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

The Herald unbound

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. 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, was drawing some 1.2 million unique visitors a month. That’s not nearly as many as the Globe’s site, (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.

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  1. Peter Porcupine

    And what paper GAINED readership in the top 25?Why, the Wall Street Journal, now property of the Visigoths.It ws a tiny jump in a sea of negatives – but if it’s repeated, journalists may start to feel diferently about Uncle Rupert…

  2. Anonymous

    And the WSJ actually charges for its journalism.I’d be interested in knowing how having a paid site influences the public’s perception of quality.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    PP and Anon 2:16: By having a paid site, the WSJ discourages readers from dropping their subscriptions to the print edition. Maybe a focus group would tell us that readers think the Rupertized WSJ is a better paper, but my suspicion is that it’s simple economics.

  4. Rick in Duxbury

    FWIW, I think Rupert is a small price to pay for the WSJ actually surviving. More national and politics at the cost of financial minutiae, (available elsewhere anyhow)? “a-heds” and front page news not in lock-step with the editorial page? Works for me!

  5. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    The Herald is a dead newspaper. They’ll grab some quick Christmas time cash and then they’ll cut the now morbidly bleeding rehash of a Saturday paper to create a Weekend Edition (To Give You A New, Brighter Daily Herald!! And To Give Us Something To Slip The Inserts Into) and the lights will go out not long after that. Purcell’s purchase was a real estate deal. The Web site won’t save the Herald; it’s cumbersome, difficult to navigate and seems to be edited with the theory that people care about local celebrities, who mainly consist of baseball players, TV weathermen and chefs.

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