First came the news that The Boston Globe’s previous distributor has re-entered the picture. Next came an apology by Globe publisher John Henry. And with those two steps, the Globe seems to have essentially brought its week-and-a-half-old home-delivery crisis to an end, even though problems will likely linger into next week. Here are five takeaways.
1. Management is convinced that the problem has been solved. Henry’s apology is proof of that. It’s a basic principle of public relations that you don’t bring out the Big Dog until you believe the crisis is under control. Henry’s statement wasn’t risk-free—the previous vendor, Publishers Circulation Fulfillment, won’t be back on the job until Sunday or Monday, and it’s still unclear how quickly delivery service can be fully restored. The new vendor, ACI Media Group, will share the work, and needless to say it has yet to prove itself. But there’s no longer any talk of having to wait four to six months.
2. John Henry is really, really sorry. Yes, his apology is a little bit defensive (blaming previous ownership for getting rid of the in-house delivery system) and a little bit geeky (no, we don’t care if the paper is “6 inches to the right of the first step”). But he struck me as genuinely, truly contrite that he had let down his customers. “I want to personally apologize to every Boston Globe subscriber who has been inconvenienced,” he wrote. “We recognize that you depend on us, and that we’ve let you down.”
3. There could be negative repercussions for the newsroom. Both Henry and chief executive Mike Sheehan have said that though the main impetus for switching carriers was to improve service, they were looking to save money as well. Sheehan has said Henry intended to reinvest those savings in the Globe. If that money fails to materialize, it could mean further cuts in a newsroom that was shrunk by some 45 positions just a few months ago.
4. Print still matters. During the past week and a half I’ve heard numerous suggestions that the Globe switch to online-only distribution—and even a few conspiracy theories suggesting that Henry and company had deliberately botched home delivery in order to smooth the way for such a move. (But couldn’t they switch to home delivery via black helicopter?) In fact, the Globe and nearly all other newspapers still make most of their money from print. “Subscription revenue is going to be the primary source of revenue in the future for newspapers,” Henry wrote. And though the Globe has had some success in persuading people to pay for digital subscriptions, print remains a lot more lucrative.
5. People really care about their newspaper. In an era when you often hear about how irrelevant newspapers as standalone products have become, it’s got to be heartening to see how much people care about their daily newspaper and how upset they are when it doesn’t arrive. It’s not so much print-versus-digital; it’s the continued viability of newspapers, whether in print or online, as living, breathing voices of the community. The future—and even the present—may be articles disaggregated from their sources and repackaged by Facebook, Apple News, and the like. For now, though, newspapers still matter.