The Boston Globe’s editor Martin Baron told students at Emerson College that online readership is the highest its ever been. “I’m optimistic because if you look at media at large it’s exploding,” said Baron.
Baron, along with Steven Ainsley, publisher of the Boston Globe, answered questions in an open forum last Thursday at Emerson’s Semel Theater. Earlier this year The Globe was $80 million in debt and was put up for sale.The two men talked about the major struggles the Boston Globe has gone through this past year yet they gave students hope as they talked about the expansion of media.
The Globe’s website, Boston.com, has more than five million visitors a month. Baron said everyone focuses on the cutbacks, but the media is growing and becoming more creative and dramatic. “The readership of journalism everywhere is greater than it ever was. For the young people getting into the field the opportunities are expanding not contracting,” said Baron.
Ainsley talked about the internet becoming the main source of news. “If this was K-12 we are only in fourth grade. We got a long way to go. The whole industry is wrestling with this paid vs unpaid on the internet,” said Ainsley.
Ainsley described the day in which he knew The Boston Globe was in trouble. “I remember the day. On April 2nd after several meetings with the financial team, The Globe was going to lose $80 to $85 million this year,” said Ainsley. The next step he had to take was to meet with labor unions to re-open contracts.
“It was very difficult at that moment. We had a meeting with the union and knew the news of The Globe’s dire situation would make it out to all of our employes and eventually nationwide. I was not concerned about the professional embarrassment,” said Ainsley.
After failing to make major budget cuts the parent company, The New York Times, talked about a possible closing of the paper. “It was extraordinary difficult to stand in front of people who care a great deal about the newspaper and tell them that if we don’t make cuts we were about to make that the newspaper will cease to be,” said Ainsley.
Ainsley worked closely with the unions and was proud of how they handled the difficult situation. “The leadership of the union did a terrific job in communications. Many unions took up on our offer by signing papers to look at our books and confirm our numbers,” said Ainsley.
Before this newspaper took a sharp turn downward, Ainsley brought in a team of consultants in the last year. Ainsley and Baron disagreed over this decision as Ainsley thought it went successfully and Baron didn’t want these people in his newsroom.
Baron was concerned with the outside consultants and how they didn’t understand what it took to do professional journalism. “I saw other newspapers go through severe reductions and didn’t maintain quality and I thought it was very important to maintain our quality,” said Baron.
The Boston Globe had to also make changes to the paper itself. Due to fewer resources Baron decided to shut down The Globe’s foreign bureaus. “We had to face reality. If we were to keep them open then that would have meant less local coverage and that’s the core,” said Baron.
The Globe also had to scale back on national coverage except Washington. Since Washington and Boston are politically connected, Baron thought it would be best to keep the bureaus open. “Readers don’t have expectation that The Globe will cover foreign and national themselves. We have to allocate resources to benefit readers,” said Baron.
Ainsley talked about another way The Globe made major savings. “A critical success that didn’t get much press was the rate hikes for home circulation and for a single paper. I think we are going to see more and more consumers paying for the newspaper rather than ads being the main profit,” said Ainsley.
Ainsley and Baron said they have no idea what the future has in store. “As of today we are in pretty good shape,” said Ainsley. Baron said, “We just have to live with uncertainty. I have no expectation anymore. It’s hard to think of surprises because everything seems to happen.”