A few thoughts on the Globe’s digital rate hike

CommonWealth Magazine editor Bruce Mohl reports that The Boston Globe is about to increase its digital-only subscription rate by 74 percent — from $3.99 to $6.93 a week, or about $1 a day.

As I told Bruce for a follow-up, it’s a bold move — maybe too bold. The Globe has had a lot of success with paid digital subscriptions, having sold around 78,000 of them as of last September, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. The AAM does a lot of double- and even triple-counting of digital (the Globe itself claims a more modest 65,000, according to Mohl’s article), but that’s still an impressive number.

I’m sure some subscribers will walk away rather than pay the higher fee, but probably not too many. If you’re paying to read the Globe, it’s most likely because you are a committed Globe reader of long standing. To invoke the old cliché, $1 is considerably less than the cost of a cup of coffee. Still, some will cancel:

Newspaper companies charge for content at their peril. News executives may chafe at giving away their journalism, but members of their audience don’t feel like they’re getting anything for free — not after paying hundreds of dollars a month for broadband, cell service and their various digital devices.

Interestingly, while the Globe itself is becoming more expensive, John Henry and company are also making some big bets on free with sites like Crux, BetaBoston, Boston.com and the forthcoming life-sciences vertical, which will be called Stat according to several employment listings I’ve seen.

I wish the Globe success as its executives try to figure out how to pay for journalism in the 21st century. But at this point I think it would be wiser to focus on building their subscriber base than trying to squeeze more out of their existing customers.

Why newspaper apps still matter

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The Washington Post’s new iOS app.

Remember when the iPad was going to save the news business? How did that work out? But if the redemptive qualities of tablets turned out to be overblown, they are nevertheless a compelling platform for consuming all kinds of text and multimedia material, including news.

This morning I spent way too much time with The Washington Post’s new iOS app, which is detailed at the Nieman Journalism lab by Shan Wang. It is beautiful, with large pictures and highly readable type. I was already a fan of what the Post is now calling “Washington Post Classic.” But this is better.

So do I have a complaint? Of course. The Classic app is more complete; it includes local news (no, I have no connection to the Washington area, but it’s nice to be able to look in on occasion), whereas the new app is aimed at “national, international audiences.”

And both apps rely more on viral content than the print edition, a sluggish version of which is included in Classic.

Quibbles aside, this is a great step forward, and evidence of the breakthroughs that are possible with technology billionaire Jeff Bezos in charge. In fact, the new app is a version of one that was released last fall for the Amazon Fire. So it’s also heartening to see that Bezos isn’t leveraging his ownership of the Post entirely to Amazon’s advantage.

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The Boston Globe’s new app.

Another paper with a billionaire owner has taken a different approach. Several months ago John Henry’s Boston Globe mothballed its iOS replica edition — that is, an edition based on images of the print paper — and replaced it with an app that is still print-centric but faster and easier to use. It was developed by miLibris, a French company.

The first few iterations were buggy, but it’s gotten better. In general, I’m not a fan of looking at the print edition on a screen. But I find that the Globe’s website is slow enough on my aging iPad that I often turn to the app just so I can zoom through the paper more quickly, even if I’m missing out on video and other Web extras.

One big bug that still needs to be squashed: When you try to tweet a story, the app generates a link that goes not to the story but, rather, to the Apple Store so that you can download the app. Which, of course, you already have.

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The Boston Herald’s app.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the Boston Herald has a pretty nice iOS app, developed by DoApp of Minneapolis. It’s based on tiles, so it’s fast and simple to use. It’s so superior to the Herald’s creaky website that I wish there were a Web version.

Do apps for individual news organizations even matter? We are, after all, entering the age of Apple News and Facebook Instant Articles.

My provisional answer is that the news organizations should both experiment with and push back against the drive toward distributed content. It’s fine for news executives to cut deals with the likes of Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg. But it would be a huge mistake if, in the process, they let their own platforms wither.

Also published at WGBH News.

Veronica Chao appointed editor of Globe Magazine

News from The Boston Globe keeps on coming. This press release just arrived in my inbox:

Boston (July 9, 2015) – The Boston Globe has announced the appointment of Veronica Chao as editor of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, effective immediately.

Chao, the former editor of the Improper Bostonian and the Globe’s City Weekly section, will direct all facets of the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine’s operations, including setting its editorial direction, managing editorial staff, and developing special publications and supplements.

Chao has served as assistant editor for the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine since 2011, editing popular features, columns, and special issues such as the award-winning “Your Home” issues. During her tenure, she has led noteworthy coverage, including a recent feature focused on low-income students enrolled at Ivy League schools, a fan’s perspective of the New England Patriots Deflategate controversy, the state of extramarital affairs, and Boston’s rising class of black politicians.

“There are so many exciting changes going on at the Globe, and a real spirit of innovation here,” said Chao. “For the magazine, it’s all about finding compelling stories – from regular columns to longform reporting – and smart new ways of telling them that surprise, delight, inform, and involve readers.”

