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

Selling the Globe

Like a crank you can’t shake off at the bar, I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that the Boston Globe will be locally owned within 10 years — maybe much sooner.

Well, now. On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published a commentary (sub. req.) urging the New York Times Co. to sell the Globe, arguing that large regional metros are in an especially bad position in the new media environment. (You didn’t know that the Journal had a Saturday edition, did you?) The commentary, by Lauren Silva and Rob Cox, is on the Breaking Views site as well (via Romenesko), so by all means have a look. Silva and Cox write:

The Boston newspaper occupies the industry’s muddled middle — a place where classified ads are moving to online upstarts like Craigslist and Google. Circulation is sliding. Big advertisers are consolidating and migrating to national media like the Times and younger readers are looking to their PCs or Blackberries for their news…. This doesn’t mean the Globe couldn’t find a loving home. The piecemeal sale of Knight-Ridder showed there are plenty of rich local worthies willing to own their local rag.

That last sentence, of course, is a reference to papers like the Philadelphia Inquirer, which recently was scooped up by local investors after Knight Ridder sold out to McClatchy.

It seems inevitable that papers such as the Globe will be locally owned, as Wall Street begins to realize that they can no longer be the profit machines of yore. So why not get a head start?

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  1. Rick in Duxbury

    Reading the Journal without time pressures is a guilty pleasure of the weekend. Last week’s excerpt from Dan Golden’s new book on college admissions was a treat. Highly recommended.

  2. Anonymous

    “Buy Low, Sell High”Bill R.

  3. Anonymous

    Dan — this week’s Boston Business Journal has a front page story that valuates the Globe based on industry standards — the estimate is that the Globe is now worth between $800 million and $1.2 billion on the open market (based on standard industry multiples of 8x to 12x EBITDA and about 2x revenue) — the TIme Co. paid $1.1 billion for the Globe in 1993, which in inflation adjusted dollars should equal $1.5 billion today — so a current valuation of the Globe at roughly $1 billion means the Times Co. may not have made a wise investment — Mark L, associate editor, BBJ

  4. Don

    Hey, Dan, why don’t you buy the Globe? I can’t help you with any investment, but I’d be happy to crank out pages of ultra-conservative material for cigarette money.

  5. Anonymous

    I’d argue that the Globe was a stronger paper before the Times bought it. I realize times have changed, but the Globe is beyond dullthese days. Not only has the editorial page lost any semblance of a spine, the local coverage has gone to hell in a handbasket. Even the sports coverage is kinda tepid. The only variants are Dan Shaughnessy and Jeff Jacoby periodically vying to see who can piss off the most people. Ultimately, they’re both waste of column inches. Jeff could easily be replaced by Mallard Filmore and Dan mostly just succeeds in driving me over to the Herald.And don’t get me started on SideKick. Does anybody really care what the people who read the Globe online think? Are people who read the Metro or USA today really going to switch to the Globe for that?

  6. Anonymous

    Dead medium.Here’s my halfbaked vision -Somone local buys the Globe. They go online only. Hire, hire, hire, hire – writers, editors, video producers, radio people, photographers. Think Salon but with regular internet video and audio feeds of newscasts and longer features. Plus standard newspaper print content, op-ed, etc. All the things you wish a newspaper could be in one convenient site. Sell subscriptions to the content and convince advertisers this is the way of the future.In the short term, I’m sure it would lose a lot of money. In the long run, I think that’s the model. The TV ad the Globe is running right now is very telling – they’re actually trying to sell 20-somethings on the idea that smart people read the newspaper.They’re half right. Smart people read the paper – online.

  7. Aaron Read

    In keeping with our esteemed Mr. Kennedy’s gadfly theme :-)I’ve said it before, I’ll keep saying it: I think Boston has a unique chance where a major university with a significant journalism department (Boston University comes immediately to mind since I attended it, but I know there are others around here) should purchase the Globe and make it a good regional/local paper. The big idea here? Retain as much high-skilled talent as possible in the newsroom, and require them all to work not just as journalists/reporters writing for the paper, but also as mentors to students from the university owner. Serious, multiyear mentors. Essentially, a curriculum-based series of apprenticeships.In such a system, the students with talent would rapidly be identified and their skills honed fast enough that by their junior or senior year they’d be good enough to start reporting/writing/editing their own material. With their mentor’s help, I see no reason it wouldn’t be as good – if not better – than the mentor’s own writing.What does the paper get out of this? A legion of cheap/free pavement-pounders that can go out and do some good old fashioned “wear out the shoe leather” reporting.And the university, of course, gets mondo prestige. Prestige translates into better donation opportunities. They also get legions of happy students where few currently exist (BU, at least, has a lot of very bitter COM alumni) and happy students means better odds of happy alumni. Happy alumni who give money.The Boston area gets a paper that is far less likely to be gutted for fiscal reasons, and hopefully gets some better local reporting.So crazy it can’t possibly fail! 🙂 Well, that’s not true…BU’s treatment of WABU Ch.68 TV shows they can’t quite be unquestioningly trusted to ensure a quality product. But in their defense that’s not really a fair comparison. TV v. newspapers are apples v. oranges…and Ch.68 is hardly a powerhouse player in Boston compared to the other TV stations…unlike the Globe which is probably (definitely?) the biggest player in New England newspapers.

