Tag Archives: boston globe

As The Globe Turns

So, with 80% of the membership voting, the Boston Newspaper Guild narrowly rejected the proposed $10 million in wage and benefit cuts offered by the New York Times Co. Almost immediately, an across-the-board 23% wage cut will go into effect for Guild members.

The door does not appear entirely closed — both the Guild and the newspaper seemed to leave open room for resuming negotiations or at least discussing the pending 23% cut, and that could be me offering an overly optimistic reading between the lines — but it looks pretty grim. The next steps could involve a surprise, late-breaking settlement, sure, but more likely a protracted court struggle or even closure.

The problem with this whole scenario is that there is a lot of shady stuff going on. You have one observer doing the math and coming to the conclusion that the Globe’s finances are nowhere near as dire as they have been painted (combine that with the NYT’s shoddy accounting of the sacrifices they asked of the Globe, and other questions about the veracity of their claim that the Globe expecting a loss of $85 million this year). You have the NYT Co. being bizarrely silent throughout the negotiations process, which just inflames the other side. You have the Guild’s leadership under scrutiny. And the list goes on. And the picture grows even murkier, the paper’s fate less certain.

But you know what? I’m having a lot of trouble mustering the will to care. Hell, I’m having trouble mustering the will to finish this post, even though I’ve certainly had things to say on the matter before. Maybe it’s battle fatigue. Maybe it’s a creeping feeling of hopelessness. Or indifference. I don’t know. But while the NYTimes has been shut up in stony silence and the Globe has been wrestling internally with its own fate, the readers have been left to watch the spectacle unfold, seeing pieces of the paper get sloughed off and the occasional WTF feature snag prime column inches. I understand that livelihoods are at stake, but let’s divest the personal concerns from this situation for a moment, if I may. Isn’t a newspaper supposed to service its readership? How, right now, are we being served?

To zoom back out to the big picture, let’s look at the news industry. It is in peril. This standoff between the Globe and the Times is representative of the worst possible consequence of a deeply troubled media climate. As I’ve said before, while the short-term solution may be to staunch the bleeding, that must be coupled with innovation. Any cost-saving measure, no matter how drastic, isn’t going to be worth enacting if there’s no plan for evolution. The Globe’s dire straits could prove to be a crucible for that innovation — when you’re up against a wall, you’ve got to get creative, right? Now’s the time for crazy thinking, for bold actions. But I haven’t seen any real indication of that.

Either way you look at it, from the reporter taking home a 1/4 less in their paycheck to the readers wondering what will become of their regional paper of record, it’s just sad. Any newspaper wants a good story on its front page. But you never want it to be your own.

EDIT: I stand corrected. Forget I ever used the I-word. Ryan Thornburg really hit what I was getting at, and far more eloquently than I ever could have. Innovation is out. Experimentation is in. Why? In his words, “Innovation only values success. Experimentation also values failure.” A must-read.

Your Saturday afternoon Globe critique

One of my favorite hobbies is picking on articles in which the Boston Globe strives to be culturally relevant by writing about Internet trends that the rest of us got over being excited about a while ago. C’mon, it’s fun!

Today’s article is about the culture of fail. The Globe trains its anthropological magnifying glass on the curious phenomena of FMyLife.com, the Twitter Fail Whale and Fail Blog, trotting in some college students who have adopted “FML” into the real-life lexicon and psychologists who offer dime-store analysis on our obsession with failure and embarrassment. 

Maybe I’m being unfair, but this is just dull, and it feels like it was outdated before it was written. Granted, I am already familiar with FMyLife and Fail Blog, so this article did not tell me anything new. But to that point, who is the audience for this article? If it’s younger folks, then like me, they are probably already familiar with Fail Blog, FML and their ilk. If it’s older people… they probably don’t care. 

Sadly, I feel like I see these articles over and over again. The Globe pinpoints something popular online, sees that as an opportunity to connect with a desired demographic, and pens a painful article that makes the newspaper seem hopelessly out of the loop of mainstream online culture. The psychologists are always what really get me, as if websites like Fail Blog are indicative of some great shift in the psyche of the American Internet user that must be studied and explained. Naturally, in this article, they have no great insights. A self-deprecating sense of humor can be a sign of good self-esteem! Seeing humor in the everyday mishaps of life can be healthy! Breaking news!

