Can bloggers help save the Globe?

While Boston philanthropists meet behind closed doors to try to figure out an answer to the Globe crisis, a group of bloggers, organized by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO Paul Levy, want to see if they and their readers can come up with ways of their own to save the paper.

More than 20 blogs in the Boston area are today starting a Globe "blog rally" - discussions on their sites about how to keep the Globe going, no matter what its corporate overlords in Manhattan say:

... We view the Globe as an important community resource, and we think that lots of people in the region agree and might have creative ideas that might help in this situation. So, here's your chance. Please don't write with nasty comments and sarcasm: Use this forum for thoughtful and interesting steps you would recommend to the management that would improve readership, enhance the Globe's community presence, and make money. Who knows, someone here might come up with an idea that will work, or at least help. ...

Of course, not everybody agrees. On the Huffington Post, James Boyce says good riddance to a paper he finds insufferably arrogant:

... The Globe is not failing because of the recession, or because of the 'advertising climate' - it's failing because when the whole world went left, the Globe continued to go arrogantly to the right and continues to this day. It didn't help that its reporting was turned into absolute crap by newsroom cutbacks. ...

Neighborhoods: 

    Topics: 

    Free tagging: 

    Comments

    Adamg for editor of Le Glob

    Ditto SwirlyGrrl's comment. The one unassailable asset owned by local and regional papers like the Globe is local name recognition and dominance.

    Rather than trying to cover the nation and the world, when it is owned by the national paper with the best reporting staff in the country, the Globe should cover Boston and New England relentlessly. Why do I have to come to UniversalHub to hear that Pack the duck has been recovered and will be returned to the Public Garden?

    Why, with an army of top-flight reporters, does the Globe not cover local and regional issues to the point that people in New England feel they have to go to Boston.com to know what's going on around them? Covering P&Z or city council meetings in a dozen towns isn't terribly sexy, but it does let you write the kind of stories that used to be meat and potatoes to the local press -- bad town management, corrupt developers, conflicts within a town over use of public land, restaurants that violate health-code provisions, liquor stores that sell to minors, landlords that don't keep up their properties, local businesses that are either a detriment or benefit to the economy of a town...

    Writing up a happy talk feature on MetroWest or the North- or South Shore once a week doesn't qualify as 'coverage,' so Boston and Mass. readers don't come to the Web site to keep up on things that affect their own lives. If they did, it would be a lot easier to make the case to local businesses that they have to advertise in Boston.com to reach their customers.

    There is no reason on Earth cell-phone companies should have a better chance of marketing location-based marketing and retail services than the newspapers that know the area, know the businesses and (theoretically) understand the needs of their readership.

    You want to get readers back to your paper or your site? Write about the things that matter to them, even if a lot of those things bore you to tears. Give people the information they need to make good decisions on where to live,where to eat, what tax proposals to support and which to oppose, where to send their kids to school and whether to buy, sell or rent. Just keeping them up to speed on Darfur, Brangelina and the raw-food diet doesn't cut it.

    News

    Boyce writes:

    Newspapers are in the news business, not the paper business.

    Of course, but government restricted newspapers from owning local TV and radio stations. It'd seem rather natural for a newspaper to use TV and radio to help recoup the cost of reporting, but, well, it is what it is.

    (And w/o the restrictions we'd have had other problems and the Globe could still have been in the situation in today, I'm just saying it's a bit unfair to criticize newspaper for not doing what they weren't allowed to do. Compare with CAFE restrictions on US auto industry)

    No, they're in the business of delivering audiences to advertise

    The problem isn't that newspapers couldn't buy radio and TV statinos. The problem is that newspapers made money with classifieds and direct advertising. The news was just the freebie that got the ads to the people and the people to the advertisers.

    Since we no longer need a daily paper to bring us classifieds (thanks, Craigslist!) or supermarket circulars (they email them nowadays), papers have seen their profit margins disappear.

