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As you may have heard, the internal memo from Boston Globe's editor Brian McGrory was leaked last week, and it tells a very familiar story. The Boston Globe is in trouble. They have started yet another round of 'innovation', but don't worry too much about the jobs that will be cut, they say, because the journalism is doing excellently.
We have heard this story so many times before, with so many other publishers. For instance, back in 2014, I analyzed the New York Times' innovation report, which basically said the same thing.
The New York Times is winning at journalism. Of all the challenges facing a media company in the digital age, producing great journalism is the hardest. Our daily report is deep, broad, smart and engaging - and we've got a huge lead over the competition.
Sounds great, right? But then it went on to say:
The Times has watched readership fall significantly. Not only is the audience on our website shrinking but our audience on our smartphone apps has dipped, an extremely worrying sign.
This led me to ask:
If the NYT is 'winning at journalism', why is its readership falling significantly? If their daily report is smart and engaging, why are they failing to get its journalism to its readers?
There seems to be an extremely persistent reality distortion field in the media industry that, even when everything is going badly, newspapers are still convinced that they are winning.
Mind you, the New York Times did manage to turn things around. But a lot of that is based on very aggressively cutting costs while emphasizing their scale. The New York Times is many times larger than Boston Globe, and NYT is national instead being a local newspaper. So, what worked for the New York Times probably won't work for the Boston Globe.
But let's take a really hard look at the future of the Boston Globe and let me ask the hard questions for them. What should the Boston Globe do to survive? Indeed, what should any newspaper do in a similar situation?
First, let's talk about what Boston Globe actually said, because it's a textbook example of not admitting they have failed. In Brian's internal memo, he starts out by highlighting the reality of their situation.
As he wrote:
The Globe, like every other major legacy news organization, has faced what have proven to be irreversible revenue declines. [...] We can't ignore hard realities, either, or simply wish them away. My own strong preference is to somehow shed the annual reduction exercise that seems increasingly inevitable here and everywhere. So I've asked senior editors to think about how we, at the very least, might get ahead of the declines, and in the best case, work to slow or even halt them.
I will repeat that. They are faced with an 'irreversible revenue decline', as in 'we're in deep shit'. And the best-case scenario is not to win the future, but to slow or maybe halt this decline.
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