According to the story’s subhead, “Web culture has become obsessed with our mistakes.” Really, though, I don’t think the “obsession” with failure, or even with being broadly confessional, is new — and those psychologists certainly didn’t convince me that it was. As the article itself points out, a lot of the things you see posted on Fail Blog, you could have conceivably seen on “America’s Funniest Home Videos” back in the day. It’s just more social now, more viral.

Maybe that’s part of the challenge the Globe faces. It’s like when your out of the loop friend comes around to breathlessly fill you in on news that you heard about a week ago. “Yeah, I already heard,” you say. “Tell me something I don’t know.” That’s how I felt after reading this article.

Who watches the pressmen?

The Boston Globe published an interesting article about how newspaper pressmen are worrying about what the changes to the journalism industry mean for their jobs. It’s funny — I often think about the changes in journalism at the industry level, or about what it means for how reporters do their jobs. But, as with all great shifts, the cogs in the machines may suffer the most. Reporters can take classes and learn how to blog or shoot video and advertising folks can devise new strategies to sell ads online; it’s not that big of a deal, really. But for folks like the pressmen, there is no adaptation. There is no strategic planning or professional development. The future for their trade is narrow and dim.

I know slash-and-burn is the popular strategy as of late, but do newspaper companies have any responsibility to help the practitioners of these endangered trades? If they’ve empowered photographers to edit videos and reporters to get on Twitter or run a blog, why not provide some path for the pressmen? Or is this just the way things go, with natural selection playing out as it will in an evolving industry and that particular trade becoming more niche and more obscure? I don’t know. It’s a tough call.

Globe Updates

So we still have a paper — for now. Most of the unions have met management conditions, but the Guild is holding out, presumably over the lifetime job guarantees they enjoy and that NYT Co. wants to take away.

The more closely I read the coverage, the more impressed I am with the Boston Herald’s reporting of this story. Sure, it’s easy to say that they’re motivated by the prospect of being the only show in town, but I haven’t found their coverage to be too gloating or gleeful. Even in this post where Jessica Heslam complains about the Globe reporter covering the negotiations begin given preferential treatment for workspace, I don’t perceive it as an idle dig. Maybe it’s because that despite working in hallways and on borrowed chairs, she and her counterparts are churning out informational articles like this one, that lay out the offer on the table and the possible scenarios from here on out.

There was lots of good reading today, actually. Dan Kennedy, in two posts, made a ton of salient points. Namely, that an industry built around the concept of deadlines and accurate reporting sure has a fuzzy grasp of those notions in the context of union negotiations. Also, America’s Paper of Record is doing a (understandably, I guess, but still) poor job of reporting its own story (heck, the Globe is not doing better by much), but overall there is less attention being paid to this story nationally than the shutdown of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News. Are we already inured to the demise of newspaper journalism?

Kennedy also links to this piece by former Globe staffer David Warsh, which provides some useful internal, historical perspective to this latest crisis, as well as critical observations on how decisions made by the NYT Co. affected the paper’s management and the direction of its coverage. The American Prospect’s Ezra Klein chimes with with a nice counterpoint to one aspect of Warsh’s argument that I find very poignant — the Globe would be in dire straits today even if it had been managed ably, simply because the model is no longer sustainable and the industry is in the middle of a shift few, if any, publications got ahead of.

Globe’s Fate Still Uncertain

Hours after a (second) midnight deadline, Globe unions are still negotiating with management and the paper’s fate is still up in the air. The biggest issue still on the table are the lifetime job guarantees enjoyed by some employees. The New York Times is waving around a Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) that, if filed today, would shutter the paper in 60 days (though the order could be withdrawn if circumstances change).

The Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam has been providing a relatively even-handed, on-site blog of the proceedings; her co-bylined story in today’s paper also provided a good overview of the events of the past 24 hours. The Globe’s story is somber, but thorough.

So, what’s going to happen? Well, I don’t think it matters. Either way, everyone loses. The Globe’s coverage has already been sliding into irrelevancy — thanks in no small part, I’m beginning to think, to its presentation on Boston.com, but also due to a sad parade of crappy lifestyle features and dwindling impactful local coverage. Layoffs are going to come out of this no matter what. And there is still no plan on the table for how to turn the Globe, online and in print, back into a meaningful, innovative, sustainable publication — in which case, why bother negotiating at all? It’s like two hungry men arguing over the chicken bones. There’s not much left to save.

