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Massachusetts Liberal

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

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Greater expectations

Will Jeff Bezos' purchase of the Washington Post kindle a new era of journalism? Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

The announcement that the founder of Amazon.com will purchase the Post has set off an unusual round of optimism about the future of reporting the news. Note I did not say newspapers, that dying relic of a bygone era whose future may truly have been sealed by this deal.

Coming just two days after John Henry's purchase of the Boston Globe, some are seeing this as a watershed moment. But tons of new questions emerge.

Henry toured the Globe newsroom yesterday and hinted that future visits will be symbolic rather than an effort to shape coverage. Time will tell.

Bezos also promised to be a hands-off newsroom presence, saying he has no plans to give up the reins of Amazon, which is not part of the deal, to move across country to run the show.

It's easy to see the differences in the billionaire owners -- one who earned his cash through shrewd investments, the other in putting a vision for a new business into place. One will be a local owner, the other transcontinental.

The Post's new boss is clearly more a man of the wired era than Henry, sparking the hope that he will bring innovation to an industry in drastic need of fresh ideas.

But any observer can't help but feel a bit queasy at the increasing movement of media properties from long-established companies to individuals none of whom, with the exception of Rupert Murdoch, have any knowledge of the basic tenets of journalism.

On second thought, maybe that's a good thing.

Bezos is taking over a newspaper that brought down a president and ushered in a new era of investigative reporting. Today's Post is far different, centered in the capital of lazy journalism that bends over so far to avoid the partisan taunts of bias that it has been hijacked by the politicians it claims to cover.

If he lives up to his pledge to keep his hands off the newsroom, Bezos will ultimately play no role in effecting the most important change that newspaper reporters -- and their broadcast and Internet kin -- need the most. That's a renewed focus on comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

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Sunday, August 04, 2013

Great expectations

John Henry didn't just fall off the soybean truck. The chances of him messing with the Globe's Red Sox coverage are nil.

And it's highly unlikely that in today's deadline every millisecond media society any effort to muffle the Globe's voice with a Red Sock would escape notice. Just ask the denizens of Fargo Street, whose main focus these days is the tweak the powers-that-be, or at least the ones that don't meet their editorial or ideological standards.

So we can assume the glowing portrait of Henry that adorns today's Globe front will quickly fade and that the focus will turn to a deeper look at the life, times and business ventures of a man who is now on the threshold of owning two of the city's most iconic, talked about businesses.

Hopefully that will include a retrospective on the Red Sox' role as corporate citizen which, on the surface, appears to be commendable. Except for some interesting deals surrounding the leasing of public land.

A deal first reported by a student journalism program.

There's a lot more to the Red Sox than a beloved sports institution. It is a billion-dollar for-profit organization valued as the second-most profitable in Major League Baseball. It is a significant taxpayer, with valuable real estate, an expansive payroll and a thriving refreshments and memorabilia business.

It's safe to say the Herald will flood the zone to root out anything untoward in this (and other) Henry ventures. What will be telling is whether the Globe will be as aggressive.

My guess is yes they will. But the point is there will be a lot more at stake in Henry's Globe ownership than the fate of Dan Shaughnessy and fawning coverage of the Old Towne Team.

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Saturday, August 03, 2013

Oh Henry!

You think John Henry waited until after midnight to seal the deal just to scoop the Herald? Or force them to report on something other than their Internet radio station?

Whatever the motives, the Reign of Sulzberger appears to be at an end, the scion of Eighth Avenue heading back to Manhattan with a huge financial loss and a rationalization that he needed to "end the drag" on the New York Times Co.

Time will tell if the Globe is just another trinket for the man who owns the Red Sox. And it opens another era of anxiety for the staff that has endured years of shrinking and downgrading at the hands of the Times.

But to read the Grey Lady is to feel the unmitigated sense of relief in taking $70 million (and keeping the pension expenses) for a property for which they paid $1.1 billion two decades ago.
“The trends at The Globe have been a drag on the company,” [UBS analyst John] Janedis said. “The New York Times has performed a lot better over the past several years. To the extent that you can refocus on a paper with massive global appeal that has still a very strong core readership and then expand the product offerings, there’s probably more long-term value creation there versus having The Times and The Globe long term in the same portfolio.” 
You think they guy may also be working for Pat Purcell?

Henry for one, is touting the value of local ownership, even though by Boston standards he is a carpetbagger who blew into town only a decade or so ago and has his escape vehicle prominently berthed at Rowe's Wharf.
“This is a thriving, dynamic region that needs a strong, sustainable Boston Globe playing an integral role in the community’s long-term future,” he said.
Similar words have been uttered by local business executives with no experience in journalism who have purchased once-seemingly iconic properties and run them into the ground (are you listening Sam Zell?)

To be fair, Henry and his partners have been good stewards of the Red Sox and have helped bring on an era to revitalization to the once moribund area around Fenway Park.

But the business scenario is quite different: Henry can't open his wallet and bring in high-priced free agents to staff the city desk and the Statehouse. He also has nowhere near the leverage to raise ticket prices, particularly on the every dwindling coterie of loyalists who have sustained higher costs and poorer service as home delivery customers.

And unlike the team he puts out on the field, there has been a steady shrinkage of news hole and serious journalism to fill the dwindling space.

Henry undoubtedly knows the future rests online -- and even here the results to date need to be a bit unnerving.

So fasten your seat belts and stay tuned for more upheaval on Morrissey Boulevard.

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