Tag Archives: Boston.com

The Globe’s Saturday shrinkage and its digital future


Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

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.)

How bad is it? According to the Pew Research Center’s “State of the Media 2015” report, revenue from print advertising at U.S. newspapers fell from $17.3 billion in 2013 to $16.4 billion in 2014. Digital advertising, meanwhile, rose from just $3.4 billion to $3.5 billion. And for some horrifying perspective on how steep the decline has been, print advertising revenue was $47.4 billion just 10 years ago.

The Globe’s response to this ugly drop has been two-fold. First, it’s asked its print and digital readers to pick up more of the cost through higher subscription fees. Second, even as the print edition shrinks, it has expanded what’s offered online — not just at BostonGlobe.com, but via its free verticals covering the local innovation economy (BetaBoston), the Catholic Church (Crux) and, soon, life sciences and health (Stat). Stories from those sites find their way into the Globe, while readers who are interested in going deeper can visit the sites themselves. (An exception to this strategy is Boston.com, the former online home of the Globe, which has been run as a separate operation since its relaunch in 2014.)

“I don’t quite think of it as the demise of print,” says Globe editor Brian McGrory of the Saturday redesign. He notes that over the past year-plus the print paper has added the weekly political section Capital as well as expanded business and Sunday arts coverage and daily full-size feature sections in place of the former tabloid “g” section.

“There are areas where we do well where we’re enhancing in print and there are areas where we’re looking to cut in print,” McGrory adds. “It’s a very fine and delicate balancing act.”

Some of those cuts in print are offset by more digital content. Consider the opinion pages, which underwent a redesign this past spring. (I should point out that McGrory does not run the opinion pages. Editorial-page editor Ellen Clegg, like McGrory, reports directly to publisher John Henry.) The online opinion section is simply more robust than what’s in print, offering some content a day or two earlier as well as online exclusives. This past Saturday, the print section was cut from two pages to one. Yet last week also marked the debut of a significant online-only feature: Opinion Reel, nine short videos submitted by members of the public on a wide variety of topics.

All are well-produced, ranging from an evocative look at a family raising a son with autism (told from his sister’s point of view) to a video op-ed on dangerous bicycle crossings along the Charles River. There’s even a claymation-like look at a man living with blindness. But perhaps the most gripping piece is about a man who was seriously beaten outside a bar in South Boston. It begins with a photo of him in his hospital bed, two middle fingers defiantly outstretched. It ends with him matter-of-factly explaining what led to the beating. “It was because I stepped on the guy’s shoe and he didn’t think I was from Southie,” he says before adding: “It was my godmother’s brother.”

Globe columnist and editorial board member Joanna Weiss, who is curating the project, says the paper received more than 50 submissions for this first round. “It has very much been a group effort,” Weiss told me by email. “The development team built the websites and Nicole Hernandez, digital producer for the editorial page, shepherded that process through; Linda Henry, who is very interested in promoting the local documentary filmmaking community, gave us feedback and advice in the early rounds; David Skok and Jason Tuohey from BostonGlobe.com gave indispensable advice in the final rounds, and of course the entire editorial board helped to screen and select the films.”

But all of this is far afield from the changes to the Saturday paper and what those might portend. McGrory told me he’s received several hundred emails about the redesign, some from readers who liked it, some who hated it and some who suggested tweaks — a few of which will be implemented.

Traditionally, a newspaper’s Saturday edition is its weakest both in terms of circulation and advertising. In the Globe’s case, though, the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday papers sell a few thousand fewer copies than Saturday’s 160,377, according to a 2014 report from the Alliance for Audited Media. No doubt that’s a reflection of a Thursday-through-Sunday subscription deal the Globe offers — though it does raise the question of whether other days might get the Saturday treatment.

“We have no plans right now to change the design or the general format of those papers,” McGrory responds. “But look, everything is always under discussion.” (The Globe’s Sunday print circulation is 282,440, according to the same AAM report. Its paid digital circulation is about 95,000 a day, the highest of any regional newspaper.)

One question many papers are dealing with is whether to continue offering print seven days a week. Advance Newspapers has experimented with cutting back on print at some of its titles, including the storied Times-Picayune of New Orleans. My Northeastern colleague Bill Mitchell’s reaction to the Globe’s Saturday changes was to predict that, eventually, American dailies would emulate European and Canadian papers by shifting their Sunday papers to Saturdays to create a big weekend paper — and eliminating the Sunday paper altogether.

The Globe and Mail of Toronto is one paper that has taken that route, and McGrory says it’s the sort of idea that he and others are keeping an eye on. But he stresses that the Globeisn’t going to follow in that path any time soon.

“Right now we have no plans to touch our Sunday paper,” he says. “It’s a really strong paper journalistically, it’s a strong paper circulation-wise, it’s a strong paper advertising-wise. We’re constantly thinking and rethinking this stuff. But as of this conversation, Sunday is Sunday and we don’t plan to change that at all.”

He adds: “We’re trying to mesh the new world with the printing press, and I think we’re coming out in an OK place. Better than an OK place. A good place.”