    They did a lousy job of it

    Ever try to look for a job through the Globe classifieds? More like UNclassifieds. Could you have gotten more antiquated than having only three or four classifications? Really? Professional Help. Medical help. Yeah, real useful, that.

    Most people have no interest in wading through 2,000 inappropriate ads to get to the one that might have something to do with what they are looking for. They simply didn't care about the people looking for ads - there were different systems in use at other papers that did a much better job of narrowing down exactly what KIND of job or thing that you wanted.

    So don't blame Craigslist if the Globe never gave a crap about classified advertisers and the people who wanted to read their ads. If it did, it would have, you know, classified them? Craigslist would not have gotten any traction around here, and neither would the print-edition WantAdvertizer had the Globe not sucked so much.

    The ads were always

    The ads were always impossible to read, your right they could of somehow managed to space things out in a different way. I always found myself scratching my head because I did not fit into any of the categories.

    Also the online system they had in place has always been awful. It may be different now but for a while it was very slow, and many of the people placing ads just linked to a scanned copy of the paper version! They did not fully understand how the internet worked, and that people had no interest in seeing shorthand online. Now they seem to be in partnership with Monster, which is also terrible. The apartment/real estate section is also sub par and takes a long time to load. On both of them the search engines need help as well.

    Craigslist does have a flaw that they need to be careful of, especially with google running around expanding its business every day. Craigslist does not suggest alternative words to a word you may have spelled wrong, nor does it allow you to search for all variations of a particular word like some other search engines do. That means if you are looking for a particular item you may have to do multiple searches for each word ("water front" "waterfront" etc) It does not matter which way is the proper way if you get the spelling right and the ad poster used the alternative form.

    Kraigslist Klassifieds

    Craig's List is terrible. It killed the papers because people are willing to put up with a crappy web site and scammers if they can pay no money for it. That is basically the gulf we are crossing. How much more can you charge to have a good classifieds web site? That is the question, and will it support the salaries of reporters? It seems like the answer is no.

    Talk about scammers

    When I came to Boston in 2000, I tried the Globe classifieds to find an apartment. Every single ad that *seemed* personal was just a cleverly hidden spam ad from some real estate agent or slumlord. Not a single one panned out.

    I went to craigslist and another free online apartment listing service and found dozens of personal ads from the actual current tenants or landlords without hidden agendas.

    The reason craigslist has taken on so many scammers in the past few years is because EVERYONE ELSE went there and boosted the signal. They had to go where their sucker-base is located when it shifted. The signal-to-noise on craigslist is still far better than anything in a paper these days.

    Craigslist allows for ads

    Craigslist allows for ads that include pictures, and descriptions and even locations. The spammers and real estate agents become rather obvious because they are not the ones who mention their love of Star Trek on a roommate search page, or mention the pothole down the street being an issue but otherwise its a nice area. Its much easier to ferret out the real people. Thats also what I tell people who post on there, you have to be real. You see the old time crowd thinking its like the Boston Globe when an ad says "1000, 3 room apartment, 5 miles from Boston, buses 2 blocks away" yeahhhh about that, I will put you to the back of my list because I have 10 ads over here where the person tells me which buses come by, what area it is in, the floor Im going to be on, gives me a few pictures, and informs me of the local cool store/shop that will now be within walking distance of my apartment. The best ads are the ones that admit the faults of the apartment, if their is no laundry in the building tell me, cause if its important Im going to notice that when I take a tour of the place, plus if its not important I now trust you for being honest.

    Craig's List

    CL actually does a lousy job at much of what they try do.

    The main barrier for competing services is usually either that they're mind-bogglingly incompetent at the service itself (e.g., obviously failing to understand even what CL has done right), or that they don't know how to generate and sustain critical mass.

    The people who actually have insight into the problems represent just a miniscule fraction of a percentage point of the developers, designers, technologists, and MBAs out there.

    It's frustrating to see some of the cargo cult behavior of this generation of the Internet. We've already lost some common wisdom of the pre-Web Internet, and we still haven't rediscovered the problems and solutions that researchers and visionaries foresaw before terms like "blog" and "social media" were coined.

