Sunday, October 18, 2015

The vestigial newspaper

It isn't often that I take someone's comment on a story and use it as the heart of a post, but someone named Greg Lee nailed it and summarized what I've been watching, too.  The context is this latest story about layoffs and buy-outs at the Boston Globe.  Like Mr. Lee, I read the comments of the editor and said, "Nice try."  Here's what Mr. Lee said:

I understand the financial realities that drive the recent moves by the Boston Globe. It is now, however, a lesser paper than it was, before this current process. 

What was touted to subscribers as redesign and layout changes, has actually been evidence of a slow retreat in journalism, at the Globe. The layout changes feature bigger type sections, more graphics and white space, and much less news coverage and op-ed pieces. 

It's depressing, as a life-long subscriber of over 45 years, to see this current decline in the Boston Globe. The new bottom line is less news coverage and less in-depth journalism, in the daily edition. Economic reality dictates these changes. I understand that point. But please don't call process an improvement or a new birth of possibility. Call it what it is, which is slow, strategic retreat.

How much more so when we watch the paper's owner invest in a new on-line "vertical" called STAT.  Here's the promo:

People at the Globe have told me that 40 people have been recruited for this venture.  That's a hefty annual budget.  Time will tell whether STAT rises to the level of the other big producers in the health care news arena--Pro Publica, Kaiser Health News, and the New York Times.  Time will tell, too, whether--even with great reporting and presentation--STAT will succeed as a business venture.

But I return to Mr. Lee's comment.  For several years, the management has shed as much as possible in costs and journalistic assets, hoping that enough remained to look and feel like the Globe.  Now, it must be difficult to sit in the shrinking Globe newsroom while millions of dollars are allocated to a new enterprise.  The investment in STAT is the strongest indication that the newspaper is now a vestigial organ in the minds of the owners.


David States said...

From Facebook:

The Boston biotech/pharma community needs media coverage, but we are talking more ValleyWag than a heavy weight old media endeavor.

Surprising and disappointing that the Globe did not move into health reporting more aggressively over the past decade. Many of the most highly read stories on the NYT are health/medicine, and the Washington Post has built a solid health policy unit that has prospered even after then defections to Vox. WIth all the biomedical news coming out of Boston, healthcare reporting seems like an area where the Globe could have built its national brand.

Art LaMan said...

From Facebook:

This nails what I have been feeling about the Globe for months now. The John Henry era is turning out to be a disaster for a grand newspaper.

Anonymous said...

It's the Linda Henry era.

Paul Levy said...

The diminution started well before they arrived, but they are certainly locking in the direction.

Jerry said...

The core problem is that print newspapers are on their way to being vestigal organs in the eyes of readers. Circulation numbers are half what they were 15 years ago. Accordingly, advertising rates had to be reduced because there are fewer people looking at those ads. Alongside that is the competition for relatively fixed advertising budgets--not only spending for internet ads, but a felt need to buy all other types of media (direct mail, more TV, skywriting--whatever might be hoped to work) that consumes those available dollars. Result: less revenue to pay the writers and editors who make the print product worthwhile. It's a death spiral. I have no direct knowledge but suspect that "Stat" will be replacing all the in-residence medical staff and the content produced by the new gang will be treated as wire-service copy for the print edition (plus other publications, if they can be recruited to pay up for it). As for the trend toward "verticals"--it's been a long time building. "Running a Hospital" and its successor are obvious examples, aimed at people interested in hospital governance and friends of Paul. We now have scores, hundreds, thousands of "verticals" to choose from in pursuing our quest for knowledge. We have come to expect them all to be free, or next to free. Alas, no one has yet added more minutes and hours to our days--so there are a lot of verticals that we never get to. Our civic life suffers. ..... (Whew! That's enough!)

Richard Asinof said...

In my work editing and publishing ConvergenceRI, which Paul Levy has often praised, I report on the convergence of health, science, innovation, technology, research and community in Rhode Island's innovation ecosystem, What I have discovered is that readers want cogent analysis, in-depth reporting, and a way to have bite-size nuggets that tell what the story is, what are the questions that need to be asked, as well as a providing transparent context and subtext. More than anything else, they want to be able to be a participant in the conversation, not someone being talked at by experts. The problem with The Globe and its online spinouts, BETA and STAT, is that it still reflects a talking-at tone, selling themselves as the arbiters of knowledge and content. And, of course, selling advertising. They keep trying to push the button without being able to get the results. More than just an investment in resources, it means making an investment in reporting.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that they are showing you ads and expecting you to pay for it. Most of us can get real news elsewhere. The generational changes will seal the deal on that. The only problem is getting independants so that the businesses who are trying to fill our minds with their propanganda sprout up.

I have one independent that has a mission and they don't fulfill it. This is why they don't get businesses. They don't know how to act either to get it.

AnswersforLisa is a blog that actually shows the ties between big business (health) and ads.