Author Archives: Dan Kennedy

About Dan Kennedy

I am an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, and I'm using for my blog, Media Nation, as well as class websites.

The Globe’s Saturday shrinkage and its digital future


If you’d asked me 10 years ago if I thought The Boston Globe and other metropolitan dailies would still be printing news on dead trees in 2015, I’d have replied, “Probably not.” Even five years ago, by which time it was clear that print had more resilience than many of us previously assumed, I still believed we were on the verge of drastic change — say, a mostly digital news operation supplemented by a weekend print edition.

Seen in that light, the Globe’s redesigned Saturday edition should be regarded as a cautious, incremental step. Unveiled this past weekend, the paper is thinner (42 pages compared to 52 the previous Saturday) and more magazine-like, with the Metro section starting on A2 rather than coming after the national, international and opinion pages. That’s followed by a lifestyle section called Good Life.

The larger context for these changes is that the existential crisis threatening the newspaper business hasn’t gone away. Revenue from print advertising — still the economic engine that powers virtually all daily newspapers — continues to fall, even as digital ads have proved to be a disappointment. Fewer ads mean fewer pages. This isn’t the first time the Globe has dropped pages, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. (The paper is also cutting staff in some areas, even as it continues to hire for new digital initiatives.)

Read the rest at

Town of Needham sues GateHouse for $1.4 million

The town claims that GateHouse Media, which publishes more than 100 newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts, owes property taxes and penalties on equipment at its regional headquarters in Needham. Jack Newsham of The Boston Globe reports.

On Saturdays, a magazine-like and shorter Boston Globe

IMG_0036If you get the print edition of The Boston Globe, you’ll notice something different today. The paper has undergone a considerable redesign — it looks much more like a magazine, and the Metro section starts on page two. A lifestyle section called Good Life comes after the A-section.

At 42 pages, the paper is 10 pages shorter than last Saturday’s. In a page-one message that does not appear on the Globe’s website, editor Brian McGrory writes, “Readers will still get all the news we always offer, compressed into the A section for a faster, hopefully easier reading experience.”

The opinion pages have been cut from two to one. Last Saturday, the right-hand page was filled with letters from readers.

The Saturday paper has always been the weakest for daily papers, with significantly lower circulation* and not much in the way of ads. As print advertising continues to wane, it makes sense for the Globe to put its resources into other areas, such as the Sunday print paper and digital.

Still, it will be interesting to see what customers who pay for Saturday home delivery have to say about this.

*More: I just looked at figures from the Alliance for Audited Media, and I learned that the Globe’s print circulation on Saturdays is actually better than it is on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This is a topic I’ll be revisiting, but for now I just want to put it up as a marker for future discussion.

Memo Friday II: GM addresses speed issue

Also on Thursday, The New York Times posted the results of a test showing that loads slower than any mobile news site it measured — and that the way it handles advertising is the cause. According to the Times, it takes 30.8 seconds to load all those ads, about three times worse than the next-worst offender. general manager Eleanor Cleverly responded with an email to the staff vowing to do better. A copy of her email wafted in through an open window here at Media Nation:

As you may have read, published an article and related graphic, “The Cost of Mobile Ads on 50 News Websites,” that profiles performance on many of today’s most trafficked destinations. An unfortunate, but accurate conclusion from their report is that remains a standout in the time and data burden it places on users when loading advertisements and content.

This is not news to us at Optimizing our mobile and desktop load time and ad experience has been top-of-mind since the beginning of the year. We are in the process of one major project, the migration of from our legacy CMS Methode to WordPress, that has allowed us to tackle some foundational improvements in an ongoing effort to solve the problem. Further, we’ve setup collaborative teams to address our mobile ad experience and ad blocking as a BGMP-wide [that’s short for Boston Globe Media Partners] concern. Key questions and applicable solutions will be relayed over the next quarter.

We’ll continue to keep the digital group updated, but it will take changes across the organization to realize real quantitative returns. We collectively got us to this point, and it will take a collective effort, putting the reader experience first, to make the best-in-class website we envision it to be.

My door is open to additional conversations on the topic and creative solutions are always welcome.


Memo Friday I: Herald editorial workers approve contract

The word went out Thursday evening: after months of negotiations, union editorial employees at the Boston Herald approved a new contract, while commercial employees rejected it:

And here is a copy of an email to those editorial employees from Herald staffer and Newspaper Guild official Bill Brotherton, which begins with a statement from John Flinn, the union’s vice president of human resources:

The Boston Herald is very pleased that the Company and the Union have come to an agreement on the Editorial contract following 18 very difficult and protracted negotiating sessions. We thank the Editorial Bargaining Committee for their time and effort and the Editorial Union members for ratifying the agreement. We are very disappointed that the Commercial Guild members rejected our best and final contract offer.

The email continues:

And now, a word from your negotiating committee: Thanks again to everyone who voted and those who assisted the negotiating team with tireless behind-the-scenes efforts. It is much appreciated. Laurel [Sweet], Jim [Lazar], Brian [Whelan] and I give you our heartfelt thanks.

We will continue to support our Commercial brothers and sisters as they resume negotiations; here’s hoping the company is reasonable and bends a little. Commercial members took a 10 percent pay cut and were hit with 5 unpaid furlough days in the last contract; they expected that all or some of that would have been returned this time around. More givebacks were unacceptable; that is why Commercial rejected the tentative agreement.

And even though we in Editorial have a new contract in place, there are many other issues in our workplace that must be addressed and dealt with. I am encouraged by the enthusiasm, commitment and activism shown by all of you during the last 15 months; our union local is stronger than it has been in a long time.