    Glob UnKlassifieds

    It killed the papers because people are willing to put up with a crappy web site and scammers if they can pay no money for it.

    BZZZZT. Sorry, wrong answer.

    The Globe killed itself because it forgot that classifieds were about people being able to sell things to other people, not about selling ads to people and then throwing them into a jumbled pile that was not possible to sort out for would-be buyers.

    Even in the days before the web, I learned quite quickly that the WantAdvertizer was the way to go for general items to buy and sell, and the local newspapers had the best apartments.

    The paper edition of the

    The paper edition of the Globe was scooped on the story because of the delays inherent in publishing and distributing the dead-tree edition.

    The news was on Boston.com more 24 hours before papers hit the street

    Another blogger who says good riddance

    Paper Economy doesn't quite come out and express the hope that Globe editors burn in hell for all eternity for its role in promoting the real-estate bubble, but comes pretty close:

    ... During the housing-consumption boom the Boston Globe participated and even led the fluffing of every aspect of the mania… supporting Boston's Realtor-termed faux arts and cultural "districts" and their numerous phony soho-style luxury condos… creating an atmosphere of competition and urgency for home buyers by routinely spotlighting "up and coming" areas where, if you were smart, you could "get in on the ground floor" ... reinforcing and even leading unhealthy perceptions of good and bad school districts, the MCAS results and "top shelf" versus "typical" towns… the list goes on and on… all this and embedded advertisements and online tools to "help" you navigate such a bounty of important decisions. ...

    Via Aaron Weber.

    This, right here

    This commentary pretty much sums up exactly what I had a problem with when it comes to the Globe of late. Too much easy-to-write, zero-legwork, fluffy bullcrap in the Style, Living, Real Estate, Cars, Entertainment, Lifestyle sections of the paper. It would frequently bubble up all over their website, too. I used to turn to the paper for a few big items: in-depth info on the sports teams, investigative journalism on local issues/politics, and summary of the national news scene (with the occasional jaunt through the comics and opinion pages).

    The paper stopped being in it for the reader and started being in it solely for its own sales and advertising. Once it crossed that boundary, it was heading directly for failure. My opinion is that someone will take up the carcass, redirect it at the important aspects of making a paper again, and republish it to tell the people what's behind the curtains while they're still closed and stop trying to show us what we've won.

    Not getting enough through the straw?

    Fella's got a point there. The great dislocation referred to above, when the advertising for the Globe started to trot off to more efficient media (e.g. Craigslist) was not met with an adequate reaction by the Globe. They saw the bottom of the milkshake and decided to suck harder.

    Sucking harder involved making the Glob more like Boston Magazine, with its sycophantic reviews pasted on the backs of glossy advertisements by the pleased vendors. I don't know if I'd really blame the Glob for the bubble - it's not like it didn't happen all across the country - but "deliberately transformed this once respected news source into a propaganda machine for advertisers of real estate and banking, autos, jobs and entertainment" hits the spot. Advertisers going away? Suck harder.

    Crisis as welcomed catalyst

    All of these developments -- the Blog Rally, the behind-closed-doors meetings, the Globe's self-coverage, the Herald's coverage, pieces by folks like Eileen McNamara (thank you for pointing out this isn't about greedy unions), and criticisms of the Globe itself -- are part of a long-overdue reckoning that may have the effect of saving the paper in a form that works for Greater Boston.

    I'll repeat my two cents:

    1. News -- Emphasize first-rate news and investigative coverage of Greater Boston. That's the singular, indispensable contribution of the Globe, above all else.

    2. Opinion -- Embrace Boston's mythology as the Athens of America: turn your op-ed, cultural, and sports pages into the city's town square. The paper badly need fresh perspectives. (My guess is that a lot of folks in the 02138 zip code don't even read the paper regularly, so why keep kissing up to them?)

    3. Be the First -- Boston and Massachusetts pride themselves on being places of Firsts, so take the lead and become the first major daily to master a high-quality, economically viable hybrid approach between print and web-based delivery of the news.