Except, of course, potential. The Globe retains the potential to be amazing, and still manages exceptional journalism some days despite budget cuts and distractions as heavy as these negotiations. While the brand is still salvageable, let’s hope both parties find a way to capitalize on that potential to the benefit of all involved — employee, management and reader alike.

Stay tuned. I plan on checking in with Heslam’s blog throughout the day, as well as the Boston Herald and Boston.com homepages. UniversalHub is doing a good job aggregating coverage. Dan Kennedy at Media Nation should also have some interesting things to say, once the situation shakes out a bit.

Breaking News: You Might Not Be Around Tomorrow

Is it just me, or has there been a palpable lack of interest/outcry/fervor/what-have-you concerning the possibly imminent demise of The Boston Globe? I mean, people comment on articles (with mixed emotions, admittedly), and there are blog posts here and there, but I haven’t felt that “buzz” that usually permeates the air (actual and virtual) when a crisis is afoot. It’s weird.

With a midnight deadline looming, even on the Globe’s own site, the updated story about the ongoing negotiations is buried as the first link under the Business lead, way below the scroll:

Boston Globe management and its largest union are locked in high stakes negotiations as they pushed to meet a midnight deadline to reach agreement on millions of dollars in concessions from the unions, or risk the shutdown of the 137-year-old paper.

I mean, that sounds pretty dire, right? The story, of course, is leading on the Boston Herald’s site, and they also strike a pretty urgent tone:

Leaders of the Boston Globe press operators union say they are “gravely concerned” as the New York Times Co.’s threatened deadline to close The Boston Globe looms.

With just hours to go until the Times-imposed deadline of midnight tonight, the pressmen’s union had not reached an agreement with Times Co. management on the proposed budget cuts.

The Boston Phoenix’s Adam Reilly had a good piece in this week’s paper about the future of the Globe, giving an overview of the situation and impact of the paper’s demise. He touches on the rally held last week and really paints a sorry picture. First of all, rally? What rally? Apparently, this was the least publicized rally ever. Which goes to show how out of touch the folks in the newspaper industry are with the way the web works (as does the 39-year Globe employee who declared at the rally, “We want to get the whole story, not the tidbits from the Internet!”). Relatedly,I wonder how the blogger rally went?

(Also, note that their online petition is hosted on the union site, and is essentially an online form; there is no way for the public to gauge the momentum behind the cause.)

Basically, the impression I’ve gotten from the coverage is that the union is inept, the NYT Co. management is inept (since they flubbed the accounting that was an inherent part of their May 1 ultimatum, forcing the Globe unions to find an additional $4.5 million) and no one seems to care either way. I mean, is the Times threat that empty or that unlikely? Are people in denial? Does it even matter to anyone if the Globe lives or dies? I mean, I don’t have much insight on this. I’m honestly curious. Why the relatively weak reaction to this genuine crisis?

Maybe people are in the same state I am: half of me feels like the closure of the Globe is too ridiculous to happen, while the other half is almost resigned to it as an inevitable consequence of their failure to adapt. Call it corporate Darwinism. Sometimes, you need to blow up the model and start from scratch to survive, but the only strategy they seem to have is burning the wood to stay warm instead of making a raft to get the hell off the island.

Would the shutdown of the Globe create a void? Yes, of course, a tremendous one. Could it be filled? The fact that I can’t unequivocally say no, well, that means something. Maybe I’m just mad. I mean, they had a chance to get in on the ground floor of a partnership with Monster.com. That could have a been a game-changer, not just for the Globe, but for online classifieds and newspapers in general. Yes, it was the mid-90s, and the Internet was very new, but the communications world has been nothing over the course of history is not ever-evolving, and any self-respecting communications organization should have people on staff who are paid to see beyond the bottom line and the fiscal year, to chart the course for years and decades to come. If they had that person on board way back when, we might be in a very different position today. And I can’t help but hold that against them.

That said, while they’ve screwed up a bunch and let Boston.com become muddied by pageview-whoring and cash-grabs, they are a huge asset to the region. I truly hope that they not only survive, but find a way to innovate and thrive once more. And I hope that isn’t asking the impossible.