And now that I’m 62 years old, I’m looking for volunteers to play a larger role in union activities. I expect to be involved and here at the Herald for many years to come, but the time is now to train and prepare the next generation of union leaders, to take part in grievance procedures and learn how to keep the company honest. There’s no money involved and it’s a thankless job, but it is rewarding and well worth the time. It’s very easy to become a shop steward, and the Newspaper Guild offers seminars online, in Washington, D.C., and TNG officers are more than willing to come to Boston to teach Union 101 classes and show us the ropes. If interested, please let me know.
Again, thank you all for your support and patience.


Earlier: Guild reaches tenative agreement with Herald.

Snapchat news targets the young and the underinformed


Previously published at and republished in The Huffington Post.

Two years ago, then-CNN reporter Peter Hamby lamented the negative effect he believed Twitter and other social media were having on presidential campaign coverage. In a 95-page research paper (pdf) he wrote while he was a fellow at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, Hamby put it this way:

With Instagram and Twitter-primed iPhones, an ever more youthful press corps, and a journalistic reward structure in Washington that often prizes speed and scoops over context, campaigns are increasingly fearful of the reporters who cover them.

On Tuesday, Hamby was back at the Shorenstein Center, this time to tout the journalistic virtues of an even more ephemeral media platform: Snapchat, built on 10-second videos that disappear as soon as you view them. Hamby, who is barely older than the 18- to 34-year-old users he’s trying to reach, told a friendly but skeptical crowd of about two dozen that Snapchat is bringing news to an audience that is otherwise tuned out.

“Because our audience is so young, I view our mission as educational,” he said. “I think it’s OK that our mission is to illuminate the issues for young people. That’s not to say we won’t get into more serious, complicated things.”

My personal philosophy about new media platforms is to watch them from afar and to more or less ignore them until it’s no longer possible to do so. That served me well with networks like Foursquare and Ello, which seem to have faded away without my ever having to partake. On the other hand, I’ve been tweeting since mid-2008, which is about the time that Twitter’s emerging importance as a news source was becoming undeniable.

Snapchat, it would appear, has reached that turning point. It already has about 100 million daily users, the vast majority of them between 18 and 34, as Michael Andor Brodeur notes in The Boston Globe. And it is starting to branch out beyond those 10-second disintegrating videos.

The newsiest part of Snapchat is called Discover — channels from media organizations such as CNN, ESPN, Vice, BuzzFeed and National Geographic that provide short graphics- and music-heavy stories aimed at providing a little information to a low-information audience.

CNN’s fare of the moment comprises such material as the fight between Afghan and Taliban forces in the city of Kunduz; an FBI report that crime rates are dropping (a story consisting of nothing more than a video clip of a police cruiser with flashing lights, a headline and a brief paragraph); and the re-emergence of the Facebook copyright hoax.

Perhaps the most ambitious news project Snapchat has taken on — and the one in which Peter Hamby is most closely involved — is called Live Stories. Snapchat editors look for snaps being posted from a given location and, with the consent of those users, weave together a brief story. They disappear after 24 hours; the only one playing at the moment is “Farm Life: Worldwide,” which is as exciting as it sounds. But Hamby mentioned stories from presidential campaign announcements, the Iran nuclear deal, music festivals and the like that he said drew tens of millions of viewers. (If you want to get an idea of what a well-executed Live Story looks like, Joseph Lichterman of the Nieman Journalism Lab found a four-and-a-half-minute piece on the hajj that someone had saved and posted to YouTube.)

“At CNN we would cover an event with one or two cameras,” Hamby said. “With Snapchat we have everyone’s camera at our disposal.”

For me, at least, the most frustrating part of my brief experience with Snapchat (I only signed up Tuesday morning) has been finding worthwhile — or any — content that’s not part of the Discover channels or the Live Story of the moment. The search function is not especially useful. I did manage to friend several news organizations and presidential campaigns.

Any user can create a story that will stay up for 24 hours. So far, though, I’ve only managed to see relatively useless clips from Rand Paul and Lindsey Graham. Hamby gives points to former candidate Scott Walker and current candidate John Kasich for their imaginative use of Snapchat. But as best as I can tell, Kasich hasn’t posted a story in the past day. His campaign website — like those of a few other candidates I looked up — does not include his Snapchat username, even though it includes buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

Snapchat is mobile to a fault — you can install it on an iOS or Android device, but not a laptop or desktop computer. That makes it fine if you’re on the go. But for an old fogey like me, it complicates the process of finding worthwhile material. And vertical video! Yikes!

In listening to Hamby on Tuesday, I was struck by his animus toward Twitter. “I think Twitter has made the tone of the coverage more negative,” he said. “Twitter is a uniquely toxic, negative space.” And though you might dismiss that as simply putting down a competitor, he said much the same thing in his 2013 report, citing a Pew Research Center study to back him up. Hamby quoted John Dickerson, now host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” as saying of Twitter:

It makes us small and it makes us pissed off and mean, because Twitter as a conversation is incredibly acerbic and cynical and we don’t need more of that in coverage of politics, we need less.

Will Snapchat prove to be the antidote to Twitter? Count me as skeptical. Five to eight years ago, when Twitter pioneers were using the nascent platform to cover anti-government protests in Iran and earthquakes in California, Haiti and elsewhere, we had no way of knowing it would devolve into one of our leading sources of snark, poisoning the public discourse 140 characters at a time. (And I’m not sure I agree that that’s what it’s become. I mean, come on, just unfollow the worst offenders.)

But to the extent that we have to bring news to where the audience is rather than waiting for people to come to us, then yes, Snapchat may prove to be a valuable home for journalism. I just hope it whets users’ appetites for something more substantial.