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, Boston.com, 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.