If you work at the Boston Globe, and have any bright ideas on how to stop that paper's downward spiral, management is all ears. At least, that's the party line. On January 8 — in a missive arguing, basically, that the Globe will survive because the alternative is unthinkable — publisher Steve Ainsley vowed that while "the solutions may not be obvious . . . working together we will create them." A few days later, in a memo announcing 50 upcoming cutbacks in the Globe newsroom, editor Marty Baron urged employees to weigh in on what "fundamental changes" the Globe should make after losing 12 percent of its editorial staff.
Unfortunately, recent conversations with Globe staffers suggest that the paper's employees won't be much help. "I'm not sure I have much to say," one told the Phoenix. "I don't know what the answer is." "I wish I had all the answers," echoed another. "But the Globe's challenges are not unique. The whole industry is grappling with the same basic problems."
True enough — but a tad gloomy, no? Fortunately, your correspondent is here to let in the sunshine. The Globe, after all, whatever its weaknesses, plays a crucial role in Boston. (Its investigative reporting, for example, recently helped drive Massachusetts House Speaker Sal DiMasi from office.) In that spirit, here are 10 changes that could help it survive and thrive.
1) DANCE, EDITORS! Forget about hiring another ombudsman who'll simply field reader complaints, talk to the powers that be, and then offer a printed analysis. This is the YouTube era, dammit! Ergo: once a month, get five grumpy, randomly selected readers on video airing their beefs, and then get Baron (or managing editor Caleb Solomon, or metro editor Brian McGrory) responding, in kind, on video. If this happens — and if it isn't always the top-viewed item on boston.com, the Globe's Web site — I'll eat my anachronistic hat.
2) BUY UNIVERSAL HUB AND HIRE ADAM GAFFIN It's not enough to provide (spotty) links to Boston blogs, as the Globe's generally strong Web site, boston.com, currently does. Instead, the site should aggressively cover and critique Boston's burgeoning blogosphere. Adam Gaffin — who runs the must-read Boston-blog aggregator Universal Hub while working a day job (!) — is clearly the best person for this hypothetical post. Gaffin's past criticisms of certain Globe foibles and staffers, including McGrory's previous work as a metro columnist, might pose diplomatic problems. But his sharp wit and mastery of the Web justify ruffling some feathers inside the thin-skinned henhouse on Morrissey Boulevard.
3) FREE IDEAS The premise of the Sunday Ideas section — that Boston is a cerebral city with a natural readership for stories on intellectual affairs — is sound. That said, Ideas itself is frustratingly uneven: sometimes a great read, sometimes boring and pointlessly esoteric. Make intellectual affairs a beat of its own, and reward the best stories with prominent placement on whatever day they happen to run.
4) GET TRASHIER One former Globe staffer contends that the paper should get a bit less . . . how to put it . . . uptight. "Log on to Corriere della Serra," this person says, referring to the Italian daily (online at corriere.it). "The fact is, there's a lot of 'T and A' on that Web site. . . . That's a radical example, but I don't see anything wrong with admitting that we have a varied readership, and not being a complete prude."
Bring on the Page 3 girls! Actually, no. But the Globe could certainly strive for a sharper, less fusty tone when covering gossip and celebrity — and look for ways to occasionally add that content to the mix in the front of the paper. If this sounds crass, remember: the pregnancy of ex–Tom Brady squeeze Bridget Moynahan was front-page, above-the-fold news back in February 2007.
5) SCREW THE BOONDOCKS According to the Globe media kit, the paper currently has a daily circulation of 95 in Kingston, New Hampshire, yielding a household-penetration rate of four percent. Cutting off the Kingstons of New England (there are many more than you think) would save transportation costs and eliminate implicit editorial pressures to cover communities that most Globe readers simply don't give a crap about.
6) EXTRA WEB CONTENT FOR PRINT SUBSCRIBERS The New Yorker recently allowed its subscribers to get a weekly sneak peek at the print edition online, as well as access to a searchable, printable archive — quite the deal, that. How could the Globe follow suit? More highbrow content is one possibility, but extra sports-related stuff is a better bet, since we're currently in the midst of the golden age of Boston athletics. One theoretical example: a semi-weekly Webcast in which Bob Ryan, Dan Shaughnessy, Tony Massarotti, and Charlie Pierce argue about the stories of the moment as bombastic readers propose the topics online (call it a new-media twist on NESN's now-defunct Globe 10.0).
7) RENAME G Seriously. g?