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

Moving on at the Globe

Adam Reilly has a column in this week’s Boston Phoenix that attempts to put talk of a 10 percent wage cut at the Boston Globe in a larger context of union contracts, obsolescence and the future of the newspaper business.

What interested me, though, were the words of an unnamed newsroom insider, who demonstrated that there are some people at 135 Morrissey Boulevard who get it, and who are ready to move on:

It’s weird having white-collar and blue-collar workers in the same union, because they think differently. They’re trying to preserve something that’s dying. We understand it’s dying, and we don’t want to hang on to it. We want to go forward.

I’m not sure if this is the same source talking, but this, from later on in Reilly’s piece, is interesting nevertheless:

There’s no financial model that’ll stop the bleeding. We deliver a product whose business model doesn’t work. Printing a newspaper on paper and delivering it to people is not sustainable.

If the Globe is to survive, it needs to move quickly to an all-online or mostly online model, with the print edition subordinate to the Web. There are still a lot of smart people at the Globe, and I don’t doubt that they know this, starting with editor Marty Baron.

What we may be witnessing now, with the losses continuing to mount, is one of those turning points at which a slow transition suddenly becomes a stampede.

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  1. Steve

    If the Globe is to survive, it needs to move quickly to an all-online or mostly online model, with the print edition subordinate to the Web. So what’s the answer? It might be instructive to see how the NYT does with its web business. They tried to go subscription with their columnists – that failed. They have subscriptions for things like puzzles, but that’s it. They have a few on-line ad placements, and they do charge for on-line classifieds (although how this is much of a business competing with CraigsList, I don’t see).How’s that working for them?BTW, I like the recent Zits comic cautionary comment on this issue. Newspapers should avoid distracting web (moving ad images, background sounds) on their on-line content pages.

  2. Anonymous

    David Brooks, in describing the difference between Obama supporters and Clinton supporters, put it this way: Obama types are educated, not *that* afraid of the economy, and shop at Whole Foods; Clinton supporters are less educated, terrified of the economy that’s coming toward them (not that they’ll admit it), and shop at Wal-Mart.That’s exactly the dynamic happening here, as it is in many large enterprises: the white-collar, ‘think’ worker types are ready to leap into the unknown; the blue-collar, ‘do’ worker types are terrified. They want to hold onto what they have, for fear they won’t be able to get anything in the next economic chapter of their lives. The white-collar workers understand that this is life, and it’s up to them and their brains, so let’s just turned the damned page.

  3. Joan Vennochi

    Maybe the blue collar union employees are the ones who get it. They are asked to take a 10 percent wage cut, while management is still entitled to bonuses. That was a major point of inquiry brought up at the town hall meeting. -Joan Vennochi

  4. Peter Porcupine

    Anon – Stereotype much?I would submit that the Doers have an innate advantage – there are many things that need doing in the world, and they have a far better chance of getting a new job than those who think and are used to getting paid for the fruits of that thought/labor – no matter how much money they think they are worth.Brains are something of a glut on the market.

  5. another face at zanzibar

    Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) said it all the way back in 1984: “Print is dead.”

  6. Anonymous

    1. I wish I could see actual data as to how much money comes in vai print and web advertising, and 2. Blue-collar workers have every right to be terrified since may well not get a job as good as the one they hold currently. That even happens to people with white collar jobs who are laid off.

  7. Tom

    Anon 1:00’s comments about ‘think’ and ‘do’ are off the mark. I know many white-collar news ‘professionals’ in their 50’s and 60’s who are terrified of losing their pensions and have very vested interests in clinging to past practices.My observation is that many younger reporters and producers are becoming frustrated with the ‘old guard.’ Younger journalists fluent with technology often spend too many hours every day propping up the careers of dinosaurs who refuse to evolve or die. Beyond any thoughts of fairness, it is simply inefficient and a waste of resources.Face it, folks. Today, the producer/originator must also be the distributor. The writer must be the coder, the photographer the Photoshop expert. Everybody needs to know HTML and Flash. And demand for those combinations of skills will only grow.I sincerely want the Globe to adapt and prosper. But at this time, it sure seems that many news organizations are day camps for the gray and irrelevant.Tom