    4. Consider a Globe-Herald Merger -- I'd rather have one very feisty daily than two that take turns being on the brink of extinction as they eviscerate their newsrooms. If Boston cannot support two dailies, then perhaps it can support one that attempts to represent the many tribes here.

    Sadly, I see very little "can do" spirit in the current situation; it appears to be more like treating a patient in the late stages of a seemingly incurable, horrible disease, removing body parts 'till there's nothing left to save. Maybe all of this civic reaction is what is needed to turn things around.

    I'm in...

    http://visionsofcody.net/2009/04/blog-rally-to-sav...

    Part of the problem with being a humorist is that people don’t take you seriously when you have legitimate ideas. Now I’m not really complaining, as I produce at least 100 high-larious jokes for each legitimate idea that I have. But as a lover of newspapers I felt compelled to sincerely participate in Paul Levy’s blog rally to save The Boston Globe.

    Your first question is probably “what’s a blog rally,” which is an excellent question that I have no answer for. Then again, I suspect that any respectable blog rally would not require me to leave my blog-cave, change out of my sweatpants or pass on the grilled cheese that Mom cooked for lunch, so I’m in.

    The core problem with The Globe (and my household) is that it spends much more money each week than it makes. And unlike the various Ponzi schemes on Wall Street, there’s apparently no bailout money from Uncle Sucker for the newspaper industry. So the following things are going to have to happen to save The Globe:

    1) They'll probably have to declare bankruptcy so they can renegotiate their existing contracts.
    2) They'll probably need to be sold (preferably to local ownership) so that they can focus on the core business – journalism – and nothing else. No baseball teams, no jai alai leagues – just journalism.

    Assuming those two things happen here’s what I would do next:

    Print edition:

    Monday through Saturday: Turn the Metro (or sell stake in Metro and create new version) into The Boston Globe Express. Free distribution model within 128 only. Merely provide synopses of stories and drive readers to web to read the full article. Make it a little smarter and better written than the Metro but continue to position it as a 20-minute read for commuters. Also offer BGE as a daily download that can be read on your handheld device on- or off-line.

    Sunday: Restore the Sunday Globe to its former glory. Capitalize on the consumer's latent desire to wake up on Sunday with a coffee and a real paper. Focus on regional and local stories and sports. Provide efficient delivery service (i.e. guaranteed delivery by 7 a.m.)

    Boston.com:

    Completely integrate The Boston Globe online into Boston.com. Truly leverage the social networking powers of the web and foster a two-way conversation between readers and journalists. Redesign the site so that it’s a compelling web experience rather than a newspaper reproduced online. Allow users to have more creative input and interaction. Make Boston.com a destination on the web for all things Boston. Create exclusive content (i.e. Globe 10.0) in the form of videos and podcasts and don’t bury content under 5 layers of links. Turn the blog aggregation function over to Adam Gaffin’s Universal Hub.

    So that’s my basic plan: free mini-paper during the week, best-in-class Sunday paper and next generation web experience. Now, how do we make the money?

    1) Print advertising: ads in the BGE and the Sunday Globe.
    2) Web advertising: contextual search ads and banner ad on the new (higher traffic) Boston.com
    3) Subscriptions: on the Sunday Globe only, plus reward subscribers with member-only benefits, i.e. exclusive online chats, meet and greets, additional content, cross-promotional discounts, etc.
    4) Donations: Follow the NPR model and request donations from readers. Emphasize transparency and show exactly where the money is going – i.e. to journalism and not to luxury boxes at Fenway.

    Obviously it’s going to take a while for The Globe to get back into the black but I believe that if they focus on the core mission – providing compelling news content – they might just get there.

    intriguing suggestions

    I'll use a term that drives me nuts -- out-of-the-box -- but it captures the kind of ideas that need to be considered. If the daily paper needs to be reimagined, then we need some genuine reimagining!

