Repackaging the Globe

At a time when the outlook for the newspaper industry is becoming ever grimmer, the Boston Globe today unveils a repackaging of its print edition.

It’s not quite a redesign — the fonts and the basic layout remain the same. But it’s been reorganized “to help you better navigate the news,” editor Marty Baron writes. (No link; Baron’s “To our readers” note does not seem to be online.)

We’ll see about that.

My overall impression is that Baron and company have made a virtue out of necessity. That is, the print edition is shrinking, which gives the Globe an opportunity to reconfigure its sections in a way that’s not unlike what its bigger cousin, the New York Times, did some years ago.

In an interview with WBUR Radio’s Deb Becker, Baron says the paper will shed 24 pages a week, though he adds that the news hole will shrink by considerably less than that.

The biggest, splashiest change is the expansion of Sidekick into a daily tabloid called “g,” which gathers together all of the paper’s arts and entertainment coverage. I’ll let others judge the execution, but overall I think it’s a good idea, and you’ve got to love color comics. Given that the paper recently got rid of the weekly television supplement that had appeared in the Sunday Globe, it’s nice to see them in “g,” and in color, too. But the listings are for evenings-only. Of course, that’s why God made Yahoo.

Columnist Alex Beam is showcased at the back of “g,” magazine-style, opposite a photo feature called “Parting Shot,” which appears not to be in the Web edition.

To me, the most significant aspect of “g” is what the Globe might do: give it away at a few choice locations around the city, thus potentially attracting new readers and advertisers. I have zero insight into whether any consideration is being given to that. But the current thinking in the newspaper business is that it’s better to have a variety of different publications and Web sites, each aimed at a different audience, than to take the old one-size-fits-all approach.

As for the rest of the paper, a few quick hits:

• The national and world news briefs have been dumped from pages A2 and A3, replaced with short stories that are collectively called the “Daily Briefing.” What’s unclear is whether we are supposed to regard these stories as the most important national and world news (other than what makes it onto the front), or if the meatier stories farther inside the “A” section are actually more important.

• For the first time in years, the Metro section is being called — well, the Metro section, as the City & Region moniker has been banished. The columnists have new headshots. A story on an offensive remark that comedian Denis Leary made about autism is accompanied by a note explaining that it grew out of a reader’s tip, a wrinkle that I don’t think I’ve seen before.

• The rest of Metro looks no different, but Business has been moved into the section — seemingly without the loss of any column-inches, which is what really matters. Given the primacy of economic news, this is perhaps not the best timing. Personally, though, I’d rather have fewer sections, as long as it doesn’t mean fewer pages.

• Sports is unchanged. Supposedly there will be more color.

Overall, I like it. So let me quote an opposing view sent in by a devoted Media Nation reader and newspaper junkie who takes a different view:

G for grim. Befits an institution whose debt is now selling at junk level. My God, look where they’ve relegated poor Alex Beam to. I don’t see how they do those arts profiles any more. They’ve basically taken Calendar, which used to be a weekly arts supplement, made it daily and eliminated all other coverage.

What’s this about junk-level debt? Oh, yes. Yesterday Henry Blodget wrote an extremely downbeat assessment of the Globe’s corporate parent, the New York Times Co., saying that it “is approaching the point where it will have to manage its business primarily to conserve cash and avoid defaulting on its debt. This situation will only get worse as advertising revenue continues to fall, and it will be very serious by early next year.” The Herald picks up on that today.

The Times Co.’s ownership of the Globe is news on another front, too, as state Rep. Dan Bosley, D-North Adams, a stalwart in the battle to keep casino gambling out of Massachusetts, rips the Globe’s negative coverage of House Speaker Sal DiMasi, well-known for his own opposition to casinos.

Jeremy Jacobs pulls together the details at PolitickerMA.com, reporting that Bosley, in a comment on the Outraged Liberal’s blog, links the Globe’s harsh coverage of DiMasi to the Times Co.’s lust for advertising revenue from gambling casinos.

For the record, I don’t accept the view that the Globe’s news coverage of DiMasi is being shaped by the Times Co.’s business imperatives. Clearly, though, Bosley doesn’t agree.

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25 thoughts on “Repackaging the Globe

  1. Neil

    I’m surprised that in the comics they went with adding color rather than increasing size. The problem with the daily funnies for years has been shrinkage, not lack of color. It always seemed to me the editor in charge of whatever part of the paper the funnies are in, never read them.Beam’s column has been getting harder to find–I hope it stays put for a while.

