Boston Can Survive, Even Thrive, Without Today’s Globe

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the Gatehouse chain’s huge network of Wicked Local websites. If they value alternative news, they can turn to the ThePhoenix.com, or if they want a smart daily survey of the local blogosphere, they can turn to Adam Gaffin and Steve Garfield’s Universal Hub. If they value coverage of the Red Sox and other local teams, they can turn to Over the Monster or dozens of other local sports blogs. And dare I say it—if they value coverage of the local technology, business, and venture investing scene, they can turn to Xconomy.

My point is that the local Web is already teeming with great journalism. Even if you took the Globe out of the equation, there would be plenty of local writers ready to fill the vacuum, and plenty of outlets to fill up the Boston page of your RSS aggregator every morning. And let’s be honest: we’ll still have the Boston Herald, and the Globe, or parts of it, will probably stay around in some form. Even if the once-unthinkable comes to pass and the Times Co. shuts down the Globe‘s print edition, there would be good reason to keep operating its online counterpart, Boston.com, which is far less expensive to run and is already one of the region’s top Web destinations.

It would not be a surprise—and it be would hard to call it a tragedy—if the Globe were to follow the same path as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in one of Xconomy’s other home cities. The P-I‘s owner, Hearst Newspapers, shut down the print version of the paper on March 17. About 20 of the newsroom’s 150-plus staffers were kept on to run Seattlepi.com. And while that may sound small by city-room standards, a staff of 20 would the be the envy of most local Web publications—indeed, my heart skips a beat at the thought of what Xconomy could do with that many writers.

Interestingly, Hearst Newspapers president Steven Swartz said Seattlepi.com (with which Xconomy has a content-sharing arrangement) would not be an online newspaper. “It’s an effort to craft a new type of digital business with a robust, community news and information Web site at its core,” he said in an announcement. While the site will feature traditional breaking news and commentary by veteran journalists and columnists, it will also link to community blogs, and will have “new columns from prominent Seattle residents; more than 150 reader blogs, community data bases and photo galleries.”

Now, while that all sounds nice enough, it isn’t likely that Seattlepi.com it will have the heft of the old P-I. One of the biggest reasons to regret the troubles of the P-I, the Globe, and other big papers is that they have played an important watchdog role. Indeed, as WBUR detailed just this morning, the Globe is largely responsible for the bringing about the current investigation into the business dealings of former Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi’s associates, not to mention the truth about sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. It’s hard to say who, in the post-newspaper era, will keep knocking on the doors that the powerful don’t want opened.

But as Clay Shirky notes wryly, “‘You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!’ has never been much of a business model.” Journalists who want to keep working need to join—or start—digital publications that don’t merely cling to dying revenue streams, but that experiment tirelessly with new ones, whether that means online display advertising, new types of interactive ads, underwriting and sponsorships, virtual goods, micropayments, “freemium” models that put some content behind a paid firewall, donations from community members and foundations (the model pursued by the Voice of San Diego in Xconomy’s third home town), or all of the above.

The era of print is ending. The era of creative journalism may be just beginning.

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Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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