What would a locally owned Boston Globe look like? How would it differ from the New York Times Co.-owned version?
It may be too soon to answer those questions, but it’s certainly not too soon to ask them. The Globe continues to be a drain on Times Co. revenues. Company executives respond by cutting the Globe still further. It’s an endless cycle, and one that is getting increasingly nasty.
Today’s Boston Herald reports that some 20 politicians and union officials, including Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Stephen Lynch, have signed letters urging the Times Co. to ease up on the slice-o-matic. And check out this toxic quote from Dan Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, in today’s New York Post: “It seems to us they’ve ruined the paper and are guilty of gutting it.” This goes far beyond the rhetoric of previous Globe union heads, such as Robert Jordan and Steve Richards.
Let’s be honest: Local ownership would not save the Globe from advertising and circulation pressures. You hear a lot of talk in newspaper circles about local owners’ being willing to accept lower profit margins, such as 5 or 10 percent, as opposed to the 20 percent or more demanded by corporate owners such as Gannett, the former Knight Ridder and the Times Co. But as the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, the Globe right now isn’t making any money at all.
Whether locally owned or not, large regional dailies such as the Globe are going to keep getting smaller and more focused on covering their region rather than the entire world. When the Times, the Washington Post, the BBC et al. are just a click away, the mission statement of a paper such as the Globe has to change.
Nevertheless, the corporate-ownership model may be reaching the end of its useful life in the newspaper business. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News have been sold to a local group. The Chicago-based Tribune Co. is under pressure to sell the Los Angeles Times to L.A. investors. Why not here?
What’s missing is an identifiable group of Boston-based investors who’d be interested in buying the Globe. I would love to see such a group step forward so we could all have a look. A locally owned Globe might be a better Globe — but it all depends on who those owners might be.