Media World: As the Globe turns, the Herald refuses to die

From Harvard Square to ritzy suburbs along Route 2, millions of educated, politically liberal Boston residents would sooner root for the hated New York Yankees than pick up a copy of the Boston Herald. Now, these readers of the Boston Globe are watching their beloved paper wither away while the conservative tabloid continues to survive, at least for now.

The New York Times Co. (NYT), the paper's owner, yesterday backed down from its threat to shut down the Globe after six of the publications seven unions agreed to $20 million in concessions. Unfortunately, the holdout is the largest union, the Boston Newspaper Guild, which has complained about the company's "bullying" tactics. Talks are set to resume soon, according to The Washington Post.

But left out of the discussion of whether the Globe lives or dies is much talk about the Herald, perennially Boston's No. 2 paper.

The Herald, which was once owned by Rupert Murdoch, simply refuses to die. Conventional wisdom had that as Boston became a one paper town it would be the Herald which would wind up in history's recycling bin. Indeed, the closely held paper has had its share of struggles, seeing its circulation decline and much of its advertising migrate online.

Last year, the paper announced that it would outsource printing operations, eliminating as many as 160 jobs. The paper nearly closed during the early 1980s before it was acquired by Murdoch. Patrick Purcell, the Herald's current owner, has tried and failed to find a buyer to take the paper off his hands. Purcell did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The Herald grabbed headlines for the wrong reasons when it apologized in May 2008 to the New England Patriots for reporting that the team had videotaped a practice of the St. Louis Rams before the 2002 Super Bowl. Howie Carr, one of the paper's marquee columnists, has made a name for himself calling Sen. Edward Kennedy "fat boy."
In a recent column, the irascible Carr called the Globe "a Terri Schiavo of journalism."

Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, and a longtime observer of the media in Boston, told DailyFinance that it was a "mini-miracle" that Purcell has been able to keep the Herald in business. But the same New England economy that caused the Globe's advertising to shrink is hurting the Herald. Even if the Globe stops publication, it's doubtful that the Herald would see a huge influx of readers

To readers in Boston, the Herald likes to market itself as a scrappy street-fighter going toe-to-toe against the elite, lazy Globe. A former Globe columnist recently wrote in the Herald that the New York Times Co., which acquired the Globe in 2003, treated the paper like a "cheap prostitute." The tabloid's management argues that the Globe "abandoned" the city to pursue more well-heeled readers in the suburbs and a liberal political agenda. Such arguments, which are made against other big city dailies, are simplistic.

After all, the Globe won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for its series on sexual abuse by members of the Catholic clergy in Boston. The Globe's influence is orders of magnitude greater than the Herald's. But the Globe has been an financial albatross around the New York Times for some time. For one, the New York Times acquired the company that controlled the paper for $1.1 billion in 1993, a time when newspapers were seen as franchises to print money. Media reports indicate that the Globe now loses about $85 million a year.

And, of course, the Times itself is reeling. As has been reported, unionized workers at the Times' flagship paper and digital operations are already due for a 5 percent pay cut.

The question is still open whether the Herald will have the last laugh at the Globe's expense. Here's hoping not.

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