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

Thoughts on the Globe’s Newton project

The battle between the Boston Globe and GateHouse Media over the Globe’s hyperlocal Newton site isn’t really about the possibility that the Globe will grab more content from the Newton Tab than fair use — or fair play — should allow.

Rather, it’s over a more fundamental issue that will likely be a key to survival as struggling news organizations seek to reinvent themselves: Who will control the virtual front door to Newton, as well as to other cities and towns?

At first glance, Boston.com Newton strikes me as attractive, well-organized and generous. By generous, I mean the blog-like feature that fills the center well is a nice mix of content from the Globe, the Tab and local blogs. Just as important, the items give you just a bare taste of the story — if you have any interest at all, you’ll click through. So it seems likely that Boston.com will drive some traffic to the Tab, not to mention the blogs.

By combining content from different sources so seamlessly, Boston.com, at least for the moment, has leapfrogged ahead of the Tab’s Wicked Local Newton site. GateHouse’s Wicked Local sites, which debuted in Plymouth a few years ago, before there even was a GateHouse, were supposed to combine content from the local GateHouse paper with blogs and citizen journalism in order to be a one-stop community guide. That never quite panned out, although Wicked Local is stronger in some towns than in others.

Probably the least generous item on Boston.com Newton right now involves my friends at the Boston Phoenix. There’s a big photo of a plate of food, along with a headline that says, “Foodies: Phoenix reviews Hotel Indigo.” Follow the link, though, and you find a Globe blog item that summarizes the Phoenix review. You have to click again to get to the actual Phoenix review.

There’s a lot more to Boston.com Newton than the news blog. Readers can contribute to a wiki, discuss issues and send in photos. There’s a calendar of events, real-estate listings and local school data.

At the moment, at least, there is no RSS feed. That may change, though the site strikes me as ill-suited to reading via RSS, as it consists of many little items that require you to go off-site if you want to learn more. (Boston.com’s director of community publishing, Teresa Hanafin, makes exactly that point in a comment to the Garden City blog. And don’t miss GateHouse editor Greg Reibman’s hilarious retort.)

The Globe and GateHouse face different challenges.

The Globe, like all big regional papers, is caught in a squeeze. People who are interested mainly in national and international news are now getting it elsewhere, online. And though it’s often said that local is the future, it’s difficult for a big paper that covers all of Eastern Massachusetts to become local enough. Boston.com Newton, which is clearly intended as a prototype (note the “yourtown” in the URL), is an interesting way of overcoming the disadvantage of being a regional paper — and of attracting local advertisers who could never afford to buy space in the paper.

GateHouse, which publishes about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts, is all about local, so it doesn’t have to reorient its mission. But its natural advantage in print doesn’t necessarily hold up online, because players as large as the Globe and as small as a few passionate activists can play on the same turf.

What’s going on in Newton will tell us a lot about the future of the newspaper business over the next few years. I hope both sides find a way to win.

Previous

Boston.com versus GateHouse redux

Next

The ghosts of James Michael Curley

7 Comments

  1. Tim

    I’m struck by the fact that the “discussions” section – which in my mind one of the most important parts of a truly local website, isn’t built into the new Newton website, but linked externally to Boston.com. The reader is sent to another, separate website – with a completely different look and feel. It’s notable that a little community blog like thegardencity.net manages to build and host a robust online forum as part of its website — but Boston.com does not.

  2. Michael Pahre

    I disagree with the criticism about the blog posting about the Phoenix’s restaurant review of Hotel Indigo.While most of the hyperlinks on the Globe’s Newton homepage take you directly to the content, this link goes to an intermediate page that provides a summary of the Phoenix review — as well as three other hyperlinks, two to previous Globe coverage, and the third to a review on yet another site.If the Phoenix wanted to avoid preemptively such intermediate posts, then the Phoenix should embed hyperlinks to other content in their own review. While the Phoenix uses such hyperlinking in other parts of their online paper, they do not do so in their restaurant reviews (or at least in this particular review). Embedded hyperlinks is kinda the whole point of these intertube websites, no?

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Michael: I understand what you’re saying. But the Globe blog post in question gives us the gist of the Phoenix review. It’s enough to take away from any incentive someone might have to click through and read the Phoenix review.And the Phoenix review is something that was published in its print edition. It does not make mention of other reviews. The Globe does the same thing in its print edition. You can question how smart that is in 2008, but it’s not unusual.

  4. dangillmor

    No one can “control” the virtual front door to a city aggregation. Whoever does it best will get the most traffic and benefit.I don’t see how this becomes a question of fair use if the pointers don’t quote large parts of other people’s work.

  5. Steve Garfield

    Hi Dan,If the Globe wants hyper-local, where are the bloggers? Where are the links to Newton stories written by Newton residents?Where is the newton sites recruitiung local residents to actually contribute to the site other than to go post on a boston.com message board.BostonNOW did it right.Can the Globe reach out to include local residents to help make a site like this ‘ours’ instead of ‘theirs?’How do Newton residents feel about this new site?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: Not really sure what you mean … as I look at Boston.com Newton right now, I see several links to local, independent bloggers. Newton stories written by Newton residents, in other words.When you say that BostonNOW did it right, I guess I’m going to have to ask you to define “it.” 😉 But if you mean Boston.com should invite folks to set up blogs on its site, you’re correct: hasn’t happened. Maybe it should.

  7. Steve Garfield

    Hi Dan,When I last looked I did not see any links to local bloggers.Now I do.That’s more like it, links to local bogs intermingled with links to boston.com stories AND they are not shuffled off to some special blogger area.It’s looking better to me with a fresh set of eyes this morning.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén