Two Boston Dailies Battle It Out

Herald-Globe rivalry recalls an earlier era in paper publishing

AMONG the traditions that a visitor to Boston might encounter, besides the dropping of R's in speech and the outta-my-way driving habits, is an old-fashioned newspaper war of the kind seldom found in the United States anymore.

Beantown, like eight other cities in the US, still has two lively, separately owned metropolitan newspapers that go head-to-head daily and do not make life easy for public figures.

In the 1920s, 502 American cities had at least two independent metropolitan newspapers. Millions of Americans could buy competing newspapers that offered different views and kept journalists honest. By 1978, however, after waves of newspaper bankruptcies and mergers, the number of cities with at least two newspapers had dropped to 35. Ten years later, there were 20.

While Boston readers may not always notice the lively rivalry, they probably benefit from the more competitive brand of journalism it brings.

For reporters on the staffs of the Globe and Herald, however, it's newsprint combat. If the urban-centered, tabloid Herald scoops the larger, more urbane Globe on a big story - as it did recently by reporting that India's prime minister requested that no blacks serve him at a local hotel - the Globe scrambles to catch up the next day.

Set the Globe spinning

``The Herald is an incredible motivator,'' says David Armstrong, a metro reporter for the Globe and a former Herald staffer. Even after having landed a job at the bigger newspaper, he says he works as hard as he used to at the Herald: ``I go extra miles to make sure that every possible angle is covered.''

The Globe has often viewed the New York Times as its main rival, since many Bostonians can easily purchase the Times. But since the Times bought the Globe last year, many feel the primary rival of the Globe is the Herald.

The Globe, with a weekday circulation of 550,337, is the 12th largest daily in the US. The Herald sells 312,265 copies daily. On Sundays the gap widens: The Globe has 815,265 subscribers and the Herald 207,814.

Mr. Storin, a former managing editor of the New York Daily News, admits that the Herald does a better job covering crime than his paper. ``Some days, they will do it better than we do it,'' Storin says. ``They have a built-in motivation to get the information that the Globe doesn't have. That is their focus every day.''

Herald reporters love to beat the Globe. ``There is no better way to start the day than to open the paper to see that you've beaten the Globe,'' says Helen Kennedy, a crime reporter for the Herald.

``Matt Storin, more than a lot of other Globe editors, is very conscious of competing with the Herald for local news,'' says Mark Jurkowitz, a media critic for the Boston Phoenix, a weekly arts-oriented newspaper.

Since Storin became editor in March last year, the paper has placed more emphasis on local news, the only area where the Herald, with its only bureau in Washington, can compete on an equal footing with the Globe.

Instead of covering so many ``insiders of the government and business,'' Storin says he wants more stories on ``everyday concerns that most of our readers talk about,'' such as kids doing homework and problems of driving to work. ``Not Clinton's foreign policy,'' he adds.

Did the Herald force the Globe, New England's dominant newspaper, to be more local?

``Pressure [on the Globe] is broader,'' says Marvin Kalb, director of the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. The newspaper business, facing tough competition from television and radio, has been losing its audience, says Mr. Kalb, a former television reporter.

According to the Virginia-based Newspaper Association of America, a trade group, national newspaper circulation has decreased every year since 1970. In 1993, 61.7 percent of the adult population read a newspaper, a 5.3 percent decline from 1983.

``All the newspapers are competing for readers' time,'' says John Morton, a media analyst for Lynch Jones & Ryan.

Local news coverage has ``more immediate appeal to subscribers,'' says Ben Bagdikian, a former dean of the graduate school of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. That's important when it comes to keeping readers. Bagdikian adds that, unlike other industrialized nations, such important issues as education and policing are decided at the local level. That gives newspapers in the US a more active role.

Mr. Bagdikian also says that, in cities where one journal monopolizes the market, that newspaper is tempted to cut the cost of covering local news. Such papers tend to use wire-service stories rather than go to the expense of hiring more reporters.

Elitist label

Kalb also cites readers' perception that newspapers have become ``too elitist and too distant from people.'' ``They are trying to get away from that [perception] now,'' he says.

``They are trying to become more like Everyman.''

In February, Patrick Purcell bought the Herald from media magnate Rupert Murdoch. The new owner is working to refine his strategies. Like the Globe editor, Purcell says his main concern is to make the Herald ``more popular'' and ``people oriented.''

The weakest point of the Herald is its stagnant Sunday sales. Sunday circulation is about 105,000 less than it is on weekdays, while the Globe sells 1.6 times more copies on Sundays than it does on weekdays.

The Herald sells primarily single copies; people pick up a copy on the way to work and read it on the subway. ``They [readers] don't think it [the Herald] is a kind of paper you are going to take home and slowly read with bagels and whatever you have,'' says the Phoenix's Jurkowitz.

The Herald had been trying to make many changes under Robert Murdoch's ownership, but few of them succeeded. Purcell, however, wants his paper to look exactly the same in five years. ``It will be tabloid,'' he says, and ``it will still be heavily urban.''

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