Boston’s alternative future

The Boston Glob Guild rejected The New York Times Company’s cutbacks. What the Guild should have done, I say, is reject The New York Times Company’s strategy.

Rather than nickel-and-diming-and-dollaring their way to survival through cutbacks (though I wonder how saving $20 million when you’re losing $85 million can possibly do the job; it’s a Band-Aid on a gushing artery) the Globe should find its alternate future not as a newspaper but as a journalistic service online.

The Guild should have demanded a strategy that transforms the Globe into a smaller but profitable venture that concentrates only on news and serving the community and not on printing and distribution, jettisoning huge costs but coming out with a sustainable plan.

But the union’s not going to think that way anymore than management is. They are, as this process all too painfully demonstrates, retrenched in their past, in their long-held definitions of their business and themselves.

So the possible futures do not look good: The Globe could die soon. The losses at the Globe could bring down The New York Times. Someone else could come in town imminently and create that nimble new news organization and kill the Globe.

  • Copy edit

    Sorry to be that copy-editor jerk, but you need an “e” in Globe at the start of the post.

  • http://TheNumerati.net steve baker

    Jeff, I agree. But the problem, I think, at the Globe and elsewhere, is that remaking the org requires losing a lot of the people who are there, including most of those downstream from the reporters, and then bringing on tech and multimedia experts. So surgery that could save an institution is a hard sell.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Right, so what’s more likely is that it will die and just be replaced, which will be worse. Disruption hurts.

  • http://stevegarfield.com steve garfield

    One way of reducing costs would be to distribute the New York Times in the Boston area with a Boston Metro section.

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  • http://www.observator.ch Jim Meiers

    Jeff, I would be the first to kill the lazy daily in my hometown and create a fast news organization on all channels. i´m in contact with some very good laid-off staff from the papers around here. but how should i pay them??? nobody who has to feed his hungry children will write or photograph for free! No adds, no revenue, no news :(

    • Alex

      Tell those reporters the link economy will pay for them!

    • Andy Freeman

      > but how should i pay them???

      Are you asking how to monetize good, valuable, unique news or how to produce it?

      If you’re having trouble with monetize, how do you know that you’re producing good, valuable, and unique? (It’s harder to monetize and valuable if there are other sources.)

      If you have trouble with all three, skimp on good. Never skimp on valuable to your readers. (If what you’re producing costs more than it is worth to readers, you have a hobby, not a biz.)

      • Mike Manitoba

        OK, I’ll pose the dumbshit question: How does one determine “valuable” and “unique” when both terms are subjective?

      • Mike Manitoba

        Most people can’t hack REAL “unique” anyway.

      • Jim Meiers

        We have no problem to monetize good, valuable and unique service for our hometown (eg print/online eventlist, price comparsion, sms-service for the cheapest petrol station…) but this is *not enought* to subsidise news research, vjs, photographers…
        i fear news are not so important for people like a ring tone subscription :(

      • Andy Freeman

        I’m surprised that Manitoba is having problems with “valuable”. He keeps telling us how journalists are so much better, so how can that be a problem?

        “unique” is not so much subjective as context dependent. The point is that you’re more likely to get what something is worth when the buyer doesn’t have available alternatives. However, if the buyer does have alternatives, you’re likely to get far less because the buyer will play them against one another.

      • Mike Manitoba

        For the record, I have never claimed print journalism’s superiority. I don’t believe that to be true, at all. That said, I don’t believe bloggers are superior to print journalists, which is the general impression I get here, no matter the case. The same unerring scrutiny that rightfully brings down the hammer on our more itinerant watchdogs mysteriously becomes blind, almost paternally empathetic, to shortcomings and failings exhibited online. No matter what our electronic brethren do, it’s never wrong, just simply part of a learning curve.

        As a blogger myself, I’m not an either/or kinda guy in this tiresome battle. I’d just like to see a little more critical balance.

      • Mike Manitoba

        Oh, geez. I meant “indolent,” not “itinerant.”

      • Andy Freeman

        > The same unerring scrutiny that rightfully brings down the hammer on our more indolent watchdogs mysteriously becomes blind, almost paternally empathetic, to shortcomings and failings exhibited online.

        Bullshit. Online journalism spends much of its time responding to failings in online journalism. One may argue that it’s not enough, but online is far more self-critical than off-line ever was.

