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A Newspaper for the Future

News & Features | November 7, 2011

Journalism is dead. This is a phrase uttered by many in recent years–one that news corporations around the country have been valiantly trying to prove wrong. A phrase that calls to mind the struggle of journalism professors, courses, and schools learning to adapt to a new age of information technology. And now, a phrase that The Boston Globe is battling in a new way: with a subscription-only website.
Billed as “a newspaper for the future,” BostonGlobe.com was launched on September 12,2011, along with an editorial assuring readers of its commitment to journalism and a page of frequently asked questions to help readers understand the site. Typing in the URL BostonGlobe.com leads readers to a homepage that looks like the front page of a print newspaper. The headlines are there, as well as photos and descriptions of the paper’s content. But clicking on a link to an article featured on the “front page” leads to a new page featuring only the article title, an opening sentence, and a friendly box telling readers to “continue enjoying BostonGlobe.com, please sign up or log in.” This website is truly for subscribers only.
BostonGlobe.com is now one of two online branches of The Boston Globe. The other is Boston.com, which has been around for years, has five million visitors monthly, according to Nielsen ratings, and does not require a subscription. According to the Globe’s statement, “Boston.com…will continue to offer full daily sports coverage, breaking news updates, online features, and lifestyle information, as well as five stories selected from each day’s print edition…[it] will also include summaries and headlines of stories on BostonGlobe.com, but you must be a subscriber to read those stories in full.” BostonGlobe.com, on the other hand, has a subscription fee of $3.99 a week and offers full access to an online version of the print newspaper. It also includes online-only features, such as a tagging system to save articles for later, video adapted to the size and quality of viewing devices, support for touchscreen devices, and crossword puzzles that save progress and check for errors.
The website may not sound monumental or groundbreaking, but it does represent a new approach to a battle many news corporations have been fighting for years. With the rise of informational blogs and interest-specific websites, declining revenue and readership for newspapers has been the norm. Many of these print newspapers have developed online equivalents, which are necessary in the Internet age. But the problem with many of these equivalents is that they are just that—there is nothing new about them. For instance, the site for the San Francisco Chronicle is a series of links, with almost no images, let alone exciting interactive technology. The New York Times online offers non-subscribers access to the whole paper, as does the LA Times. Like other papers, the Chicago Tribune encourages subscriptions but does not pretend that subscribers gain any huge advantage. Benefits to an online subscription with the Tribune include the ability to comment on articles and to upload images—but non-subscribers can still access the entire paper. This strategy of offering some perks for subscribers but keeping access free is one that has been adopted by almost every newspaper in the US.
But now The Boston Globe has gone in a different direction. Where other papers are less gung-ho about pushing web subscriptions, the Globe is strongly emphasizing its new website’s innovative technology, device-friendly features, and ability to fit individual needs. Their reasoning seems to be that though the paper has a strong loyalist subscription base, the average age of a subscriber is 52. With its new emphasis on apps and app-like technology, the Globe and new BostonGlobe.com are targeting a younger demographic.
As publisher Christopher Mayer stated in a September 12th press release, “Our research showed that we have different segments of news consumers in our market, and we need to reach them in different ways.” The corporation is trying to show readers–especially young readers–that they will get something from BostonGlobe.com that they wouldn’t from an independent blogger or a subscription-optional news site.
The Globe editorial published along with the site launch states, “The new technologies…will help extend the Globe’s mission of service…providing a state-of-the art version of the Globe newspaper for readers everywhere. By remaining proudly and steadfastly independent of all political parties and private agendas, and speaking only for its readers, journalism stands tall as a check on unmitigated power, and as a truly reliable source of news. BostonGlobe.com will be propelled by that strength as it carries Boston journalism into a new era.”
As to whether BostonGlobe.com will achieve the goals of its parent company, it is far too early to tell. If the site doesn’t do well, the corporation will face a whole new set of challenges. Even if the site is very successful, the words “journalism is dead” will likely still be spoken by some. Right now, though, Boston’s “newspaper for the future” is an innovative strategy that proves journalism will certainly not die without a fight.