By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The crystal ball

I’m going to make a prediction. Ten years from now, the Boston Globe will be locally owned. It may be a very different paper from what it is today. It may be smaller, more locally focused, and published entirely or mostly online. But it will be bought, probably by Boston business people who understand the importance of the press and its watchdog role.

Which is exactly what happened in Philadelphia yesterday, where local investors paid a reported $562 million for the city’s two daily papers, the Inquirer and the Daily News, and their related holdings.

Given the New York Times Co.’s ownership of the Globe, it was interesting to see Times reporter Katharine Seelye’s take on the deal. Seelye devotes most of her space to handwringing over the possibility that the business interests that now control the Inquirer and the News will interfere with coverage and compromise journalistic independence. The new owners have pledged not to do that, but it’s a real concern.

But given a choice between a rapacious out-of-town chain owner that systematically strips the newsroom in order to drive up profits and local ownership that might occasionally find it irresistable to meddle, I’d take my chances on the latter. Unfortunately, the former is exactly what happened in Philadelphia, where the once-great Inquirer was marginalized by Knight Ridder. Earlier this year, the Inquirer and the Daily News were acquired by the McClatchy chain, which immediately announced its intention to find yet another new buyer.

The Times Co. has been a better steward of the Globe than Knight Ridder was of the Inquirer. But the Times Co. is, nevertheless, a profit-driven, publicly traded company (albeit one whose governing structure leaves it in control of the relatively idealistic Sulzberger family). The Globe’s well-publicized financial problems have turned the paper into a drag on profits. Will the Sulzbergers seek to own the Globe forever? I’d say no — and I’m not alone.

Update: After posting this item, Media Nation reader R.K. called my attention to this excellent commentary on local ownership by former Boston Globe columnist David Warsh, now the proprietor of a Web site called Economic Principals.

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Steyn Central responds


How about everyone’s back yard?


  1. Aaron Read

    I said it before, I’ll say it again…how about Harvard or BU owning the Globe, and using it not just as a legitimate newspaper but also as a massive real-world training exercise?I still think it’s got that “it’s so crazy it might just work” advantage going for it. 🙂

  2. Dan Kennedy

    But Aaron –If you want the paper to be any good, Northeastern would have to buy it.

  3. Don

    But will it practice journalism or the politically biased garbage we get today?

  4. Anonymous

    I made the “so crazy it just might work” comment when Aaron first posted his idea. Upon further review, I am still intrigued. Previously, someone raised the issue of student contributors vs. paid staff/freelance writers, and problems with the Guild.Why does this have to be a problem? Do the right thing – forge a strong agreement with the Guild about staffing. Students serve as interns and don’t take work and benefits away from professionals. The Globe would not replace the student paper. It would remain a completely professional enterprise that happens to be owned by an NGO.

  5. Anonymous

    Uh, non-profit organization, that is.

  6. Anonymous

    I can imagine the school drawing interns only from itself, but what else could they do without turning it into a student newspaper?This reminds me, what does Boston U do with WBUR other than oversight? Aside from the occasional football game or graduation ceremony, I never hear any student centric content. I’m sure there are no student productions.

  7. Mark R.

    Views of the future always end up looking quaint. Even 10-years hence, it’s hard to imagine what the world will be like. But I agree with Dan and would even posit that the paper Globe might not exist 10 years from now. It’s become an anachronism. I held onto my Sunday edition purely for the coupons. But now I’ve even gotten rid of that. The business model doesn’t seem to work for the Globe anymore and the consumption model works for fewer people every day. I think of the Globe as heading in much the same direction as some other local institutions: Filene’s, Jordan Marsh, Lechmere, WCVB (still here, but hardly as mighty), and so many other companies now long gone. And I wonder: Will the leaner Herald survive 10 years? Funnily enough, I think it might.

  8. remulon

    In ten years info-transmissions will be downloaded directly into our cerebral cortices from the satellites of the Unified Government/Commerical (GovCom) Authority, consisting of thought directives and advertising with accompanying “purchase triggers”. Responses will be transmitted via the portable uplink unit implanted at the base of each citizen’s neck, and stored in the Frito-Lay/Wal-Mart/NSA megabrain at the home office in Davenport Iowa. Having nothing to hide the minor loss of privacy this system entailed was considered a small price to pay for security.The Globe will be the Global Globe and its injection will cost ten quatloos or the same price as one injection of high fructose corn syrup in either Snapple or Jolt Cola format. And Alex Beam still will not have a blog.

  9. Anonymous

    Still waiting for some sort of sourcing for Dan’s claim, posted a couple of weeks ago, that the Globe is “money-losing.” Apart from claims that someone who knows told him, I have yet to see it, and if Globe management was saying it was losing money, the implications for collective bargaining would be huge. Time to put up, where’s the proof the Globe had an operating loss for any month, quarter, or other accounting period? Or is this blog like those which adopt the ‘say if often enough and it is true’ philosophy. WHAT time period did the Globe lose money in HOW MUCH did it lose? Or phrased another way, are you a responsible journalist or not?

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 6:41: I believe I’ve explained this before. I have a source of proven reliability. You either trust my sourcing or you don’t. If you don’t, why are you reading Media Nation?

  11. John Galt

    Well, returning to the news days of Sam Adams may indeed be in the best interests of the populace. You have an undeserved affection for the Inet, Dan. The ‘net is easily monitored and controlled, and can be shut down in a heartbeat. Regardless of what is bandied about, the government – certain departments especially – love it!

  12. BosPhotog

    I am still interested in hearing from you all on what you think it will take for the Herald to survive and maybe even thrive…..

  13. Anonymous

    It all comes down to local news coverage.Everyone gets his national and international news from the Internet. The only place for good local and neighborhood news, however, is your local or neighborhood newspaper. That’s why CNC and other neighborhood newspapers are thriving and the Globe is dying.The Globe is a jack of all trades and master of none. The Globe tries to do too much, so it does nothing well. I get politics, national affairs, op-ed columnists and international news from the NYT and the British press (and Israeli newspapers for Middle East coverage). I get local news from the Herald, the Phoenix, the Brookline TAB, the Jewish Advocate and local bloggers, among other sources.The Globe needs to scale down and stop being the newspaper for all of New England. The one area in which the Globe could dominate — if it chose — is local news. The Globe has many times the staff of the Herald, yet the Herald gets most of the major local scoops. The Globe should bring reporters in from their regional, national and international beats and plop them in Boston’s neighborhoods and nearby suburbs.Imagine if the Globe had one good reporter in each Boston neighborhood who truly knew the pulse of the area. And if every issue of the Globe contained at least one story on the most important event yesterday in that neighborhood.From my end, I don’t care what’s happening in Maine. Tell me what’s happening in Brookline. (And not through the boring City Weekly section!)

  14. Anonymous

    I’m about to pull the plug on my seven-day Globe subscription because they charge me $8 a week. That’s more than if I picked it up at the newstand each day. Idiots. I did a little research and discovered that folks in Detroit get the Free Press for $12.50 a month, and folks in Arizona pay $16 a month for daily delivery.

  15. mike_b1

    Dan, you left out that Brian Tierney is a longtime supporter of the Republican agenda. And anyone who believes that this is a good thing is probably related to (but not the daughter of) Dick Cheney.

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