  • Rob K.

    A very large percentage of the Globe print and especially online readership focuses on sports. Some companies are already trying and succeeding in attacking that sports franchise, from ESPN (Bill Simmons) to WEEI.com, a dominant local sports radio station that launched very strong web only content last year. The Globe sports writing is old, predictable, and decidedly anti-web.

  • David

    I say bring on the alternative future. The guild will never get it, nor will the management, which at least recognizes that to the extent that all they want to do now is get the right concessions from the guild that will enable a sale of the printed paper to some other sucker. It’s worth saying, though, that I think Boston.com, which is the web presence, is a separate entity, a non-guild shop and it would certainly survive and probably even do better if not shackled to an entity rooted in the past. Even if the guild did demand a digital strategy, Jeff, the company would probably ignore it. The guild’s not part of it now and I doubt there’s any sentiment in management to let them be part of it.

    It’s hard to feel sorry for the Globe. The facts are that the newspaper has lost a third of its circ in the last 5 years and faced with this, what do they do? Try to change the product or strategy? No. They raise the price. They don’t do a good job at journalism and they do an even worse job of running a business. It’s time they were put out of their misery.

  • invitedmedia

    watch how this plays out– just like the car companies. they (pretty much all traditional newspapers and tv folks) will avoid reinventing themselves for as long as possible, say there is no other way to survive short of liquidation and get ton$ of ca$h from the gov’t. yawn.

    this is also why mr. brill’s and mr. mutter’s proposals made in chicago last week with fall mostly on deaf ears.

  • Harry

    Here we go again…..management that doesn’t quite get it and a union that can’t see beyond the end of their collectively bargained noses. Everybody in America, except management in the newsprint sector, saw the “e-age” coming a mile away. They dawdled, and vacillated, and wasted precious time and now wonder what’s become of the goose that once laid golden eggs.

    They’re not alone in their smug ignorance, thiough. The union has blood on it’s hands. Lifetime employment guarantees? Gimme a break. Here’s a news flash for the guild: part of something is better than all of nothing. Feed your families with your pride, you think?

    Ain’t this “partnership” between management and labor just grand?

  • Elliott

    Jeff, please unpack those numbers. $20M, $85M. Does this mean that The Globe is spending $85 more than it is making annually? Or does that mean that the paper’s income is down by $85M?

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      As I remember (someone will correct me if I’m wrong, I’m sure), the parent company told the unions it was losing $85 million this year.

      • Elliott

        I’m sorry, I must not be making my question clear.

        Is it Income less Expenses = -$85M or is it
        Last year’s revenue less this year’s (projected) revenue = -$85M?

        • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

          Yesterday’s story said the paper will lose $85 million.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      The equivalent figure for the SF Chron was $75 mill.

      • David

        Jeff, you’re accurately reporting that the company has said the Globe Globe is on course to lose $85 million this year. It lost $50 million last year. Although the Times management has said they need to get $20 million in savings ($10 mm from the Guild), this clearly won’t get it done and what they really want is the flexibility to downsize the staff significantly. A key piece of this is removing the lifetime job guarantees enjoyed by 190 Guild employees (almost 30% of all Guild employees at the paper) and other cuts in pensions. No one will buy the newspaper with long-term commitments like that in place, and current management won’t be able to make it work without being able to significantly cut the deadwood from the Globe newsroom.

        By the way, a union that’s defending lifetime job guarantees for almost 200 people given the state of the newspaper business today clearly isn’t going to go into a bargaining session looking to be part of a strategy to remake the enterprise.

  • http://buzzmachine.com Jessica Williams

    June 9, 2009 @ 12:13pm
    Newspaper communication is dying if not already dead. An ‘e’ needs to be put in Globe. The working society runs on a fast pace an on-going schedule in this day in age. People have the advantages of geting news when they want it. Most of this exposure is thru online communication the’internet’. The monotonous method of newspapers may be saving the union money thru distribution. But they are losing more money thru sales,”not making sence”.

  • Mike G

    So basically, you’re saying unions should lead the way to innovation?

    What planet has that ever happened on? Aren’t they pretty much built to resist it on every level? Isn’t that sort of like asking the Maginot Line to invade France?

    • Andy Freeman

      > So basically, you’re saying unions should lead the way to innovation?

      If they want to survive, yes.

