The urgency I’ve felt about the possible closure of the Boston Globe was put into stark contrast yesterday morning. As I walked home after accompanying my daughter to her elementary school, I was joined by another parent who had just completed the same duty. As we strolled up the street, I mentioned the story that I’ve been obsessing over the last few days.
It was news to him. He neither knew about the Globe‘s crisis nor cared. He told me he hasn’t subscribed to the Globe in years. This was yet another example of a college-educated professional with no connection to his hometown newspaper (earlier this week I blogged about my unscientific survey of Gen Y professionals and how none of them subscribed to the Globe).
Clearly, I’m in the minority in how much I care about the Globe. Clearly, I’m part of an older demographic still clinging to concept of newspapers. But it made me wonder why so many people don’t read the Globe anymore. There’s no doubt that the primary reason is because of the easy access to information available on the web and the global financial crisis. But the Boston Globe has also made other big mistakes – and in the process lost the loyalty of their community.
Here are five of the biggest mistakes:
1. Embracing Elitism.
They did this in two ways:
- First by its hiring practices of editors and reporters. The fastest way to get hired by the Globe? Have a degree from an Ivy League college. In the last decade, the Globe rarely recruited young talent from the smaller and regional newspapers in New England. I worked at the Telegram & Gazette in Worcester for more than a decade (the 5th largest newspaper in New England), yet not one reporter or editor while I was there was hired by the Globe - and it wasn’t for a lack of effort by the T&G staff. The Globe shunned locally trained journalists in favor of those with better pedigrees. As a result, they built a staff of like-minded individuals mostly culled from upper echelons of society.
- Second they began to write specifically for this class of people – mostly white and affluent and living in the Boston suburbs. They became obsessed with real estate, gourmet cooking, home decorating, Harvard University, technology gadgets, travel, restaurants and child care. The content was often maddeningly skewered to this wealthy suburban audience often assuming that every reader faced the same challenges when redesigning a 1,000-square-foot kitchen or throwing a dinner party for 18 after a Tanglewood concert. This was the ultimate betrayal of the Globe‘s working and blue-collar readers.
2. Abandoning Boston
At some point, the Globe decided to cede its city coverage to the Boston Herald. Probably at the same time it decided to focus outward on the suburban audience. As a result, they no longer covered City Council or School Committee meetings. If you wanted to understand the politics and issues of Boston you wouldn’t find it in the pages of the Globe. Coverage of issues was spotty. Columnists – even the local ones – focused on national issues. There was more coverage of the Bush administration in the editorial and op-ed pages than of the Menino administration.
3. The Liberal Bias
I believe the Globe tries to balance each story, but I also believe it slants to the left in what it chooses to cover and how it covers it. The editorials have become preachy – and a bit heavy handed. And other than Jeff Jacoby there are few op-eds from the right side of the aisle. The Globe rarely gives thoughtful analysis or support to conservative and Republican issues, causes and candidates. While I don’t believe this bias is as bad as many critics say it is in reality – the perception is that the Globe is a liberal newspaper – even on its news pages. The Globe hasn’t successfully put that perception to rest. This, of course, alienated many readers in the center and on the right.
4. Cutting Coverage
The Globe – under the terrible stewardship of the New York Times Co. – has slowly, but methodically eliminated staff. With the long downsizing of reporters and editors – from foreign correspondents to sports reporters – the content has suffered. The Globe has relied on wire stories, freelancers, and younger reporters (without the institutional knowledge or experience) to generate too much of its content. And as the staff got smaller, they were forced to write more – and do less reporting. Quality suffered. When you put out a lesser product (and what the Globe is publishing right now is a sub-par sporadic dartboard of news). You lose customers when you charge more for less.
5. Insular Mentality
With the staff shrinkage came an entrenchment of the Globe establishment. The insiders ruled. Outsiders – or those that thought differently than the establishment – were either sent packing or left of their own freewill. This establishment became arrogant and blind to the realities happening outside of Morrissey Boulevard. They failed to innovate, failed to change with the times, failed to embrace new technologies and new revenue models. They stuck to the doomed course and are now suffering the consequences.
There is no doubt the web and the economic global crisis are the primary reasons why the Globe finds itself on the edge of closure. But the Globe needs to shoulder the responsibility for its own demise. And if it doesn’t stop thinking like this and start thinking like this - then it the newspaper’s closure is immenient.