No news is bad news

The Boston Globe, for about the last 50 years New England’s leading newspaper–following collapse of the old Herald and retrenchment at the Courant–continues to cheapen its products while raising its prices.

Over the last few years, the Globe switched off its once sturdy reporting on health care. Even though it continues to list talented reporters on staff, there are rarely any articles from them and almost none of substance. Although a significant article by young reporter Carolyn Johnson continues to appear once in a while, science reporting–never a Globe strength–has been wedged into a crevice inside “technology,” itself a branch of “business.”

As of mid-April, 2014, New England news totally disappeared from both the Globe’s free site and its paid site. Now “health” is just a feature of “lifestyle.” Chelsea Conaboy, who came to the Globe from the Philadelphia Inquirer less than three years ago to coordinate health-care news, has left for the Portland, ME, Press Herald. Science lost a place in the banner headings. Lapse of New England news, typically dozens of articles a day, is especially grievious, because there has been no comparable source of reports on the region.

Actually, some New England news is still available at the Globe, but “you can’t get there from here.” It’s grouped with pages of the free site, but there aren’t any links on those pages to bring it up. Instead, you need to know the full, Internet locations of all the pages–and maybe bookmark them. They are:
  • Connecticut,
  • Maine,
  • New Hampshire,
  • Rhode Island,
  • Vermont,
Previously there was a Massachusetts page, but all it ever showed was a few college sports scores. Cape Ann, Cape Cod and southeastern, central and western Massachusetts remain terrae incognitae to the Globe. As of mid-April, 2014, what all the above pages actually show is the same “news lite” as the “local” page.

These developments are hardly surprising. The historic “tiny” Globe–from the 1870s through the 1950s–was usually pedestrian when not blinkered. It often treated anything much beyond Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville and Chelsea as though located somewhere on the fringes of the universe.

A slightly more cosmopolitan Globe, after Harvard grad Tom Winship succeeded his dad Laurence as chief editor in 1965, pushed horizons out to around Route 128. However, the Globe’s moldy standards of local reporting proved little changed. A 1974 “empty parking space” reserved for former Secretary of State Jack Davoren at the State House comes to mind. It was actually photographed on a Sunday. The Globe editors had to know that was a fake event, but apparently they had their agendas.

In particular, the younger Winship seemed to hate former Gov. Dukakis, a fellow Harvard man, for a few years, with predictable results. After he retired in 1984, Winship expressed what came across as remorse about helping Dukakis lose to Ed King in the 1978 primary. The Globe did boost King down the skids by reporting on “lobster lunches” King favored–at taxpayer expense–helping Dukakis return to office in 1982.

The Boston Globe has been ailing for years before and since the Taylor trust sold it to the NY Times in 1993–under a succession of clueless editors, ineffective at coping with electronic news: Michael Janeway, Jack Driscoll, Matthew Storin and Martin Baron. It was only a near-monopoly during the age of paper that propped up an erratic and faltering institution. Once Internet news became popular after the 1990s, the gates began to close.

Brian McCrory, a native of Weymouth, was named chief editor of the Globe in December, 2012. He has been a Globe reporter, then a columnist, since 1989. He has yet to put a distinctive stamp on direction and content; it’s too early to tell whether he will help restore the Globe to a modicum of health. So far he presided over slashing health-care news, ending New England news and decorating the online sites with more gadgets and pictures.

One of Mr. McCrory’s columns in 2011 advocated charging a subscription fee for the Globe’s online edition. That seemed an unpopular view among the news staff, but it was more-or-less what Globe management did shortly afterward–setting up a separate paid site and gradually moving content from the free site to the paid site. Early reports indicated few subscribers. Shortly before the NY Times sold the Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry in August, 2013, Globe circulation reports became opaque, but they are apparently double-counting online subscribers who are also print subscribers.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, April 15, 2014

On the Move, Portland (ME) Press Herald, March 16, 2014

Jon Chesto, Boston Globe’s new circulation report underscores challenges in transitioning from print to digital, Boston Business Journal, November 1, 2012

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