    Re donations: The Globe already has a foundation. How about creating a separate or spin-off non-profit entity that funds targeted, investigative projects? Don't know quite how the tax implications would work -- i.e., mixing for-profit and non-profit functions -- but I'm sure some enterprising tax attorneys could advise.

    "... foster a two-way

    "... foster a two-way conversation between readers and journalists"

    A. I'm not sure most journalists want to hear from readers. They could argue with some justification that most of the conversation will be uninformed and time-wasting.
    B. I'm not sure it really works as far as getting the right answer. You could post all your stories on Blue Mass Group and get 160 comments before you published them, but your story might still proceed with erroneous assumptions because the people who bother to comment are all from one group.

    whattajerk

    A PR flack who blogs for the Huffington Post thinks the Globe is arrogant and zagging to the right? What a jerk.
    His huffing post is more self-congratulatory than anything, and he doesn't have evidence to support many of his statements. Maybe the Globe didn't run one of his PR-flacky op-eds or didn't take his PR-flacky advice on something. Maybe that explains his glee. Again, what a jerk.

    Merge what people want with what people will pay for

    People want investigative journalism. You can only afford to pay reporters to investigate when you have money to pay them.

    Some software companies have setup methods for receiving input from their users as to what features come next. Users suggest feature improvements, users also then rate which features that have been suggested they would like to support (using a small points system..."I add 3 points to blogger123's idea of having an eraser on your new pencil design!").

    Now, back to the paper, let the users drive your investigations. Let users suggest what stories or aspects of life they need more information on that they're not getting elsewhere. The recent interesting MBTA train on-time analysis was driven by readers writing in complaining about how they feel like they're being lied to about the current train schedules. Small fee to list an item, small cost to purchase the "points" that let you support other ideas already listed. If the people want to hear more about a potential story on the MBTA, then they'll be directly funding the reporter who will be doing that story by paying to bump up that specific story. You could also list all of the reporters and if a particular reporter/columnist is doing better or worse, then they can put their money-backed points behind him or her, giving an instant read out (sorta like an American Idol of journalism) as to whose stories are driving readership. Hell, let them pay to put points AGAINST someone whose reporting they really hate in the hopes of getting their contributions removed or substantially reduced from the paper (I'd easily pay $20 if it meant less Shaugnessy in my sports section). Users will war with each other (spending money all the way) to keep their favorites in the Plus column while others who absolutely detest the writer will (spending money all the way) try to put the guy in the gutter in the Minus column.

    Any story (and/or reporter) who reaches a specific threshold of "fundability" then gets acted upon and shows up in a paper soon after. If you want to drive more points being put into the system, you can do something like kick back half of the points to the users who make a story reach its fundability threshold. If a story idea doesn't reach fundability after a specific amount of time, it expires. You either take that money or do something like refund half of it again. Any points unspent are still money in the bank to work with as invested capital.

    Win-win: Public drives the news they want to read (thus boosting readership) and the paper learns how to satisfy the readership while getting paid directly to the point of doing it.

    PS - You can also let people use their points as a "tip jar" on articles that you might write that don't come from this system but that the public appreciated after it was written anyways. This will give columnists and other reporters/photogs independence to keep doing what they want to do instead of being directly driven by the users and yet still reap points out of the system and drive investment by the users.

    Spot.us similarity

    Honestly, I came up with the above all by myself. As it was mentioned, I was inspired by American Idol's popular appeal, the moderation/community voting systems of websites like Digg and Slashdot, the tech support of sites like Twitter, and a few other ideas I've seen...in one big mash-up to save the newspapers.

    I only learned of Spot.Us in the other thread here on UHub and only went to their website for the first time tonight after you mentioned it here. I think their system is interesting but I'd go further because I think there needs to be *some* revenue that's just coming in separate from the paid articles themselves. The paper will always have ideas of its own to investigate/run with and there needs to be some money for those ideas. Same for columnists and commentary...they need funding too and have little to nothing to do with investigating leads. Thus the other options, like up- and down-voting specific columnists to determine how often they appear.