Pessimists eager to chronicle the Boston Globe’s decline and fall got some choice new material this week. On February 19, the paper celebrated President’s Day by running the following story on Page A1, above the fold(!): “Tom Brady’s former girlfriend pregnant: Actress identifies Patriots QB as father.”
The Herald put it on the cover, too. But the Herald is a tabloid. The Globe is supposed to have higher standards — or so the argument went over at Boston.com, the Globe’s Web affiliate. “Leave this kind of tabloid crap to the Herald, please,” one reader requested. “[F]or the Boston Globe to think this is of the slightest interest to the public, let alone put it on the front page, is just one more sign of the slow, relentless death of a newspaper,” another opined. “If I wanted to read the National Inquirer, I would buy it. . . . For shame.”
Here’s the caveat: the Globe’s online readership ate it up. According to Globe editor Marty Baron, the story was far and away the most-read item at Boston.com on both Sunday (when it was first posted) and Monday. On Tuesday, as the Phoenix went to press, “Tom Brady” was Boston.com’s top search. And an Associated Press follow-up, “Brady excited about impending fatherhood,” was the site’s third-most-emailed item — after being posted for all of five minutes.
Says Baron, there was nothing dubious about plastering news of Bridget Moynahan’s pregnancy across the top of the Globe. “It’s an exceedingly intriguing story involving one of our biggest celebrities — if not the biggest celebrity — here in Boston,” Baron told the Phoenix. “This person is the closest thing to royalty here. And it’s the talk of the town.”
Fair enough. Then again, the Globe’s Brady coverage raises some perplexing questions. Such as: if the sex life and romantic entanglements of Boston’s best-known pro athlete is now front-page news, how about the city’s best-known politicians? Or its captains of industry? What’s more, since readers obviously crave this kind of stuff, how hard will the Globe work to get it? On this particular story, both Boston dailies were scooped by the New York Post; will the Globe settle for sloppy seconds in the future?
The Globe didn’t just give readers what they wanted this week, it created a whole new set of expectations. Now we’ll see how the paper follows through.