Chao joined the Boston Globe in 2007 as editor of City Weekly, a regional supplemental section that was included in the Boston Sunday Globe. Prior to working at the Globe, she served as the editor of the Improper Bostonian magazine for five years.

A resident of Boston, Chao grew up in the Washington D.C. area and is a graduate of University of Virginia.

The Globe’s Clegg gets a vote of confidence from John Henry

Ellen Clegg

Ellen Clegg

Ellen Clegg has been named editorial-page editor of The Boston Globe, less than a year after she was brought in to serve on an interim basis following the departure of Peter Canellos, now a top editor at Politico.

The move, announced by publisher and owner John Henry, strikes me as overdue. You don’t let an interim editor completely remake the pages, as Clegg was recently allowed to do. In an email to the staff obtained by Media Nation, Henry wrote:

When Ellen Clegg graciously accepted the challenge to take on the role of Editor, Editorial Page on an interim basis, she did so with enthusiasm, resolve, and a commitment to bring a fresh perspective and new voices to the section. I truly believe her leadership has brought vitality and relevance to the section, reflective of the improvements I’m seeing throughout the organization. From Day One, Ellen has acted as if the term “interim” was just a word, not her destiny. So it is my great pleasure to announce that as of Monday, Ellen Clegg is Editor, Editorial Page of The Boston Globe. No ifs, ands, buts, nor interims about it.

Thanks, Ellen. Keep up the great work.

JWH

Clegg has a closer relationship with Henry than Canellos did, having previously served as the top spokeswoman for the Globe — and, thus, for Henry. Before that she was a longtime Globe journalist, serving in a variety of editing positions. Among other things, she is the author of the award-winning book “ChemoBrain: How Cancer Therapies Can Affect Your Mind” (Prometheus Books, 2009). You can read more about her background here.

Today’s editorial pages — simply labeled “Opinion” since the redesign — are characteristic of Clegg’s graphics-intensive vision.

To my eye, the most interesting piece today is a short commentary by editorial writer Marcela García on a dangerous proposal to make it easier for Massachusetts families to opt out of mandatory vaccines. It’s accompanied by a large, data-heavy map. Online, you can find a chart showing the opt-out rate at every public school in the state. It should fuel follow-ups by community news organizations across Massachusetts.

Clegg is also soliciting short opinionated videos that will run in a new section to be called “Opinion Reel.”

I’ve heard laments from several Globe readers — older, but smart and engaged — who think the redesign represents a dumbing-down of the paper’s traditional editorial and op-ed pages. For Clegg, it’s going to prove to be a balancing act in trying to attract new readers while not alienating her most dedicated audience. One thing that would help: doing a better job of alerting print readers that there’s additional content online.

As editorial-page editor, Clegg is a masthead equal with editor Brian McGrory. Both report directly to Henry. It’s taken a couple of years, but it looks Henry’s team is finally in place.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

Legislature makes it harder to use tax funds for Olympics

The Massachusetts Legislature did something Tuesday night to make it more difficult for tax money to be used to help pay for the Boston 2024 Olympics bid. But it’s not entirely clear exactly what — or how important it is.

Matt Stout in the Boston Herald quotes unnamed “lawmakers” as saying that the final budget deal produced by House and Senate negotiators “includes language preventing the use of state funds or tax expenditures for the 2024 Olympics.” His lede describes it as a “ban.”

But Andy Metzger of State House News Service offers a somewhat different spin, writing, “The budget … requires passage of a special act of the Legislature before any public funds can be spent to benefit the proposed 2024 Boston Olympics.” Maybe that amounts to the same thing, though it’s not clear.

Bruce Mohl’s analysis in CommonWealth Magazine offers this:

The budget contains a provision requiring that any expenditure of tax dollars for hosting the Olympics in 2024 must first be approved by the Legislature after public hearings. The budget, of course, remains in effect for  one year, through the end of June 2016.

Of course, one legislature’s actions are not binding on the next, and it seems pretty unlikely that the Boston 2024 folks are going to ask for public funds anytime in the next year. Which may explain why The Boston Globe’s budget story, by David Scharfenberg and Joshua Miller, makes no mention of it at all.

Or maybe not.

It strikes me that the measure was worth a mention, even if it’s largely symbolic. The implications of budget deals often become clearer in the days after they are reached. I hope we find out more about what actually happened Tuesday night.

Presenting the 18th annual New England Muzzle Awards

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 1.40.06 PMFrom fast-food chicken chain Chick-fil-A to Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, everyone, it seems, has got a problem with free speech.

Please have a look at the 18th edition of the New England Muzzle Awards — launched in 1998 at the late, great Boston Phoenix and now hosted exclusively by WGBHNews.org. The Campus Muzzles, as always, are helmed by civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate.

Former Herald editor Costello recovering from shark attack

Best wishes to former Boston Herald editor Andy Costello, who was seriously injured by an attacking shark in North Carolina on Wednesday. According to the Herald, Costello was “reportedly in fair condition at Vidant Medical Center in Greenville, N.C., last night after suffering wounds to his ribcage, lower leg, hip and both hands.”

Despite extensive injuries, the 67-year-old Costello is said to be conscious and expected to make a good recovery.