I’m of a mixed mind about Howard Kurtz’s story in the Washington Post today on the Boston Herald’s struggle to survive and thrive.
On the one hand, it’s well-reported and hits most of the right notes. On the other, the central theme — that of the “scrappy,” “feisty” tabloid trying to carve out a niche in the shadow of the dominant Boston Globe — is one that could have, and often has, been written about at any point during the past quarter-century. I’ve cranked out more than a few of those myself.
The article’s principal shortcoming, I think, is that Kurtz does not attempt to assess where the Herald’s Web site fits into the overall picture. BostonHerald.com is unusual in that it is almost entirely divorced from the print edition — it’s continuously updated, and there’s no good way of knowing whether a particular story ever made it into print or how it was played. Given its status as almost a free-standing entity, it’s an interesting experiment in online journalism.
As of last June, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, BostonHerald.com was drawing some 1.2 million unique visitors a month. That’s not nearly as many as the Globe’s site, Boston.com (4.2 million). But it’s still a lot of people. And you would think, at least anecdotally, that online readers do not fit the aging, blue-collar profile of the typical tabloid reader.
If Kurtz wanted to write another story about the struggle of a gritty urban tabloid, that’s fine. Personally I’d be more interested to read about how a gritty urban tabloid is struggling to reinvent itself as a news source whose online presence is at least as important as its print edition.
That’s especially true on a day when we learned that newspaper circulation took another dive (check out those wretched Globe numbers), and when the venerable Capital Times of Madison, Wis., made the switch to its much-discussed mostly online distribution model.
More on the Capital Times. Jay Rosen weighs in.