  8. Anonymous

    Anon. 6:29 here again.Tonight is an example of what I want from a local “paper.” I’d love to sit here and check out blogs and analysis on the primary , plus maybe get video and audio updates that are of better quality than what I’d get if I turned on the extremely crappy local TV coverage.Instead, I’ve got this crappy little grid on that’s updating every 10 minutes or so. And ‘BUR’s coverage is unfortunately being anchored by Bob Oakes. No thanks.Forget paper. Go online only, and make full use of the medium.

  9. MeTheSheeple

    Aaron, you might look to the St. Pete Times and one of the Columbia (Mo) papers. They’re vaguely in the ballpark, but of different scales and focuseseses.

  10. tony schinella

    You might want to pick up Tuesday’s NYT if you can find it. There was what has to be the most impressive advertisemen for the Times – or any newspaper – I have ever seen in a section called These Times Demand The Times. Maybe it is only for business travelers – I was leaving Manch for Dallas – but it was pretty impressive.

  11. mike_b1

    The Globe’s business/edit model is just awful. And I would argue that part of the problem is the bloated columnists who hog resources from the paper at large while bringing no real value to the table. Consider: Who at the Globe would a reader buy a paper just to read? Joan Venochhi? Ellen Goodman? Dan Shaughnessy? There’s no Royko, no Friedman, no, well, not much but a slew of expensive nitpickers. They’re not columnists; they’re columnits. A problem the Globe and other dailies fall into is that they overvalue the importance of their columnists. They pay these ass-clowns exorbinant salaries — 3-4x what the mid level folks probably make and 6-8x what the rookies make. I suspect at least some of these folks command an assistant as well (I know at the Chicago Tribune they do), which is more overheard with little reader value. Aaron, I would take issue with your concept in that unleashing a bunch of J-school kids into the streets of Boston is not the path to a high-level paper. Besides, the city already has that product: it’s called the Bulletin.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    I have to agree with Mike about turning the Globe over to college students. I don’t completely disagree with Aaron — a few outstanding students under strong editorial supervision can definitely produce journalism that the Globe would be proud to publish. (As indeed it does through Northeastern’s co-op program.)But there’s a reason that the vast majority of journalism graduates take jobs at small weeklies and dailies and gradually work their way up. You can only learn through lots of experience.

  13. Anonymous

    Dan: You’ve hit on the source of one of the Globe’s problems – hiring kids who are ill-prepared for working at a major metro daily. 20-30 years ago, reporters would have to work their way up to a paper like the Globe, not arriving until they were in their late 20s or early 30s. In the last 5 to 10 years, though, they’ve been picking kids practically out of college [Ivy League, of course]. These kids haven’t cut their teeth in small towns, covering everything under the sun, and are overwhelmed when dealing iwth forked tongue pols and surly cops. And it shows in the coverage. Ironically, if the Globe wants to hire recent colleg grads, it would be better off snapping up the NU and Suffolk kids who have been toiling at the paper as co-ops than opting for the Ivy Leaguers whose resumes amount to nothing more than being big shit on the collegiate paper.

  14. Aaron Read

    Mike & Dan – your points are very well taken. After being misquoted by the Daily Free Press many times during my time as a student at BU, I know all too well the dangers of tossing students into the fire.Let me clarify a bit…I’m talking about really hard-core mentoring programs. This isn’t where the students are just used as cheap substitutes for experienced professionals…as is all too often the case.I’m thinking more about a system where the students work side-by-side with the professionals…no doubt getting little or no credit and having a lot of oversight on everything they do. Eventually I am confident that a small, but sizable, contingent of “higher grade” students would start to distinguish themselves as actively wanting to learn more and having the innate skills to pull it off. I’d imagine this would take at least a full year, possibly two, before that starts becoming apparent. At that point the students would gradually be assigned more and more important work while simultaneously working with less and less of a net.It’s possible…likely, even…that many students would never reach that point of even slightly reduced oversight. And VERY few would get to the point where they’d be trusted to work even semi-independently doing research and interviews. That’s not really the point. The WHOLE point of this system is to get these kids started on a career in quality journalism. By the time a journalism student’s four years are up – they’re already well on the road to being a real professional at a major market daily newspaper. The Globe gets a known quantity that also happens to be pretty good, and the kids get a good job that “continues their education after graduation”. So to speak.I feel the best way to do that is to have them work in the best environment; for example, I learned a HELL of a lot more by working at WBUR (and having some fabulous mentors) than I did taking radio classes at BU. No disrepect to my teachers, but WBUR was a better learning environment because it was more selective; only the top end of students were capable of meeting WBUR’s standards for semi-unsupervised work. BU’s classes couldn’t be that discriminating. I’m saying, why do those have to be two separate camps? While can’t they be merged into one cohesive program that can provide some jollies for the semi-serious student but at the same time be a real prep system for the dedicated student?Of course, the trick is to keep it a learning experience first while STILL maintaining a quality product (that people want to read) that guarantees the “top learning environment”.Hmmmm…I feel a bit like I’m rambling here, but I’ve got a meeting to run off to. Did this post make any sense? Is there something glaring I’m overlooking?

  15. Anonymous

    Private ownership usually backed by a single, passionate visionary is the most successful formula for gutsy, commerically viable mainstream print news publishing outlets these days. (It was in Ben Franklin’s time as well, so it’s an oldie but a goodie). Look at Si Newhouse at Advanced Publications. Look at Jan Wenner at Rolling Stone. Look at Patrick McGovern at Computerworld and the IDG network. Locally, look at Stephen Mindich at The Phoenix. Everything old is new again. Publicly traded corporations are passe, at least in the mainstream publishing world. Passionate personalities waiting to be discovered, now’s your opportunity with The Globe.

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