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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Burying the lead

I've been pretty adamant that, all things being equal in the sad business that is newspapers today, The New York Times holds the lion's share of the blame for the precarious state of affairs at the Boston Globe today.

That is until I read the news today, oh boy, that the Taylor family had a chance to get in on the ground floor of what today is Monster.com -- and passed up the chance.

The Globe, like every major paper, literally got fat and happy with classified advertising. The decline of that revenue source is at the root of the problem of every struggling newspaper.

But not every newspaper had the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the phenomenon that has led them to desperation.

To their credit, the Taylors are not shy about admitting what hindsight says is one of the most bone-headed moves in Boston history.
Asked about the mid-1990s rebuff to Monster.com, Steve Taylor, who was executive vice president of the Globe during those discussions, said, "I'm sorry to tell you that's an absolutely true story."

Taylor family members in Globe management at the time recall the episode as a missed investment opportunity, something that might have given the company a financial cushion though certainly not slowed the Internet's rise or the erosion of the print classified ad base. "The Globe just didn't want to cannibalize itself," Steve Taylor said.

Ben Taylor, the last member of his family to serve as publisher of the Globe, also remembered the paper's decision to pass up an investment in Monster.com. "Getting a piece of Monster might have been a quantum leap into the digital world," he acknowledged. "But it may have been a leap we weren't prepared to take."

That may be the quote they stick on the Globe's tombstone.

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Blogger Chris Rich said...

Failing to engage web potential is just part of the problem. The other is a reaction by the public against advertising and bundled content.

Old media advertising is called 'impression' based. If half a million people a week drive by some billboard on Morrissey Boulevard, the voodoo assumption is that some will be moved to look up the billboard subject.

If your circulation is 600,000, then surely a certain number will actually retain and read the flyer inserts rather than reflexively tossing them.

Because people are so accosted and saturated with impression ads, they now appear to developed an adaptive response of reflexively ingnoring everything that isn't on their personal radar screen.

And this has creeped into the actual print content. I can provide one direct example. I dabble in producing 'avante garde' jazz shows and have been since the 80s.

Back in the day, if a Glob or Penis (Phoenix) scribbler, (writer), gave you a 'pic' or a feature piece prior to a concert, there was a measurable correlation in audience. Given that it's an obscure unpopular idiom, it would translate to maybe 40 more people showing up than without.

Now, it's eerie. The Phoenix will do a big fat tail wag about something and it will not amount to one person showing up who wasn't going to anyway.

Those of in weird music show biz all know this and we found the only attendence correlation is personal relations to the performer in most cases.

If you have friends, they show up.

Another eerie thing, the recycle bins in my neighborhood generally lack newspaper compared with the past and I'm in Inman Square.

I'll sometimes grab a wad of broadsheet or tabloid to mask areas I'm painting, the Hairoil (Herald) rocks for masking steps.

Now I have to settle for a few forlorn sheets of Metro that blow around the square.

Now, let's turn to the second, less discussed problem, rejection of bundled content.

Everyone bundles except Google. My first blog piece ever was about content bundling. The Glob is a bunch of bundles called Sports, Living/Arts, Local News, Classifieds, etc.

What if you just want useful local news? Most of your 75 cents is wasted on stuff you don't want and just toss.

Apply it to Cable TV where you are forced to pay for 'premium content' in a bundle to get the stuff you actually want.

Then we have the dreaded Collateral Debt Obligation bonds that are now making huge banks insolvent.

They are bundled securities, a pile of toxic mortgage streams with a pile of performing mortgage streams..whee.

Google lets me unbundle and the 'signal' element of my lifelong learning, research and edification improves as the 'noise' is filtered away.

And there is perhaps a scarier implication for journalists. They mainly have functioned to mediate and filter reality from its core to presumed readers.

Much of this has devolved over years to trying to gauge how dim people are in a statistical base in order to tailor copy to keep em coming back.

This worked until new thresholds in public apathy arrived and they got bored with the bowdlerization and just flocked to cheap spectacles.

What's a mediator to do. And now the role is further eroded by real content that surges through the web.

There are very few journalists of the caliber of Hedrick Smith, Walter Mears, Halberstam or Seymour Hirsch.

Most provincial papers don't have writers on par with Lewis Lapham.

The Globe once had Peter Anderson, a great regional color writer that made a Sunday edition worth it. Now it has middle brow versions of Howie Carr.

So if the embedded mediocrity of the profession wasn't enough of a handicap, I can now just read excellent quality writing by actual leaders in their fields and skip the journalist interpreter.

It is telling that Bruce Mohl left the Globe to make Mass Inc, a powerfully valuable resource on core issues facing the Commonwealth with astonishingly useful reports. I am a glad subscriber.

And this content quality is what drives measurable traffic and determines ad value in an utterly open quantifiable way.

The new model is for ads to not look like ads thru smart low profile placement next to applicable content so the ad actually has utility.

A user reads a piece on John Coltrane or roof repair, and a small adjacent tab leads to the market for these things..how cool is that compared to Ernie Bock jr braying on the radio?

April 12, 2009 10:55 AM  
Anonymous George Snell said...

Hi ML:
I thought the most disappointing part of the Globe's coverage yesterday was the defeatist attitude that pervaded both articles. They read like obituaries. Where's the fight?


April 13, 2009 9:22 AM  

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