Saturday, April 4, 2009

Life after The Globe

First things first: today's announcement does not mean that the Boston Globe is closing. Clearly the threat from the Times to shutter the paper is merely a move to force concessions from its unions, concessions which they undoubtedly will grant, given their members' chances of employability elsewhere.

But of course the deeper question of the paper's viability remains; it seems unlikely that even major concessions from the unions can fully close an $85 million gap (the amount the paper will reportedly lose this year). Indeed, today's announcement is actually most disturbing in that it seems locked in an outdated mode of belt-tightening, which can only staunch, but not stop, the coming red ink. I would have been much happier to see a break-out, transformational announcement around the paper's actual flagship,, than I was to see the threat of yet another round of cost cuts (for an interesting discussion of the paper's web/print options, check out Dan Kennedy).

Still, it seems that some kind of line has been crossed, even if (and when) the unions sign on the dotted line; the arrival of a web-only Globe seems at least a little bit closer. And certainly if the Globe does not capitalize on its opportunity, other groups will, especially in the cultural sphere. (ArtsBoston, for instance, will soon be rolling out an improved website, with links to bloggers and other features.) But even a "web Globe" will have to accommodate itself to the central fact of Internet publishing: revenues are much lower on the Intertubes, far too low to accommodate the paper's current salary structure. In short,, if it is to cover the breadth and depth of the local cultural scene, must survive on a skeletal staff, and will have to rely on a wide range of web contributors at little or no pay. This, of course, would mean complicating, and at times contradicting, the Globe's current liberal, suburban "voice," but that's not necessarily a bad thing - and it may be necessary to keep a central publicity umbrella up and running to maintain the viability of many local arts organizations (which are themselves already struggling in this economy). The good news, of course, is that the reviews and discussions on our cultural blogs are of at least as high a quality as those currently published in our paper of record (as many commentators have noted). Whether said paper's management can admit and accept that, of course, is another story.

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