A modest proposal: Transform the Times-Globe relationship


Whatever transpires with the Times Co.'s concede-or-close ultimatum to the Globe and its unions, the relationship between New York and Boston looks irreparable right now.

From the Times Co.'s point of view, the paper they spent $1.1 billion on is now a money-loser on pace to hemmorhage $85 million in 2008 and 2009, at a moment when the Times itself is in jeopardy and needs to be protected. From Morrissey Boulevard's perspective, the Globe has been brought to the precipice by an out-of-town owner that treats it as an insignificant afterthought--or worse.

But there's a way out. The Times Co. could use the Globe as a guinea pig--in the best possible sense of the term--for all the bold innovations it might be pondering for the Times, but isn't quite ready to unertake.

For example:Times editor Bill Keller wants to find ways to make people pay for the Times's web content. So let the Globe lead the way. Tinker with micropayments, if you must; better yet, use the Globe's new print price increase as a hook to see how much people might pay, per day/week/month, to read the Globe online. As an added plus, this experiment would show how much (allegedly) pay-to-view content would leak out to free sites under this model, and just how much web traffic from aggregators like Google News would drop as a result.

Of course, there'd need to be plenty of novel ideas that could excite readers, not just management. For example: why not hold a bake-off, here in Boston, for a new, web-only metro columnist? You could probably find thousands of people who'd do the job for free, or at least for very cheap, given the great exposure they'd receive--and at least a few of them are probably pretty talented. The Globe could winnow the field down to three finalists, then give them all a tryout, and let readers pick the winner. If that idea doesn't appeal to the Times, there must be umpteen others that would. Try them here in Boston.

True, this approach would force Times Co. management to reconcile itself to embracing the new and cool in Boston first, rather than New York, which isn't the way these things usually work. It would also require reconsidering the never-the-twain-shall-meet attitude that currently separates the Times and the Globe.

But these shouldn't be insurmountable hurdles. Right now, the Globe is dying. Embracing a role as the Times Co.'s test paper might not save it--but it could reverse the mood at Morrissey Boulevard, and create national buzz around the Globe, and just maybe lead to a viable new business model.

And the Times Co.? Given how much they paid for the Globe--and how desperate the Times's own situation is--I can't think of a better way to capitalize on what currently looks like a very bad investment.

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