  2. Art

    The g section provides convenience with reviews contained to one or two opposing pages. And the addition of color only helps Arts and Entertainment coverage.But I feel navigation in the g is not so great. We don't have visual or textual teases from the cover. Don't know how you could fix that though.I would love to see a redesign on the A&E section at Boston.com. It's getting stale. The LA times recently reworked their online arts presence for the second time in a few years. The New York Times Theatre Page is a great destination, but needs some tweeks. Nothing can match the Guardian though. They have fully taken to online arts coverage, with weblogs, and a relatively easy, if somewhat minimalist design.

  3. Jerry

    I’m not hot on the color comics. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It appears that “Non Sequiter” agrees with me.

  4. Ron Newman

    One problem with the ‘g’ section: It contains short capsule movie reviews, but does not tell you what theatre the movie is playing at, or what day it is playing. For example, one of the reviews is of ‘The Gates’, which turns out to be playing just one day next week at the MFA. But to find out that information, I had to e-mail Ty Burr and Wesley Morris and ask!

  5. Bellicose Bumpkin

    This may sound like heresy, but I know plenty people that read the Herald strictly because of the form. The smaller magazine-like configuration makes it much easier to handle at a diner or breakfast table. I prefer the Globe myself but have to admit that the Herald is easier to manage.

  6. Ron Newman

    The old Thursday Calendar section once actually had full movie listings for an entire week, including non-profit and part-time venues such as the MFA. But the Globe axed those listings even before they got rid of Calendar.

  7. Ron Newman

    By the way, if I’m understanding this redesign correctly, what’s left of Calendar (the small-type event listings in Thursday Sidekick) is now entirely kaput as of next week.

  8. The Arranger

    Re; Deletions of movie listings coupled with showtimes and theaters, and the elimination of the Calendar: That’s all good news for The Phoenix, I’d thinkBob in Peabody

  9. Dot Lane

    The most important change: it appears Mallard Fillmore has disappeared from the comics page. Out of curiosity, what does a syndicated comic cost to run?

  10. rozzie02131

    I am so happy to see Mallard Fillmore disappear. I’m sure there’s some humor to be found somewhere in right wing politics, but Mallard was just pathetic. Overall, “g” is a big improvement over Sidekick, but it’s really not much more than the Living/Arts section folded in half, plus Sidekick. It’ll be interesting to see if this injects new energy, but In today’s newspaper climate, I’m just glad to see they’re not taking very much away.

  11. Vox

    Dig the techno-colored funny pages! When are they going to run the Walt Kelly retrospective?I like the ‘g’ section, but then I was one of the few who liked ‘Sidekick’ (pace John Carroll). This is all well and good, but the same truth remains: T commuters love their Metro.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Vox: Mrs. Media Nation was a huge fan of Sidekick. She likes “g,” too, and I like it a whole lot more than Sidekick.

  13. Michael Pahre

    For more feedback on the revised format, the Boston Globe readers’ forum is discussing it.The Globe has also been soliciting reader feedback via repeated online surveys.I’ve been participating in most of these surveys (taking one for the team), and its clear that some feedback has been adopted: getting rid of some unfunny funnies (there was an entire survey devoted to evaluating every single daily and Sunday comic); putting weather in the same place each day (or at least Tuesday-Saturday); expanded short news stories (wires) on pp.2-3 (instead of the single paragraph ones that were throwaways); etc.I have little to say about Sidekick or “little g”, however, since I read little of it. It’s clear that the hardcore, devoted newspaper readers mostly don’t read most of it — but this is not the target audience. Color comics on weekdays, however, is a welcome sight: it is virtually impossible to appreciate Zippy in grayscale. Poorly-aligned colors, however, are a regular problem with Globe printing, so I can imagine at least one day per week in which the comics are illegible.My wife’s sole feedback on the changes: they still haven’t figured out how to fold Sidekick/”little g” in the middle.A more difficult problem that the Globe hasn’t fully addressed is the information included in the Business section. People who, on a daily basis, care about daily and 6-month index trends will just get such information online; it’s a waste of the Globe’s space. Focusing instead on the companies that are big movers for the day, or New England companies with big activity, is more important daily information. Business columns (can Bailey be replaced?) and news stories are the core pieces that should be kept over the large graphics summarizing info people get elsewhere.Note that the Globe survey last week asked lots of questions about the Sunday Globe Business section, so expect to see substantial changes in it soon.

  14. MeTheSheeple

    I find it fascinating they scrapped the four-paragraph international briefs for some mildly longer pieces … but have yet to apply any similar format to the political race coverage, which still includes some four-paragraph items.I’m -really- not used to getting my international news like that, and I wonder what news been left out now that there’s big honking photos to go with every piece.I rest easy, though, knowing that the Globe’s foreign bureaus remain on the job and international affairs have little bearing on Americans.

