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

Boston is still a newspaper town

The latest news about the newspaper business is of the sort that no one ever thought we’d see. Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, may seek bankrupcty protection. McClatchy has put the Miami Herald up for sale, but no one wants it.

So I thought this would be a good time to pause for a moment and ponder something that we all take for granted around here. How is it that the Boston Globe continues as one of our great daily newspapers? How can our number-two daily, the Boston Herald, keep chugging along in this environment?

First the Globe. The paper and its corporate parent, the New York Times Co., are in dire straits. The Globe may be losing as much as $1 million a week, and company executives are now on a salary-cutting binge. International and national coverage has been largely ceded to the Times and the wire services. And yet this may be the only city in the country other than New York or Washington where our major daily newspaper isn’t the subject of daily, heated rumors about its imminent demise.

No doubt the Times Co. is a more benevolent owner than Sam Zell, the foul-mouthed real-estate tycoon who runs Tribune. But maybe things aren’t as bad at the Globe as they are at most other papers because Boston remains, fundamentally, a newspaper town. Yes, print circulation is way down, but the Globe’s Web site,, is thriving (though its ad revenues don’t come anywhere near offsetting print losses).

Surely there’s no explanation but Boston’s special relationship with newspapers to explain the continued existence of the Herald. For several decades, the tabloid has survived as one of the very few number-two dailies in the country. The Herald has gotten awfully small. Earlier this fall, the paper started jobbing out its printing to the Wall Street Journal, which now trucks the paper in from its plant in Chicopee each day. (As with the Globe, the Herald’s Web site is doing quite well.)

Last week, Herald publisher Pat Purcell went back to work for his old boss, Murdoch, who owns the Journal and everything else.

Few people other than Purcell know what the true financial condition of the Herald is, though it’s believed to be right on the edge. And few know what Purcell’s real motivation was in agreeing to run Purcell’s Ottaway community-newspaper division. But it’s possible that it was about finding efficiencies that will shore up the Herald’s position.

This is such a difficult moment for the news business that it would be ridiculous to make any predictions. A month from now — a week from now — these observations might seem pollyannaish and naive.

For the moment, though, with the exception of New York and Washington, there’s no better place in the country to be a newspaper reader.

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  1. mike_b1

    Well, not to pick a nit, but in saying “there’s no better place” you fail to mention the quality — or lack thereof — of the local papers. One could argue that the two local papers don’t add up to one LA Times, for example, even with the latter’s very public financial problems.Moreover, Chicago, for one, has a suburban paper that may well overtake the Sun-Times in readership a few years.

  2. Bill Baar

    If the Sun Times lasts as a daily in the next few years… I expect it won’t.There was a time I when I bought three sunday papers: Chicago Trib, Sun Times, and the NYT. Those days are long gone… it would take all of the next week to get through them.I can read the Sunday Trib now in about ten minutes… same for the Sun Times. The NYT wants five bucks or more (I forget) to get what I can get free from or huffpo…if I want it.

  3. Peter Porcupine

    DK – Gentility and benevolence aside, the NYT has announced that it’s borrowing $225 million against its Manhattan real estate to stay afloat.Perhaps a Redstone-like tycoon with non-genteel ways is needed to keep the Globe afloat, as the NYT may cut it loose. To date, the Great Satan Murdoch as done a good job.Mr. Baar – I regard your statement about moveon and huffpo as frightening, and hope it’s sarcasm. Still, a recent survey reported that over 80% of people use blogs and the Internet as a primary news source. I shudder.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    PP: Not that this would make Murdoch any less smart, but I suspect his newspapers are doing as badly as most. The difference is that he sees them as an integrated part of his media empire.The Fox Business Channel may be dormant (comatose?) at the moment. But someday he’ll turn his attention to it, and you’ll see a strong relationship with the WSJ. Which is why he doesn’t care if the WSJ is losing money. (We know the NY Post loses tons, by the way, yet no one seems to see that as a comment on his acumen as a newspaper publisher.)

  5. Bill Baar

    Mr. Baar – I regard your statement about moveon and huffpo as fright.Half in jest.. I read papers from all over the world now. From Europe, the Middle East, Asia… if I want a Liberal / Left / Radical slant, I know where to go and get it for free… …this from a guy who once considered the NYT an indespinsible start to my day…back when the paper was shipped to Chicago and they used a messy ink you got all-over-yourself.

  6. Ani

    And, one could argue, Boston is still a “town.”

  7. Ron Newman

    It’s official now: Tribune Co. Files for Bankruptcy

  8. Old Weekly Retired Publisher

    Interestingly, though, there are a few weekly papers with entrenched circulation that seem to be doing just fine, and some of the daily newspapers would be doing better if they did not have debt to service from overpaying with acquisitions. There has been too much horse trading in the newspaper business. If the newspapers had remained in family ownership they’d get through this with a few bad years and support the losses from past earnings. That applies to some degree with the New York Times which overpaid for the Globe. Years ago the Globe was a cash cow and there was hardly an unhappy worker there, ever. They were paid or over paid very well, and enjoyed liberal expense accounts.

  9. io saturnalia!

    To PP, and anyone, I guess: Think of this for the Globe: Trump — the Newspaper.Be careful what you wish for.

  10. Larry Weil

    Another paper that’s still good (and probably the best paper in Florida)is the Palm Beach Post.

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