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Joan: Good Lord, I certainly didn’t mean to suggest that 10 percent wage cuts are a positive. And it’s a shame that the print product is going to continue to be downsized — there are a lot of good jobs at good wages that are going to disappear. It’s not just a shame, it’s a tragedy for the people affected.But the economics may slowly be moving in a favorable direction. In the past year, I’ve heard two very smart people — Tom Fiedler and Geneva Overholser — report on conversations they’ve had with the editors of the Miami Herald, the Memphis Commercial-Appeal and other papers. Word is that online revenues at a number of papers now more or less match the costs of the newsroom.It would be an oversimplification to say that if you therefore dump the print product you could break even. But, yes, in a sense, that’s exactly what it means.What if the Globe, five years from now, produced two print products: a high-quality broadsheet, smaller than today’s paper (think about how small the Financial Times is), and aimed at an elite audience ($5 or $6 cover price in 2008 dollars); and a free, tab-size paper, no home delivery, tightly integrated with the website? Not sure what the implications of that would be, but I think something like that is where the Globe is headed.

  9. Anonymous

    If they’re the grunts, they’re trying to hold onto things the way they are now. It’s the comfort of what they know, as opposed to a future they don’t know. Ownership and management would love to hold onto things as they are now, but realize that it’s slipping from their grasp, and are trying to understand a future they can control and make money from.

  10. io saturnalia!

    Glad to see this discussion has given rise to the always-helpful blue collar = stupid, old = useless diatribes. Yes, people in every walk of life need to adapt to the technological realities of their industries. But what if newspapers and local TV news broadcasts are losing their audiences because the product has gotten cheapened and dumbed down by credulous, barely literate, short-attention-span producers and reporters, as the musty “old guard” has been chronically squeezed out?How’s that generalization working for you?

  11. Anonymous

    Dan: the elitist tone of some of these comments is offensive, to me, anyway. And what’s with all these anonymous observations? Why are people so afraid to state their opinion, with their name? As far as the comments about dinosaurs.. it’s the content that matters. You can know HTML and Flash and no nothing about journalism. And by the way, there are quite a few people who fall into that category. They hurt the product more than any “dinosaur.”-Joan Vennochi.

  12. Jerry

    1. The more I look at the picture as it is evolving, I think the actual transition in fact can be relatively easy and in fact is already under way: Run the whole place like a wire service, producing an online mix of running news and enterprise reporting and features. The best, along with maybe some special stuff, makes the print edition. (All-features sections (e.g., Food, Arts) need updating only every 24 hours.)2. The print edition? Maybe something of keepsake quality, on stock equal to that in the NY Review of Books, selling for (present value) $2-$3 per copy at newsstands ($10/week for delivery).3. Break off the printing side of the business completely, either operating it as a commercial print shop (as the Globe is already starting to do) or selling (or junking) it.4. What about the inserts? some might ask. The hell with ’em. Newspaper execs I know say the margins on inserts are teeny, and even sometimes negative. Wal-Mart and Kohl’s should prepare to go online, too. (But this raises another question: If online is so hot and print so dubious, why do Wal-Mart et al want to continue their inserts practices? Is there a disconnect here?)5. Is it too early for someone to head to Madison and check how the Cap Times experiment is doing? (Oops — it’s not an experiment; it’s very real.)

  13. Tony

    I don’t know about all of this. I have been thinking about everything going on in the media business for quite a while now and I truly don’t know what the model is. I have some ideas, which I will get to in a second. This is what I do know: Print editions provide much more than online editions. For example, I’ve been subscribing to the WSJ now for about three years. I started buying it after I got a free copy outside the hotel room at a radio seminar I was at. I loved the thing and subscribed right away. There were a ton of articles about all kinds of different aspects of the business world and other things. When the redesign happened, I was even more excited since it was even more user friendly than before. I also got to check out how the big companies were marketing themselves to the investor class, something worthy of a longer article in the future. However, almost the entire first year, I had delivery problems. The problems were so bad, that I had about two months worth of free editions racked up because of missed delivers. After that, I let the subscription lapse. But they kept calling me back and after complaining and complaining, I re-subscribed. Thankfully, the delivery problems haven’t returned.When the subscription lapsed though, I used the online edition and whatever I could get for free online. But it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t watch the marketing. I couldn’t check out the auction ads in the back, which lead me to learn about the housing crisis a year or so before most people knew it was going to happen. It just wasn’t the same thing. I guess if I could get the entire newspaper delivered to me in PDF that would be an adequate replacement to not receiving the print edition. But the current format of most newspaper Web sites is not really a replacement for the physical newspaper, even though we all get a lot out of it. Here’s another example of the worth of the print edition of the WSJ: T. Boone Pickens, of BP Capital, has been running ads about this plan he has to convert huge sections of our electricity to wind machines built in the Southwest and save the nation. It is an ingenious plan and something I have been talking about for years. But I never would have heard about it had I not seen his ad. Days later, he was on CNBC and the financial press put together some stories about the plan, which later made the national wires. But that was days later. I got to see it right away. First. Just like everyone else who saw the ad and turned their computers on that morning to read his plan. I didn’t have to wait for the news filterers. I saw it because he was marketing the idea directly to readers of the print edition. The same can be said for just about any newspaper. You can get a lot of information into a print ad that you can’t get online. Sure, you can lead a reader to a link to a Web site. But it isn’t the same as instant information to the consumer. There is also just something about having the physical newspaper in your hands. Yeah, OK, it’s romantic and all, but it’s the truth. Don’t get me wrong: I love the fact that we are interactive. I love what we are doing at the company I work for and what other companies are doing. Everything is instantaneous and now. But it is not a replacement for the physical newspaper. As far as preservation ideas, here are some right off the top of my head that might work at preserving our business model. First, hybrids and diversification where different platforms can work together is the way to go. The FCC was right to loosen the regulations to allow daily newspapers to own radio stations. The problem is that they should have reregulated radio stations after that in order to break up the radio companies and create more competition and ownership opportunities. Right now, a lot of mom and pop radio stations have weekly shoppers or newspapers. They need the revenue from the shoppers to survive. Why can’t dailies have radio stations? As well, it is clear that in this media age, it isn’t enough to survive with just a newspaper and a Web site. People flip around. But if you can get them at every point they are flipping, you have the market. Imagine if the Globe or the Herald also owned WTKK, WRKO, or WBZ, and/or a TV station along with a print and Web presence. Think of the possibilities. A one-stop shop for advertisers and marketers, as well as news customers, with each platform helping the other get the story better, stronger, faster. It’s a no-brainer.Second, the newspaper industry needs to build value into its print product. We need to FIGHT to preserve our print editions and do whatever we can. Because that is where we make most of our money is made. We shouldn’t be cannibalizing our print editions online and giving people a reason to cancel their subscriptions. At least not yet. Let’s try and drag this out as long as possible and make as much money as possible while we can. Because, and let’s be honest: Web ads are never going to be able to pay for the cost of creating most of our newspapers. When we go to Web-only, it isn’t going to be the same. There will probably be 10 percent of the employees currently working in the industry that are working in it now. So, let’s understand this and fight to preserve our platform. This starts with educating the public that it is important to set aside some time in their days to read the newspaper. The public needs to know and understand their world and community. It’s an investment in their future and their children’s future. It’s as important as an IRA. Otherwise, who is going to tell the public the stories? How are we going to find things out? We don’t know enough as it is. It’s friggin’ important. I know this that is why I spend so much time reading newspapers before I even go into work. It really isn’t enough to say, Hey, subscribe for 50 percent off the cover price now! We should be constantly out there trying to keep the print editions alive. That seems to be the first step. What is so odd to me is that it seems as though all of the corporate people have just given up on print – or even getting as much revenue as possible from it while they can. Instead, they have us spending countless amounts of hours a week on Web stuff which brings in virtually no revenue. Granted, it is neat and a ton of fun. But if we are a “dying” industry and 90 percent of money comes from the print editions, shouldn’t we all be doing everything we can to not only make the print editions better but worth the money a customer invests in it? Why does it seem like the grunts on the ground are the only ones fighting to preserve our industry [generalizing, again, reading too much of the WSJ maybe …]Third and I’m not going to claim to know a ton about this because I don’t work in newspaper sales, but there clearly needs to be a better sales strategy for print editions. For example, I know of at least one daily newspaper that won’t budge on the ad rate and would prefer to have fewer pages or house ads than paid ads which are less than the standard rate. Compare that to radio stations, which fluctuate the rate based on the inventory available on a quarterly basis. If there are a ton of minutes available, there is a fire sale to fill them. There are even new companies that have emerged like Bid4Spots that put the station’s excess inventory out to vendors and have them bid on the spots. While the spots are below rate, it is still money. I know that last year Google was considering doing a similar program with display ads in the major dailies but I don’t know what came of it. We also need a better strategy with press releases. At CNC, we are constantly hit up to put free press releases into our newspapers by public relation firms. It is unruly and unrelenting and I spend way too much time dealing them. These companies pay the PR firms to do this instead of just buying an ad. When we say No, or put rules on how they can get in for free, they get ticky. Well, you know what? If it’s an ad, it’s an ad, and we have to eat too. There is no newspaper without the ad. One idea I had was to create some in-house PR people, to work with sales staff, to market services to companies and take away some of this PR money. Some print companies that with special sections. But it should be expanded.Lastly, and probably most worrisome for the corporate types, I also think the future of the news business is some sort of non-profit model similar to what NPR does only with commercial advertising. I don’t know how that can be done with all the debt that has been collected from the acquisitions of this company or that. But this constant worrying about quarterlies or what Wall Street wants is killing the business. It is killing what we have to do to deliver news to the public. And therefore, it is harming the public. As well, and I almost cringe when I say this, but maybe union folks taking 10 percent cuts at dailies in order to keep them alive isn’t such a bad thing … that is, unless the management bonuses don’t stop too. One also has to wonder how long the dailies can pay union reporters $50k to $60k to write a story a day when reporters at weeklies make half that and editors make not much more, and yet they produce more content. In the end, the changes may come too late – when there is no daily newspaper to save.

