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

Setting the record straight

My friend Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix is having a reading-comprehension problem today.

I have never remotely suggested, as Adam seems to think, that it doesn’t matter how much content the Boston Globe takes from GateHouse’s Newton Tab on its hyperlocal page for Newton. Nor have I said that it’s all right if the majority of Newton‘s links come from the Tab.

What I have said is that GateHouse has little to complain about as long as the Globe is taking so little that you have to click through to the Tab’s Wicked Local Newton page in order to get the gist of the story. Which is what the Globe has been doing.

I also agree with Adam that the Globe is going to look silly if its Newton page doesn’t feature a good mix of Globe content, local bloggers and, yes, some links to the Tab.

Although I’m not privy to the details, I do know that Globe and GateHouse executives have been wrangling behind the scenes. For about a week, there was no Tab content at all at Newton. Now there is again.

I don’t pretend to know exactly what the right mix is, but it does strike me that Globe editors tried to go about this the right way — and that the folks at GateHouse have, nevertheless, been appropriately prickly about the Globe using their content to boost its own local coverage.

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  1. Kris Olson

    Dan,With all due respect, I don’t think that Adam has a “reading-comprehension problem.” I do think — perhaps because he is a former employee of CNC (not that I doubt your devotion to the Danvers Herald, mind you) — that he may have a greater appreciation of and sensitivity to why GateHouse has justifiable cause to be, to use your word, “prickly.”If you look into the future, you would have to think that only one or the other of a Wicked Local or will generate significant online ad revenue, no? (You call it “controlling the virtual front door” to a community, which sort of understates the financial implications involved, in my view.)Given the size of Newton and its proximity to Morrissey Boulevard, the Globe can at least make a passable effort at interspersing its own content at The size of the city also means that there are more independent voices (i.e., bloggers) from which to cull material.The problem that I think Adam is rightfully envisioning is when the Globe expands this effort to other suburbs, where they have virtually no feet on the street. I am sure you have noticed the gutting of Globe North and the other regional sections. If the Globe were going to hire actual journalists to generate material — rather than an “editor” holed up in a cubicle pointing and clicking his or her way to content — that would be one thing. But we all pretty much know that isn’t going to happen, don’t we?So that leaves, almost by default, to build on the backs of the Marblehead Reporter (and the Salem News and the Lynn Item, I suppose).I can’t complain about trying to take a chunk of the local-advertising “pie” (shrinking though it may be) — it’s a competitive business, after all. I do, however, object to being used as the fork.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Kris:Adam misunderstood me. We’ve talked. He wrote: “As an aside, unlike my friend Dan Kennedy, I do think the question of how much GateHouse content can use in good conscience is central.”The term “how much” has a pretty clear meaning. I think I’ve been careful about what I’ve written. But if I ever led anyone to think it was OK for to take so much of a GateHouse story that people wouldn’t have to click through, that’s not even remotely what I meant. Nor do I think it’s what I wrote.I’ve thought about some of the issues you’ved raised, though I haven’t written about them — yet. I do think what is doing in Newton can only be transported to communities where (a) the Globe is doing a reasonable amount of coverage and (b) there are at least a few good local bloggers. Otherwise, all it could do is link to what the local papers are doing. (In Danvers, we’re lucky enough to have two.)I also think there is some question as to whether it’s fair to regard a fight as the big guy versus the little guy. The Globe and the GateHouse papers are both owned by large, financially troubled, publicly traded corporations.Given the relative parity between the two players, I suggest that the best approach GateHouse could take is to build a better front door.

  3. Kris Olson

    Dan,I read right past the word “appropriately” modifying “prickly” in your post. Turns out *I’m* the one with the comprehension problem. ;-)Happy holidays…

  4. Marc Larocque

    In the most recent edition of the New Yorker, James Surowiecki, writes that if newspapers used this type of portal or more link journalism effectively from the get-go, and charged for their online services, then things would be different and the industry could have stanched its financial woes. Check it out:In a famous 1960 article called “Marketing Myopia,” Theodore Levitt held up the railroads as a quintessential example of companies’ inability to adapt to changing circumstances. Levitt argued that a focus on products rather than on customers led the companies to misunderstand their core business. Had the bosses realized that they were in the transportation business, rather than the railroad business, they could have moved into trucking and air transport, rather than letting other companies dominate. By extension, many argue that if newspapers had understood they were in the information business, rather than the print business, they would have adapted more quickly and more successfully to the Net.There’s some truth to this. Local papers could have been more aggressive in leveraging their brand names to dominate the market for online classifieds, instead of letting Craigslist usurp that market. And while the flood of online information has made the job of aggregation and filtering tremendously valuable, none of the important aggregation sites, to say nothing of Google News, are run by a paper. Even now, papers often display a “not invented here” mentality, treating their sites as walled gardens, devoid of links to other news outlets. From a print perspective, that’s understandable: why would you advertise good work that’s being done elsewhere? But it’s an approach that makes no sense on the Web.These mistakes have been undeniably costly, but they’re not the whole story. The peculiar fact about the current crisis is that even as big papers have become less profitable they’ve arguably become more popular. The blogosphere, much of which piggybacks on traditional journalism’s content, has magnified the reach of newspapers, and although papers now face far more scrutiny, this is a kind of backhanded compliment to their continued relevance. Usually, when an industry runs into the kind of trouble that Levitt was talking about, it’s because people are abandoning its products. But people don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us.

  5. NewsHound

    I think GateHouse initiates its complaint by posting on the Internet.Walter Brooks of Cape Cod, a long-time person in the business who runs a web-based “newspaper” has an interesting column in today’s Providence Journal.It would seem rather ironic in its last days before bankruptcy GateHouse ruins it for all of us who “Google” millions of links every day.

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