The mood at the Boston Globe has been increasingly dismal since the turn of the millennium. No surprise there: two big rounds of buyouts (in 2001 and 2005) and the demise of the national desk will do that to a paper — even to one that’s won six Pulitzers in 11 years. Today, however, spirits at Morrissey Boulevard seem to be at an all-time low. On January 11, management announced plans to cut 125 jobs from the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, which is also owned by the Times Co.’s New England Media Group, including 17 jobs in the Globe’s newsroom and two from the editorial pages. (The Times Co. hopes about 70 people accept voluntary buyout packages; another 45 to 55 financial employees will be given severance packages similar to the buyouts and see their jobs outsourced to India). Then, on January 23, Globe staffers learned in a memo from editor Marty Baron that the paper was closing its three foreign bureaus — in Jerusalem, Berlin, and Bogota — and calling home the four reporters who’d staffed them. The cutback announcement heightened fears about the future; when speaking with the Phoenix, several Globe insiders predicted the next batch of staffing reductions would be accomplished with pink slips instead. The closing of the foreign bureaus, meanwhile, was symbolically potent: more than anything, it signaled a sharp reduction in the paper’s institutional ambitions.
The agonized tone of Baron’s memo suggested real regret; among other things, he praised the Globe’s foreign correspondents — all of whom will be offered other jobs at the paper — and explained that eliminating their positions would allow the Globe to preserve a dozen or so other jobs. (Once the latest cuts are implemented, the Globe newsroom will have about 395 employees; by way of comparison, the Boston Herald has 105.) Still, he tried to close on an upbeat note. “We remain positioned for another year of outstanding journalism,” Baron wrote, “with robust local coverage, ambitious plans for the presidential campaign, and continued strength in sports, arts, business, features, Washington coverage, and many other areas. You can also expect even more aggressive initiatives online.” But these assurances seem to have fallen flat. “The mood is despondent,” says one Globe staffer. “People are sad. We’re seeing the death of the Globe that many of us who’ve been there a long time grew up with, and what’s going to emerge in the spring is going to be a really different paper.”
Of course, that’s par for the course these days. The examples vary: some are laughable (the Providence Journal cut in-house writing awards and pizza luncheons), some depressing (the Philadelphia Inquirer laid off 68 newsroom employees at the start of 2006), some tragically inspiring (LA Times editor Dean Baquet quit to protest cuts ordered by corporate parent Tribune Co). Still, the lesson remains the same. Thanks to an assortment of problems — the rise of the Internet, the corresponding decline in newspaper circulation and advertising revenue, and corporate ownership’s insistence on hefty profit margins — the newspaper business just isn’t what it used to be. And neither are a bunch of once-proud newspapers.
The Globe’s situation is unique, however. Cities all across the US are seeing their prized local institutions — including their newspapers — closed, scaled back, or subsumed by out-of-town owners. But Boston prefers to think it isn’t like other cities: New York is our intellectual and cultural rival, or so we tell ourselves. Which makes the shrinking of the Globe (by a New York institution, no less!) rankle all the more. True, the cuts would probably be even harsher if the paper were owned by Tribune or Gannett or the would-be local ownership group led by Jack Welch and Jack Connors. But the fact that the orders for downsizing are coming from Manhattan — and that no comparable sacrifice is being asked of the New York Times itself — suggests that, as long as the current ownership arrangement persists, the Globe is destined for second-class citizenship. “I know the industry is hurting across the board,” says another Globe staffer. “But here in Boston, I feel that the Times Co. squandered the Globe brand and is now willing to kill off whatever is left of it to further their own financial interests.”
While it’s natural for Globe employees to pine for the past, and to rail against the Times Co., there’s a case to be made for a revamped newspaper that looks more at Boston and less at the rest of the world. (In the aforementioned memo, Baron promised that reporters and photographers would still be sent overseas for “special projects and selected major events.”) The argument goes like this: since today’s readers can get their international news online, instantaneously, from a number of resource-rich sources — from Fox News to CNN to the BBC to the Times — the Globe should cede foreign reporting to these outlets and focus instead on providing outstanding local coverage, whether it’s in the paper or at Boston.com.