The following is one of several articles recapping NEFAC’s 2017 New England First Amendment Institute. Full coverage of the program can be found here.
By Kaitlyn Mangelinkx
“Journalism is expensive and important,” Brian McGrory, editor of The Boston Globe, said as he began a speech to journalism fellows at the seventh annual New England First Amendment Institute.
The New England First Amendment Coalition provided the institute to 25 journalists from Oct. 29-31 at Northeastern University in Boston. McGrory spoke during an institute dinner at Lincoln Tavern and Restaurant in South Boston.
Throughout his speech, McGrory focused on navigating the changing nature of journalism, a field he sees as “undergoing a massive transformation.” All journalists can try to control is “getting people to pay for our journalism,” he said.
He advised fellow journalists to appeal directly to readers at a time when newspapers “no longer can rely on the millions of dollars of advertising that fill up the back of the paper.”
The Globe has more readers now, including those online, than at any other time in its history, McGrory said. What’s problematic is the business model, he said. The Globe used to collect $180 million a year in classified advertising alone; that’s now $10 million a year, he said. “That money is not coming back.”
Once considered to be a national newspaper with eight foreign bureaus and others in the United States, the Globe now has only one bureau outside Massachusetts — in Washington, D.C. — and has refocused on “the value we add (that) is here in Greater Boston,” McGrory said.
“What you have to decide is what you’re not going to do,” he said.
McGrory suggested that newspapers should better engage readers. He said the Globe has an “unbelievably intellectual readership with high expectations.” Readers will not continue to pay for coverage that does not interest them, he said.
Explaining how the Globe strives to balance giving readers what they want while producing
quality content, McGrory said that “metrics inform our journalism; they (in) no way determine our journalism.”
McGrory said newspapers should be “as enterprising as humanly possible” to attract subscribers, trying new strategies and seeing what works.
Among other changes, the Globe has established an “express desk” to cover breaking news, launched a sports podcast, put together an audience engagement team to inform reporters about what interests readers, and has adjusted the subjects it covers.
The downturn in newspaper income also diminished the Globe’s news staff. What used to be a newsroom of 540 journalists — and 350 when McGrory became the Globe’s editor in 2012 — is now down to 225 full-timers, he said. Reporters have been reassigned to new focuses, a process McGrory said derived from asking reporters “what they want to do in the new world order, and why.”
“What’s common to all of it is focusing on our potential subscriber, bringing them into the Globe,” McGrory said.
McGrory said restructuring a paper was not simple; it required risk.
“We have had not-inconsequential failures,” McGrory said.
But he said having failures is necessary. Not failing means that the risk was not big enough, McGrory said. In the now-uncertain newspaper industry, papers need to let go of “old school thinking” and take risks by choosing innovative approaches to journalism.
Kaitlyn is a journalism student at Northeastern University.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.
Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.