  14. Dan Kennedy

    Joan: There is a certain triumphalist tone that unfortunately mars many future-of-journalism discussions. But there is much of value here, too.Anonymous comments? I don’t encourage them. What about it, folks? Don’t you realize everyone discounts what you say by at least 50 percent? Even if you don’t want to tell us who you are, you should adopt a consistent pseudonym.

  15. mike_b1

    If you know your job is going away and choose not to doing anything about it, I don’t know that I would call that a tragedy, Dan. Perhaps those who are in line to be affected should quit the Globe and form their own, online Boston area paper. Why wait for their employer to do so?But I do think there are lots of people who still like the print specs, and they aren’t all over 60 (although probably few are under 25). Reading long form articles, especially, online, is tedious. And the online versions tend to be full of distractions, while print is much more focused.As for Joan asking about the anonymous comments, well, hehe, the relative anonymity is clearly one thing that attracts the masses. Welcome to the Web, sister!

  16. io saturnalia!

    I may not have made my point clearly enough, so here it is again. If it’s too redundant, obviously you have the power to discount it, or actually delete it.But here goes: For every “creaky dinosaur” getting in the way of progress, there’s a wet-behind-the-ears whelp who seemingly hasn’t heard of anything that transpired before his or her date of birth.My point is, drop the sweeping generalizations (unless it’s about tax-and-spend liberals or troglodytic conservatives — just kidding) and focus on the issue at hand (as, to be fair, most have done). The industry faces economic challenges, changes in reader/viewer preferences and a host of technological advances that still haven’t padded many papers’ or news stations’ bottom line, but most reporters, editors, producers and anchors are in it because they care about news. Age has nothing to do with a reasonable discussion about this, IMHO.Put perhaps comically simply, I kind of dig Channel 7 News because of veterans Randy Price and Victoria Block but also because of (to me) youngsters like Larry Ridley and Sorboni Banerjee (and because, frankly, I get a kick out of lurid promos and teases like “Jump at the Pump” and “Bitter Blast.” De gustibus non disputandem est, after all. But it’s got nothing to do with the age of the news-deliverers, is all I’m saying.