Memo Friday II: Boston.com GM addresses speed issue

Also on Thursday, The New York Times posted the results of a test showing that Boston.com 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 Boston.com 30.8 seconds to load all those ads, about three times worse than the next-worst offender.

Boston.com 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, NYTimes.com 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 Boston.com 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 Boston.com. 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 Boston.com 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 Boston.com 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.


Holding campus police departments accountable

Photo (cc) by xx. Some rights reserved.

Photo (cc) by jakubsabata. Some rights reserved.

Should police reports at private colleges and universities be considered public records in the same way that those at public colleges and in cities and towns are? You would think so. After all, as Shawn Musgrave reports for the public-records website MuckRock:

Sworn campus police may carry weapons, make arrests and use force, just like any other officer. Statute grants special state police “the same power to make arrests as regular police officers” for crimes committed on property owned or used by their institutions. Particularly in Boston, campus borders are difficult to trace, and some of the most populous areas lie within university police jurisdiction.

Yet because police departments at private institutions of higher learning are non-governmental agencies, they are not subject to the state’s notoriously weak public-records law, which requires police departments to show its log of incidents and arrests to any member of the public upon request.

Campus police departments do not operate entirely in the dark — as Musgrave notes, they must make certain records public under the federal Clery Act. And he found that many departments provided their logs when he asked for them. But privately employed police officers exercise the same powers as those working for the public, and they should be subject to the same disclosure laws.

Musgrave’s report, posted on Sept. 15, has been gathering steam. Today his story is on the front page of The Boston Globe, which has long had a relationship with MuckRock. Earlier it was flagged by Boston magazine and by Boston.com.

As Musgrave reports, state Rep. Kevin Honan, a Brighton Democrat, is sponsoring a bill that would bring campus police departments and other privately employed police officers under the umbrella of the public records law. It’s a bill that has failed several times previously. But perhaps increased public scrutiny will lead to a better result.

The Globe’s David Skok takes on more responsibilities

The Boston Globe’s David Skok is putting on yet another hat. According to Benjamin Mullin of Poynter, Skok, the Globe’s managing editor for digital and general manager of BostonGlobe.com, has been named Boston Globe Media Partners’ vice president for digital.

Among other things, Skok will be in charge of the company’s troubled Boston.com site, which in the past few weeks has seen a dozen layoffs as well as changes at the general manager’s and editor’s positions.

The announcement is well-timed given that the company seems determined to right the Boston.com ship. Globe Media chief executive Mike Sheehan last week told the Globe that a new direction for the site would be set over the next two to three months.

Longtime Globe business columnist Steve Syre departs

Steven Syre

Steven Syre

Lost amid the latest mishegas over Boston.com Tuesday was a truly significant departure — that of Boston Globe business columnist Steven Syre, who’s taking the buyout. Steve is an old friend from Northeastern who worked for many years at UPI, the Boston Herald and later the Globe.

Steve is going to work with his wife, former Herald “Inside Track” columnist Laura Raposa, at The Foodsmith, a bakery she opened recently in Duxbury.

“I’ve had a great job for 20 years,” he told me, “but it’s time to try some new things.”

Layoffs add to turmoil at Boston.com

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 2.47.15 PMNote: Updated with statement from Boston.com below. I got wind of this a little while ago — and it turns out that Garrett Quinn of Boston magazine was already working on it. A significant number of staff employees at the beleaguered Boston.com have been laid off. I hear 16; Quinn says “high teens.” [The actual number is 12, according to the Boston.com statement.] This comes after the departure of the site’s general manager and editor during the past week, and months of turmoil (punctuated by occasional calm) before that.

Boston Globe Media’s strategy of building free verticals around the Globe is, for  the most part, progressing nicely. BetaBoston, which covers the innovation economy; Crux, devoted to “all things Catholic”; and Stat, the forthcoming life-sciences site that’s already producing stories, are all quality projects.

But Boston.com has been seen as a thing apart ever since it was separated from BostonGlobe.com a year and a half ago. And the turmoil continues.

More: I just received this statement from incoming Boston.com general manager Eleanor Cleverly and outgoing general manager Corey Gottlieb:

We have spent much of the past few months rethinking an operational vision for Boston.com that both maintains our autonomy as a standalone business and reinforces our partnership with the Globe. Today, we announced a restructuring of Boston.com’s newsroom and the reduction of 12 full-time staff positions. This realignment includes changes to our leadership – Tim Molloy has chosen to step down and Kaitlyn Johnston, Boston.com’s current deputy editor, has been appointed as our site’s new editor.

This is a business decision that is part of a larger effort at Boston Globe Media Partners designed to put Boston.com in a stronger and more sustainable position for growth. That said, we would be remiss to overlook the fact that this was also a people decision, one that affects the lives of many who have worked tirelessly to support our operation. We are deeply grateful for that work.

Boston.com editor departs, according to BoMag

The revolving door keeps spinning at Boston.com. Garrett Quinn of Boston magazine reports that editor Tim Molloy is out, just a few days after Eleanor Cleverly replaced Corey Gottlieb as general manager. Molloy had been editor only since March.