      History suggests that they won’t lead the way, but that’s why history is littered with dead entities that didn’t change with circumstance.

      As they say, evolution in action.

      • Mike G

        yeah that was kinda my point

  • http://www.panamalaw.org Aurelia Masterson

    It’s not that they cannot do this, in theory, but that this would require them to crush too many of their cherished ideas. After all–which kind of failure would be worse for their psyche? Nickel and diming it and having the ability to blame countless factors for the failure, but truly changing and taking a risk, well, that’s all on them (or their boss haha). It’s irrational, but gives them the ability to save face in their own mind. Though, it is probably pretty obvious to everyone else, at least I would hope so.

  • http://www.francispage.com Christopher Francis

    Congratulations to the Globe’s Guild. They just hosed themselves. Demanding job security in this business is like demanding a skunk to stop stinking. If only their broadcast brethren could make such demands — which they can’t and won’t. And maybe my math’s off, but accepting an 8 percent wage cut plus benefit cuts beats a 23 percent cut and the threat of a shutdown. The union may call this something resembling extortion, but let’s get real. It’s a crummy deal, but crummier exists.

  • http://twitter.com/elginthompson Elgin Thompson

    Here is the bottom line – disruption provides the opportunity to correctly undo what was previously incorrectly done. Neither the Guild nor the NYTCo accept this perspective. Therefore, many a family will suffer from their ostrich-like positions. Shame.

  • http://www.download-not-available.com Jim McCarthy

    As Christopher Francis says, the unions certainly are in the process of hosing themselves, and their members will pay the price, of course.

    Aurelia is absolutely right that it’s irrational and they’ll do it anyway, but I’ll go a step further.

    They’d sooner kill their jobs and the company than give up what they think they’re fighting for.

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  • http://www.xconomy.com Wade Roush

    If the Globe closes, it would be a serious blow to Boston journalism — but not a fatal one. See my April 10 piece (written the last time the Globe was on the brink), “Boston Can Survive, Even Thrive Without Today’s Globe” http://www.xconomy.com/national/2009/04/10/boston-can-survive-even-thrive-without-todays-globe/

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  • Stefano

    Jeff,

    the real issue re to a full digital transition – as you know – revolves around the inability to generate a significantly fat top line.

    I like what former journalists are pioneering at http://www.indenvertimes.com. I think the product looks good, but their initial objectives to sign up subs to raise at least $2.5M fell short of their original expectations.

    Even by cutting production costs, the P&L for a large media news org requires millions of dollars in monthly revenue to sustain the typical cost structure necessary to appropriately cover news in a local area.

    What’s the solution is still not clear to me. But at least the http://www.indenvertimes.com projects seems to have a fresh approach to local coverage.

    Stefano

  • http://bridgetbrown.typepad.com/viewfinder Bridget Brown

    The Guild’s reticence to go solely online shouldn’t come as a surprise. Unions aren’t just made up of journalists. The members whose entire function only serves a print paper obviously wouldn’t support a solution that ends their own job.

    Just like the North American car companies, if media companies become leaner and more in tune with what their audience wants, they would be able save some semblance of the company. But those changes wouldn’t benefit the majority of voting members of the unions, so internal support is low.

    And the NYT’s attempt to claw back $20m of their $85m loss speaks to a strategy at many big media companies right now. Boil down their assets to skeleton efficiency, but maintain control…then when there’s finally a solution to how we can monetize information again, they’ll still be in a position to play. If their best staffers haven’t left to find success online, that is.

    Bridget Brown
    bridgetbrown.typepad.com/viewfinder

  • http://www.louderback.com Jim Louderback

    Local news, yeah, ok. But the best part about the Globe is now, and always has been (at least in the 30+ years I’ve been reading it), the sports section (comics too, but that’s a whole ‘nother thread).

    You have the top four teams in the country, across the top four sports (well, close anyway). The writers, bloggers, editors KNOW these teams like no other market paper. And they know the rest of the teams really, really well too.

    Do news online, sure. But do sports. I read the globe sports section daily – from California. It’s better than SI, TSN, even ESPN. Play to your strengths Globe. Just don’t cut the sports out.

    WWGD – do what you do best, and let everyone else do the rest. The Globe knows sports.

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Jim,
      Should/could that be a separate product? Would it have more potential on its own?

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