Barbara Howard: The Boston Herald is being sold. The Herald announced that it had declared bankruptcy last week. It looks as though GateHouse Media will be coming on as the owner. That is the newspaper group that owns hundreds of papers across the country including dozens right here in Massachusetts. It's already made it clear that it will be cutting staff. And so, what will these changes that the Herald mean for the Boston media landscape? With us in the studio to talk about that is Northeastern University journalism professor and WGBH News contributor Dan Kennedy. Thanks for coming in, Dan.
Dan Kennedy: Thanks, Barbara.
Howard: So give me a quick little history, and what is the influence of GateHouse Media right now in this area?
Kennedy: Well GateHouse owns more than 100 papers in eastern Massachusetts — just about every community weekly you can think of is a GateHouse paper, but also some of the medium-sized dailies like the MetroWest Daily News, the Brockton Enterprise. Buying a No. 2 daily paper in an urban market does not really fit with what they've done in the past. So this is a little different, and it's hard to know what they've got in mind.
Howard: What do you think they have in mind?
Kennedy: Well you know, I really don't know. But what I did this week for WGBHnews.org, is I actually updated a column that I wrote for the Boston Phoenix 12 years ago on some ideas that might make the Herald a better and more interesting paper.
Howard: Like what?
Kennedy: I think that what stood out to me from what I wrote 12 years ago that still makes sense, is maybe turn the Herald into a free daily paper. There's still advertising value in print. It's actually gotten difficult to find places to buy newspapers. But if you were handing them out, it would be a better quality alternative to the Metro, they could get some advertising in front of people, and I think it might go pretty well.
Howard: Why do you think it's come to this — that they've declared bankruptcy and the sale is on?
Kennedy: Well you know, Boston is one of the very few cities left that still had two competitive daily papers. I guess the real question is why it took this long. And I think the answer to that is that starting in the early 80s, Rupert Murdoch, and then later, his protégé Pat Purcell, who bought the paper from him in 1994, were just very, very determined to keep the Herald alive. And they have continued in recent years with a very small staff. It was small enough that up until a couple of years ago, according to Purcell, the paper was making money. Unfortunately, it's no longer making money. And although GateHouse is very good at cutting, the fact is, if Pat Purcell had kept it, he would have had to cut it, too.
Howard: What's it mean for the Globe? I mean, it becomes a one paper town, pretty much, if they keep cutting this paper. And it becomes almost irrelevant if it's cut too much.
Kennedy: Here's where I'm going to be optimistic. The Herald is going from 240 employees to about 175 employees, according to Purcell's announcement to the staff. About half of them are newsroom employees. That would still give the Herald one of the bigger newsrooms in Boston, and I would like to think that if the resources are deployed smartly, it would be able to continue to do some good work. The media landscape has changed a lot. It has long since ceased to be a two daily newspaper battle every day. There are multiple No. 2s now, including WGBH and WBUR. There are many No. 2s, so I think we have to get beyond that kind of thinking.
Howard: Where can the Herald distinguish itself — where [are] the weaknesses in the other media around here?
Kennedy: You know, one thing I think the Herald could do that it has never really done: be a really smart conservative alternative to everything else. The fact is, the Herald is not particularly smart, and frankly, despite a few columnists like Howie Carr and Adriana Cohen, it's not particularly conservative, either. It's just kind of muddling along with decent local news coverage. I would really kind of double down on trying to appeal to a younger audience that may not be as liberal — especially on economic issues — as the Globe thinks they are, and really provide a real alternative.
Howard: OK, thanks so much, Dan.
Kennedy: Thank you, Barbara.
Howard: That's WGBH News contributor and Northeastern University Journalism Professor Dan Kennedy.