the Taylor rule) it's possible -- though by no means guaranteed -- they would have made better decisions than the Arthur Sulzberger.

James O'Boston -- the editorial problems are separate and apart from the financial ones, except in the overall spiral problem.

You will not find me defending Mac Daniel though. Matter of fact, a search here will turn up a lot of slaps at the Globe's coverage (or lack thereof) about the problems with the T. His departure to the Big Dig did have a certain unpleasant aroma.

Anon 6:42 -- I'm talking about Kraft as the next Bill Taylor. Marty Baron and Caleb Solomon are doing a pretty good job on the news side. Bloomberg wouldn't be a bad idea -- but isn't he going to buy the Times??? And I can't see him moving back to Medford!

April 25, 2008 7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Liberals don't read - newspapers at least. Good bye Boston Globe, your days of fabricating stories are over.

April 04, 2009 10:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Boston Globe is just another obvious liberal rag. People want all the facts, not just the spin.

July 14, 2010 8:58 AM  

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