  17. Doug

    I think that Tom’s comments above were over the mark, but I do share his observation that many journalists with web skills are becoming resentful of those who perform their jobs as they did 15 or 20 years ago.I also think that Joan Vennochi misses the point when she attempts to decouple web/production skills and journalistic chops. The economics don’t add up in her favor, and in dismissing journalists with multimedia backgrounds, she ignores the online reporting tools that can extend, and sometimes supplant, traditional reporting.Doug ShugartsBrookline, MA

  18. Tim Allik

    Web skills are mostly technical in nature and increasingly a commodity these days. However, the critical skills a good reporter needs to have – to be able to identify, dig into, and tell an exceptional story – are much less common. Repackaged AP stories that includes fancy video and photo galleries are not nearly as valuable as a scoop about government corruption that consists of mere words. The scoop can live without the web bells and whistles. But the web components cannot exist without the story. I think some reporters are bitter not because they are being asked to do multimedia content but because they are being asked to do more work for the same amount of money. To be asked to do more for less by taking a pay cut is just a more extreme example of the way things have been trending.

  19. mike_b1

    tim’s right. In my first interview for a journalism job, the Chicago Tribune was most interested in knowing whether I could type 30 wpm. Those who gripe about the Big Bad Web miss that every generation of journos has had to become more technologically savvy than the last.

  20. Neil

    By the way I agree with Steve in the first comment–the Zits comic link is perfect.Counter-trendily, my two kids home for the summer are actually reading the (delivered, old-timey) Globe at the breakfast table. And not just the movie section either. A couple days ago the younger one said, did you see this article about the Electoral College? I’m pretty sure they don’t look at Doesn’t mean they’d subscribe to delivery, but I really think, per Zits, hard copy is more enjoyable to just plain read even, dare I say, for at least some young!

  21. io saturnalia!

    Tim is also right on the larger point that it isn’t resentment of the technology per se (after all, journalists are naturally curious/nosy), it’s being forced to do more — much more, in many cases — for no more money. I wonder if publishers’ or CEOs’ uncompensated job duties have increased as much? (And, no, ordering employees to do extra work doesn’t count.)

  22. Doug

    Tim et al,Can a journalist pinpoint more precise, reportable facts if he knows database programming? Can he present a more engaging crime story if he can code a Google map and plot crime scenes by neighborhood, time of day and proximity to subway stops? Can he find better sources for his stories by blogging and by reading other blogs? Can he better convey a sense of place through well-produced video? Or sound? Can he better explain economic indices by coding an interactive Flash graphic that allows the reader to compare wages versus inflation over time? Nobody has suggested that core reporting skills have become less important, and I fail to see why technology that improves our craft — technology that much of our audience expects — meets with such condescension and derision.Doug ShugartsBrookline, MA

  23. Anonymous

    mike_b1: I share your point about the tedium of trying to read long articles, or even read more than snatches of a ‘newspaper’ online. I’m 59, and I still read the print Globe daily. I often take it outside in nice weather, which I have a hard time imagining doing with a computer. Reading a ‘paper’ online is a little like finding your way in the dark with a penlight. You see that small spot lit by the light, but nothing else. With a print edition, you get a much broader view of things.

  24. Sam Scott

    If the Globe wants to survive, it needs to localize as well. I get my national news from the New York Times, and my Middle East news from The Jerusalem Post. Why would I read the Globe for it?Local news is the Globe’s niche. They need to capitalize and expand on that. No one can get that anywhere else.

  25. Paul Levy

    The number and thoughtfulness of the comments here suggests another approach for the Globe — to convene a group of interested observers from the community to brainstorm ideas that might be helpful to the paper’s future.

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