Monday, April 06, 2009

The Boston Globe threatens bankruptcy – good riddance

Local All politics is local: This morning I walked the half mile to the train station with my daughter’s dog hoping to pick up a copy of the Boston Metro. There was a time when the Globe and Herald had boxes where, for a quarter, you could pick up an hours entertainment (if you call news entertainment – and I do) while the filthy industrial grade train rumbled and swayed its way into Boston. Those boxes are gone. Neither the Globe nor the Herald tries to sell papers anymore. They gave up paperboys years ago claiming that paperboys were unreliable. Maybe they became that way, a generational thing I suppose.

The metro box was empty save for a religious diatribe some intellectual vagrant deposited in the hopes of a miraculous conversion. It was empty the last time I looked too. I don’t know if it was empty because they didn’t fill it with enough papers or they too have stopped promoting their paper. I walked home empty handed.

The very first article I ever sold to a newspaper was a 300 word story about the development of teenage cabals. I was paid $30, or 10 cents a word. That was in the mid 1960’s. By the mid 1990’s I was paid $50 per story by Community Newspapers, still about 10 cents a word. Today Community Newspapers doesn’t buy stories and I won’t write for free as a matter of principle.

The last time I tried to sell anything to a Boston newspaper was back in the early 1980’s. Both the Globe and the Herald had the attitude that I should consider it an honor to get a byline in their paper never mind that the honorarium for a 1500 word story that took me 2 weeks to research and write wouldn’t pay my rent. At least back then you could rework the article and resell it until the Globe decided that they owned the article in all its forms forever. That decision made it impossible to earn a living as a freelance journalist in Boston and I stopped reading it Globe. There is no news in the Globe and just because it occasionally gets a Pulitzer Prize is no reason to read a newspaper with no news.

The joke was that the Wall Street Journal had more news on its front page than the Boston Globe had in its entire paper was not far from the truth until recently. Now the Happy News/Pretty News contagion has infected even the Wall Street Journal making it almost impossible to find “news” anywhere in print. Most newspapers have become nothing more than advertising mediums wrapped around AP and Reuters feeds. Who cares? Between Yahoo and the still useful New York Times web site I don’t need to read a printed paper. I’d like to read a paper, it’s more substantive than TV and more relaxing than the web but without news its worthless and without paying writers a decent wage why would I expect anything more than rewritten press releases or egotistical, self indulging pronouncements passing for news. I wouldn’t and I don’t.

I still have to wonder why a newspaper with over 300,000 paying subscribers can’t make money. When the New York Times paid over a billion dollars for the Globe many freelance journalists wondered why they didn’t just create a new newspaper for far less. If the Boston Globe goes out of business, and I think it will and should, someone will eventually step up to the plate and for very short money create a daily newspaper worth reading again.

Of course if all print newspapers go broke and freelance writing for the World Wide Web doesn’t begin to pay better I wonder if we could be on the edge of another dark age. I’ve often wondered if anyone bothered covering the last meeting of the Roman Senate.

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