Crisis in journalism: Boston Globe on the brink

In the most troubling news to date about the state of news industry, the New York Times is threatening to shut down the Boston Globe unless the Globe's unions quickly agree to $20 million in cuts.

As the Globe reports today: "This week, the Globe newsroom completed cutting the equivalent of 50 full-time jobs. But the deteriorating economy has made the Globe's financial outlook much worse ... The Times Co. is seeking (new) concessions from the unions because the New York company, which is also suffering from the recession, can no longer subsidize the Globe's losses..."

Hearst stopped printing the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but the Seattle Times remains. Scripps shut down the Rocky Mountain News, but the Denver Post is still in business.

Boston without the Globe? That would leave the Boston Herald, a scrappy but underresourced -- and all too often unserious -- tabloid as Boston's only local newspaper.

What's at stake?

Even if unions and management come to terms on the concessions, as Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy notes in his Media Nation blog, "The problem is, I don't think anyone believes this is a one-time deal. What will the next demand be?"

To understand what is at stake, it is worth reading or listening to a thoughtful lecture that Globe editor Marty Baron gave on Thursday at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication. Baron outlined the severe challenges facing newspapers in a talk titled “The Incredible Shrinking Newsroom: How can fewer reporters meet increasing demands for coverage?”

His is a sober message about the crucial importance of journalism (click here to listen to it), A key quote:

"In many ways, we are headed for a thrilling new world of media. Technology allows journalists today to tell stories in ways that were never possible before, to reach audiences larger than ever, and to build a tight and more intimate bond with the public. For young journalists, there can be remarkable opportunity as old media models crumble and as an entrepreneurial culture takes hold in a field that has long been dominated by overbearing media behemoths. There is a lot to be excited about, and a lot that is healthy."

He continues:

"There will be many experiments, many new models. Some will be nonprofit. But many will seek to make a profit, a big one. An era of entrepreneurship for journalism has begun. Entrepreneurship comes with greater risks.... There also are risks for the practice of journalism. There are risks that journalism will turn cynically to the quick, the easy, and the cheap -- that a story’s greatest accomplishment will be to get a million page views, rather than to correct an injustice, or unearth wrongdoing, or give voice to people who would not otherwise be heard."

Boston and the Globe

Marty Baron is one of the great journalists of this era. (Full disclosure: He is also my friend and former boss.) Under his leadership, the Globe broke the landmark story of the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Day in and and day out, the Globe holds politicians accountable; investigates fraud, waste, and abuse; and reports on social, business, scientific, and cultural news in a city that, with its rich mix of academic institutions and brainpower, can still be fairly described as "the Athens of America."

Boston without the Boston Globe is unthinkable. But every day, the unthinkable seems to be happening in the news world.

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