Opportunity in the demise of Boston Globe

The New York Times Company has been flailing about trying to salvage its $1.1 billion (1993) investment in the Boston Globe. Problems have included a collapse in the market for print advertising here in New England, competition from online sources of information, and difficulties in negotiating with 13 separate unions (see Mancur Olson for how a company with more than one union is typically marked for death; each individual union has a stronger interest in its own members’ compensation than in the continued existence of the company).

Perhaps there is opportunity here. The New York Times is already distributing a hardcopy paper in Boston, i.e., the New York Times. All national papers have the ability to insert custom ads for one region’s printing. So even without the Globe the NYT has the ability to sell ads, print a paper, and distribute it to homes. The only thing that is lacking is a staff to prepare a daily “Boston Wrapper”. The truly local stories in the Globe could easily fit into one printed section… plus two more pages for comics! Instead of calling this a “supplement”, implying that it is added to the paper as an afterthought, have it be a wrapper that is the first thing seen by a reader. The New York Times front section would then be in the middle.

Freed from the responsibility to cover national and international stories, a staff of reporters in Boston could produce perhaps the nation’s best local coverage of city and state politics and government, of important research at regional universities and companies, and of our beloved sports teams. Given that the wrapper would be the first thing that people saw when the paper was on a newsstand there would be much more pressure than currently to find interesting and relevant local stories.

Opinion could also be written with more authority. Currently the Globe writes a lot of editorials on issues of national annd international importance, with the implicit claim that it has weighed the issues on all sides and is, for example, recommending something that will be best for all Americans or sometimes even all humans on Planet Earth. Who are we kidding? Boston is a provincial backwater by U.S. standards. Do wise Latina women make better decisions than white males? How should we know? We have only half as many Latinos in Massachusetts compared to other states (source). Did Barack Obama’s apology to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims have the desired effect? Very few of those Muslims live in Boston so we’d be guessing.

The editorial page of the Boston Wrapper could unapologetically offer opinion from a New England perspective. Was it good to cancel the new presidential helicopter ($400 million each for a machine that is virtually identical to one made in Europe for $30 million)? Absolutely; it wasn’t being built in New England. ┬áIs it important to improve diplomatic relations with Dubai? Yes; Harvard university has a lucrative relationship with the Emirate (more).

How to start? Start distributing the Boston Wrapper/NYT to every household that currently gets the Globe. Survey the readers periodically. As soon as more than half of the readers say that they find the Boston-wrapped NYT more useful than the Globe, stop printing the Globe.

If successful in Boston, the Times could extend the approach to other cities and eventually turn the death of the Globe into a template for extracting huge profits from the collapse of other cities’ local papers.

2 Comments

  1. Max Lybbert

    June 8, 2009 @ 2:20 pm

    1

    I know of one MBA suggesting this is the correct path for the newspaper industry as a whole ( http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2009/04/newspapers-are-under-scale.html ).

  2. Brad Templeton

    June 8, 2009 @ 7:27 pm

    2

    This reminds me of the proposal I made to help save UPI, and the local newspaper business, back 13 or so years ago when print newspapers still had a lot of life.

    The idea was to start with a wireservice or other source of national news. They would compose a paper. They would they lay out the paper, leaving holes for local advertising and local stories. They would lay out 3 versions each day, one for lots of local news, one for medium, one for little.

    All this would be packaged up and transmitted to a local office. The local office would insert local ads and stories into the result, and send that off to a printer. Several towns might share a printer within say a 3 hour truck drive, if need be.

    The result, a cheap to produce, high quality, local paper with quality national news. Who cares that it’s mostly the same in each town, you’re not reading two editions.

    Today this would still work, but the print newspaper may not be long for the world.

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