Nothing is free – not even the news

Ed Forry

By Ed Forry
BIR Publisher

The news last month that the principal owner of Boston’s major league baseball team (the one and only) has agreed to a deal to become the principal owner of Boston’s largest (and best) daily newspaper was met with only mild surprise among the populace.
The sale of the Boston Globe to Red Sox owner John Henry by the New York Times came at a hugely reduced price – The Globe last was sold in 1993 for $1.1 billion; the selling price in 2013 has been put in the $70 million range, and that includes all the newspaper’s Morrissey Boulevard real estate, its websites, and the Worcester Telegram as well. A Bonwit Teller legacy property is sold at Filene’s Basement prices!

These clearly are not booming times for print journalism. Last year, Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell decamped from his Harrison Avenue campus for rented space off D Street in South Boston, and a developer is now tearing down the Herald’s old printing plant to make room for a huge new housing and retail development. All across the country, daily city newspapers have been downsizing, cutting back on reporters and photographers, some even eschewing daily journalism for a schedule than can be described as “every so often.”
According to Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy, the Boston dailies’ paid circulation figures for print editions in March 2013 showed the weekday Globe at 172,048, and Sundays at 343,194. Weekdays, the Herald circulation is at 95,929 and on Sundays the paper sells 73,043 copies. Kennedy added that the Globe has had some success in selling digital subscriptions, resulting in its online subscriptions helping to stabilize its circulation.
In Ireland, where countrywide newspapers have competed successfully for many years, the changes are dramatic. An online news source, Greenslade Blog, paints a grim picture of the press scene across the island: In the first six months of this year, The Irish Times lost 9 percent of its circulation, with an average daily sale down to 84,201 copies;
its main competitor, the Irish Independent, fared a little better, falling 3.9 percent in the first half of 2013, with an average daily sale of 121,120 – but 15,000 of those copies are bulk sales, sold to hotels and airlines at drastically lower prices. The third-place Irish national daily title, the Cork-based Examiner, lost a further 5.8 percent of its sale year-on-year, with a six-month average sale of 37,897; in Northern Ireland, circulation of the Belfast Telegraph was down 8.6 percent from last year, and now sells fewer than 40,000 daily, while giving away 8,500 copies. Sales of the Irish News dropped just 3 percent, and now claims to be the North’s largest paid circulation at 40,842.
To the average news consumer, the change in fortune for the newspapers might seem insignificant, since the growth of the internet has created a boom in the creation of new sources of information. The so-called blogosphere is busting with all sorts of commentators and “breaking news” sites, and almost everyone with an e-mail address is bombarded with a daily array of news and opinion that for the most part is un-sourced, and often unwanted.
The real problem is that when people use the new social media to pass along alleged news items, the question remains: Who or what is the real source of the information, and what hidden agenda is in play?
The diminution of what has been known as the mainstream media has created a dangerous slope, as more and more people rely on free news sites. But in the news business, as in life, nothing comes free, without a price.
Caveat emptor – buyer beware – is the old phrase. You get what you pay for.