by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 23, 2009
FEAR NOT, CLASS OF '09. KNOWLEDGE IS STILL POWER
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Last week, for the first time in my adult life, I didn't buy a copy of The Boston Globe.
Aside from when I was away from New England for military service, every weekday for the past 30 years, I've bought a Globe. If my local store didn't have it, I drive to the next town to find one. My devotion to the Globe was complete and total.
I grew up in a house without books. The main reading material was newspapers. My father bought a Springfield Union every morning on his way to work, and brought it home at night for me to read. In the afternoon, we got the Daily Hampshire Gazette, a paper I would eventually deliver for five years.
They were good papers that helped bring the world into a little home in a rural town in western Massachusetts. But when I got to high school, I discovered the Globe. One of the study hall teachers brought it in every day, and I always borrowed it from him. Instead of doing homework, I read the paper.
The Globe of the 1970s was a dynamic paper, a writer's paper. The sports section reeled me first -- Bob Ryan on the Celtics, Peter Gammons on the Red Sox, Fran Rosa on the Bruins, Will McDonough on the Patriots and Ray Fitzgerald, Leigh Montville and Michael Madden as columnists.
But then the front of the paper got me too -- Marty Nolan, Curtis Wilkie, Bob Healy, Tom Oliphant, David Nyhan and the best political coverage going in Boston as well as Washington.
And then the Arts section -- Steve Morse and Jim Sullivan covering rock, Ernie Santosuosso on jazz, Richard Dyer on classical music, Jay Carr on the movies and Nathan Cobb on everything.
And then the columnists -- Ellen Goodman, Diane White, Susan hy, Alan Lupo and Mike Barnacle before he got lazy.
And then the photographers -- Stan Grossfeld, Ulrike Welsch, John Tlumacki and George Rizer leading the best staff on any paper, anywhere. (Dig up a copy of the 1985 book, "The Eyes of The Globe," and you'll see what I mean).
These, and the countless other men and women who poured their hearts into making the Globe such a powerhouse of a newspaper in that era, are the people who inspired me to become a journalist. For me, the Globe set the standard that everyone else followed.
That the Globe was so good then was a reflection of Tom Winship, the man who was the editor of the paper from 1964 to 1984. He went out and recruited young, bright writers, and they repaid Winship by producing journalism that put the Globe on the top 10 lists of best newspapers in America.
Nothing lasts forever, though. Death, retirement and career changes gradually changed the faces behind the Globe in the 1980s and 1990s. But it still maintained a level of quality that was head, shoulders and torso above the rest. The papers were fat and filled with ads every day. It had bureaus around the world. Wire copy was strictly for filler, for if an important event was happening, the Globe had its own reporters on the scene to tell the story and their own photographers to illustrate it.
If you told me 30 years ago that the paper I had fallen in love with would find itself on death's door, I wouldn't have believed it. New England without the Globe would be unthinkable.
But the unthinkable may soon happen, and sad to say, the fatal wound is self-inflicted.
The Internet can't be totally blamed. Boston.com, the Globe's Website, was the first and remains the most successful regional news site in the country. It has grown as the paper and ink product's circulation has fallen, but if you add the two together, virtually the same number of people are reading the Globe today as they were a decade ago.
To me, it was the little cuts by degrees to the paper over the past couple of years. Shrinking the width of the paper. Combining sections. Closing the foreign bureaus. Buying out reporters and photographers. Cutting back on coverage beyond New England and relying more on wire copy. Pandering to yuppies and backing away from the full-throated liberalism that was its trademark.
Now, the ambitious paper that once had a national and international presence barely can cover its own region. The last straw for me was the price increases. In the last year, the price of the daily paper in Vermont has doubled -- from 75 cents to a $1.50. The Sunday paper went from $2 to $4.50 in that time. To be asked to pay more for a thinner, more inferior product is an insult to my intelligence. Less is never more. Less is less. And no paper ever improved itself by cutting staff and cutting resources.
The New York Times is still threatening to close the Globe, and I believe they eventually will. They are trying to save the flagship in New York, and they will throw the Globe overboard if it will save the Times. But they will do it without my paid patronage. I will not reward the Sulzburgers for bad business decisions and market miscalculations.
If you want to save newspapers, you need good talent that's well paid and well taken care of. You need creative leadership. You need ambition to go beyond the competition. You need to provide writing and photography that tell stories in compelling way. Look at the back issues of the Globe at its zenith, and you will see these things. Every good newspaper aspired to perform at this level. They don't anymore -- victims of greed and a bottom-line mentality that has looted the news business and left an empty husk.
The Globe I fell in love with doesn't exist anymore. The New York Times Co. says it is too expensive to exist like that anymore, and must cut itself back to being just another newspaper if it wants to survive.
If that is the bargain, I want no part of it. I'll read the news online, and hope something better will come along.
AR Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for nearly 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For extra added thrills, read his ongoing daily blog on The Harvard Classics at http://hclassics15.blogspot.com.