Mike the Mad Biologist

I haven’t had time to comment on it until now, but one of the local issues rattling around Boston and Massachusetts has been the potential demise of The Boston Globe. Since the NY Times Corporation will receive bids for The Boston Globe tomorrow, it seemed like a good time to reflect on how The Globe wound up losing $50 million last year. The general consensus is that, as a business, The Globe is failing. To the extent people have tried to figure out why The Globe is failing, the usual suspects have been trotted out: labor costs, the recession, the across the board decline in newspaper advertisement revenues, and so on.

But I propose a different reason: The Boston Globe delivers a poor news product–in fact, it’s pretty dreadful. Both it’s coverage of Massachusetts politics and the coverage of one of the state’s most important industries (and source of federal dollars) are, at best, mediocre.

Regarding its political news coverage, I don’t mean that The Globe is biased. It’s just incredibly uninformative. For example, MA recently adopted a sales tax increase in order to make up a budget shortfall. Reading The Boston Globe’s coverage of this story, I couldn’t learn these relevant things:

  1. How much money would the sales tax increase raise, and how much of the budget shortfall would be eliminated? That’s kinda germane.
  2. The story kept referring to concessions from the State Legislature in the areas of ethics reforms and transportation. Well, what were the transportation concessions? A couple of extra sentences wouldn’t have hurt, as opposed to dedicating space to MA legislators bloviating about their hurt feelings.
  3. Was pension reform also part of this multi-part package? (The article hints at this, but I didn’t think this was the case). If so, what were those reforms?

Instead, there is a lot of typical ‘analysis’ about how this helps or hurts Patrick’s re-election chances. While this is just one instance, the reality is that I’m far more likely to learn what the State Leg and Governor are up to by reading The Boston Phoenix or The Weekly Dig. Unfortunately, they have very limited resources (not to mention that they’re weeklies, not dailies), so they can only cover one story, maybe two at most per issue. On line, I’ll probably find the relevant information from a blog such as BlueMass Group.org versus The Globe.

Then there’s the dreadful decision by The Boston Globe to disband its science staff. Scientific research, particularly in biology and medicine, is vital to the Massachusetts economy. NIH funding alone brings in $2.25 billion, which is second only to California (and CA has a bajillion people in it, unlike MA). If you add in NSF funding, you wind up with over $2.5 billion of federal science funding (and this leaves out all of the other alphabet soup that throws money around too). To put this in perspective, the MA state budget is roughly $25 billion. Science is a massive employer and economic stimulus for this state, and The Globe eliminated its science section (and the coming post-buyout cuts won’t help). Basically, the paper is running away from what should be a Boston newspaper’s niche: science and biotech.

The Globe, by not highlighting a major local industry, is not doing Boston or Massachusetts any favors. Most importantly, it’s hurting science in this country: our local (science) news is the country’s national science news. A section that focuses on science helps science journalists elsewhere–losing it hurts the national coverage of science.

So The Globe is failing (me, anyway). Should we worry about it’s demise?

Well, they do have a nice tits and ass section…. (this was on the front page of the website for at least two straight weeks)

Boston needs a good newspaper, but The Globe isn’t it.

Comments

  1. #1 Jay
    July 7, 2009

    Mike -

    It’s not just Boston. The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal has degenerated into little more than an ad-filled tabloid over the last few years. The in-house reporting on the local and state issues tends to be extremely superficial and poorly written. By the time you remove the obituaries, the comics, the classifieds, and the sports scores, you’re left with maybe 10 pages worth of actual news, the majority of which are filled with AP wire stories.

    While it saddens me a bit to see printed newspapers sliding into irrelevance, I’m starting to think that slide is inevitable.

  2. #2 Jay
    July 7, 2009

    Mike -

    It’s not just Boston. The Louisville (KY) Courier-Journal has degenerated into little more than an ad-filled tabloid over the last few years. The in-house reporting on the local and state issues tends to be extremely superficial and poorly written. By the time you remove the obituaries, the comics, the classifieds, and the sports scores, you’re left with maybe 10 pages worth of actual news, the majority of which are filled with AP wire stories.

    While it saddens me a bit to see printed newspapers sliding into irrelevance, I’m starting to think that slide is inevitable.

  3. #3 Eric Lund
    July 7, 2009

    I’m starting to think that slide is inevitable.

    That slide was never inevitable. UK newspapers are managing to thrive in this environment. For US papers the slide may be irreversible, but it was never inevitable.

    Things aren’t much better where I live. There are two newspapers which kind of cover the area. One of them, Foster’s Daily Democrat [sic], is so editorially insane that it affects their news coverage, so I avoid them entirely (as I do the statewide paper, the Manchester Union Leader, which has had this problem since before I moved to this state–they were wingnuts before wingnuttiness became cool among the newspaper crowd). The other one, the Portsmouth Herald, does a mediocre job of covering the state legislature, to the point where I found out about the 1 July meals tax increase from the local ice cream shop when my occasional cup suddenly cost two cents more than previously (and it seems that some restaurants had also not heard about it as of last week).

  4. #4 WeirdScienceBlog
    July 7, 2009

    The newspaper industry is the only one I know that reacts to falling sales and revenues by making the product WORSE!

    It’s not just the US, the UK regional papers are on their knees while the nationals are beginning to go the same way.

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