  15. Ani

    At the risk of sounding heartless, since it would lead to job losses, what about turning the Globe into a regional supplement included with the NY Times?

  16. acf

    ani: Being parochial, I say absolutely not. I still haven’t forgiven Macy’s for wiping out the Jordan Marsh name.

  17. Ani

    acf: If it’s any consolation, I can’t stand Macy’s replacement of local stores either — Filene’s and Jordan Marsh were certainly better stores than Macy’s.

  18. acf

    Michael Pahre: I would call myself a ‘hardcore reader’. I want the news to be presented to me fully, accurately, seriously, and in a timely fashion. I don’t like cheesy headlines designed to be ‘cute’ and enticing to readers, or endless stories about cute animals, a la the evening local tv news. The quality of a paper, to me, is in the quality of its content, not its eye appeal. That being said, I read the comics daily, most of them anyway, and do the crossword, sudoku, and jumble. I even look at the tv guide and ‘what happened today’, and I don’t think it makes me a lightweight. OTOH, I recognize, and disapprove of, attempts to tart up the paper in an effort to attract some segment of the public they aren’t reaching. One more article about where the best trendy martini can be found and I think I’ll vomit. I also keep looking for some admission on their part that they’re doing this in an effort to reverse a long run of losses in circulation and advertising, not to improve the paper for us. I’ll be watching ‘g’ for signs that it is only a way to eliminate features, hidden in the flash and chaff of the new section. As a long time subscriber of the Globe, it is on borrowed time with me, and the clock is ticking. Continue reducing content and quality, and I’m gone. BTW, I’m 59, just to identify which generation I’m in.

  19. Neil

    Michael that link doesn’t work for me. It goes to a “Community Portal” login page. I clicked the join here link, and it’s a dead end–”the study you are responding to is closed”. I took a quick look at the boston.com forums and didn’t see any discussion of g. I’m interested in the survey about the funnies. Er, and the important stuff too!

  20. GFS3

    Hi Dan:I don’t like it. I think the Globe, like many other papers, is missing the point. They continue to pander to audiences that DON’T read newspapers. So the redesign is another futile effort to get the under 30 crowd to buy the print edition — so we get color comics, more entertainment and gossip, and news briefs on the main national and international sections.Newspaper readers i.e. current subscribers want news. I want analysis of the issues, color commentary on Massachusetts and New England. I want in-depth reporting and longer investigative pieces. I want journalism that explains complicated issues and puts global, national, and local news into perspective. This “redesign” does none of that. It’s putting new paint on a shack.In fact, the Globe keeps lying off or forcing into retirement its best, most experienced reporters. The Globe has become a “light” newspaper and really a non-factor in national news gathering.The business pages, for example, are terrible — they don’t cover high-tech or the bio-tech markets very well (spending more time on banking and the airport). And isn’t Mass. all about these emerging science and high tech companies? It baffles me why we want a full page on entertainment gossip, but not indepth profiles on the technology and technology whizes in our own state.So while I like reading my comics in color — I’d rather than another reporter at the state house or another correspondent in Iraq giving me more news.

  21. mike_b1

    gfs3 is dead on: The Globe, and print publications in general, should focus on those people who pay the bills. It’s like when BK woke up and realized that salad to-go was not what their customer base wanted. Their customers wanted triple patty burgers with cheese and bacon, served up with a pound of fries. And guess what happened when they rolled it out? Sales. Went. Up.

  22. mike_b1

    A1 of the Sunday paper sure skimped on the stories.And the new columnist mugshots (renderings, really) are just awful.

  23. Joe D.

    While I could take or leave the redesign of the Globe, what bothers me the most is that The Globe (and other papers too) sell it as “enhancements for the readers”. Your readers are not idiots, just tell the truth, you have basically cut 2 sections from the paper to save on newsprint cost. Of course, this is done right after increasing the subscription price, so the reader takes it on both ends!

  24. Michael Pahre

    @Neil:The surveys the Boston Globe is sending out are directed to some core group they have identified — not generally available to the public via their homepage. I don’t remember how I originally got sucked into it, but it probably has to do with signing up for “GlobExtra” quite a while ago…As for the BG feedback forums, I think these are completely different from the reader comment forums (linked to from articles) that they introduced recently. I tried the link I gave — and, after logging in, then trying the link again, it worked. I think you may have to join the forum (create username/password).@acf: I agree with you completely about your concerns on the thinning and dumbing down of (some of) the Globe’s content. Don’t blame me… I’m just a reader who likes to read the news sections A-Z whenever I have time. I think the Globe is soliciting reader feedback about various smaller issues (e.g., which comics), while bigger issues (fewer pages of original news content) are 100% determined by other factors (finances).

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