It would also be devastating. The Globe has plenty of critics (again, including this reporter). But there's no denying the outsized role it plays in setting Boston's news agenda. The paper has Boston's only full-time religion reporter, five health and science reporters, 36 metro reporters, 122 reporters total in its newsroom. And thanks to this staffing depth — as well as the skill of many of its journalists — the Globe produces good, sometimes great work that dominates the local conversation. Tune into WBUR-FM or WBZ-AM in the morning, or local TV news at night, and you're more likely to see or hear a follow-up to a Globe story than you are a story that originated anywhere else. It's true that the Globe's demise would create major opportunities for other news outlets, including the Phoenix. But even as a group, it would be exceedingly difficult for the rest of us to fill the post-Globe vacuum.
'Much bigger than us'
Given all this, Globe editor Marty Baron's April 23 speech at Boston's Seaport Hotel was packed with dramatic potential. Would he rail against his corporate overlords? Or urge the Globe's unions to act quickly for the greater civic good? Or plead for a local savior — perhaps Red Sox principal owner John Henry, who's reportedly interested in acquiring the paper?
He would not. Instead, Baron immediately depressurized the proceedings. A joke at the expense of George Regan — the Boston PR bigwig who was sponsoring the speech, and who'd collapsed after a recent appearance by Boston Mayor Tom Menino — helped relax the room. ("George, it's great to see you looking well. Please try to stay upright during lunch.") So, too, did an early disclaimer: rather than holding forth on the Globe crisis, Baron would reprise a speech he recently gave at the University of Oregon — coincidentally, on the very same day that the Times Co. was first delivering its ultimatum.
But there were some telling deviations from the original. Baron began with a brisk, relentlessly comprehensive synopsis of the crises hitting newspapers around the country, regardless, he noted, of location, ownership structure, or ideology. For Bostonians inclined to blame the Globe's woes on the Times Co.'s out-of-town ownership, or the Globe's alleged liberal bias, the message was clear: this problem is much, much bigger than us.
But how to interpret Baron's apparent acknowledgment, near the speech's close, of Fourth Estate fallibility? "No one pretends that we in journalism are perfect at what we do today, or what we've ever done," he allowed. "In fact, we're highly imperfect, as people in any profession are. But most of us — I firmly believe that, at the Globe, we strive to meet high standards." The meaning here depends on that final, ambiguous pause: was this a peace offering for those who've accused the Globe of arrogance, or conversely, a proud editor indulging in some modest end-of-mission reflection?
Once the Q-and-A started, it took five minutes for the Globe's possible closure to come up — and when it did, the questions were softballs. In response to one query, Baron said he'd been heartened by Boston's overall response to the crisis, the gleeful malice of certain anonymous boston.com commentators notwithstanding. He struck a grimmer note, though, when asked about the union negotiations. "They're very critical," Baron said of management-labor discussions. "If the revenue's not there, the cost can't be there. That's a fact of life. So the company is seeking to lower costs, as other newspapers have — including newspapers here in Boston, by the way." That last bit actually seemed to invoke the Herald (though not by name) to justify the Times Co.'s current threat.