What’s after the Boston Globe?

I happened to be awake last night when the Washington Post’s breaking news email arrived in my Inbox.  This alert: “Boston Globe faces closure”.  Over the past month, I’ve thought about the implications of the Globe’s closure for Boston arts organizations.

Rick Burnes discussed the the solution in the context of how the question was being identified—that the Globe’s situation isn’t about finding ways to sustain the current, traditional media model but instead find out what comes next.

Rick hit on a key point that I observed in Geoff Edger’s interviews with local arts leaders about the Globe’s situation.  There’s 20/20 hindsight and even a touch of nostalgia when Jill Medvedow, director of the Institute of Contemporary Art, recalls what the exhaustive Globe coverage of the opening of their new building did for the city and the celebration.  While the coverage was indeed excellent, what appears to be lost by Medvedow is the understanding that this happened two and a half years ago and a lot can change in time.

Boston Symphony Orchestra Managing Director, Mark Volpe has a similar nostalgia when he discussed the departure of Seiji Ozawa and the subsequent arrival of James Levine.  This coverage that “fueled” audience growth in Ozawa’s final and Levine’s first year happened in 2002.  Imagine how much has changed since then.

Anne Hawley, director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum expresses her discomfort with online journalism:

The Globe is the center of the whole communications structure in the city. People say, oh, you can go online. Well, there’s no journalistic standard there. It’s not the way civilization should be organized. It’s very disturbing to me.”

The problem (and this kind of commentary may have been dropped through Edger’s writing of the piece) is that the arts leaders interviewed can’t seem to imagine the Boston Globe not existing.  Like the Boston blog rally, instead of brainstorming ideas about what the future of community reporting and media coverage may be, the goal appears to be finding a way to bring back the Boston Globe in the form and structure that is the most familiar.

I attended the “Hacking the Government” session at Barcamp Boston 4 two weekends ago and through the conversation about governmental transparency and public access to data for the purposes of private analysis, there were some comments about the Globe.  In the context of having governmental data available for public consumption, analysis, and discourse, someone asked who would take the time to exhaustively pour through it (even the most banal information) and report the findings.  Clay Shirky describes this as society’s “heavy lifting,” and he doesn’t have (and no proposal I’ve seen yet does) have a replacement.  The detailed investigative coverage of local events as a check and balance forcing transparency can only happen if someone (the reporter) is being paid for their time.

Over the five-plus years I worked for Boston theatre companies, I found local arts groups to have a reliance on print coverage, especially the Globe.  For small arts organizations a preview or review in the Globe was a public relations holy grail.  For many, it still is.  When I arrived in 2003, I was told preview articles would come out two weeks before a show opened allowing for presales and word-of-mouth—early momentum.  Over the past few years, the Globe has published preview articles when performances begin which are only a few days before the make or break review is published.  With a diminishing number of arts reporters and the same or growing amount of arts groups desiring coverage, not everybody will be covered in the Globe or even other places, for that matter.

Arts organizations will need to find other ways build, inform, and influence their communities.  Instead of waxing nostalgic about the Globe and the past, they will need to find out what happens next and be part of it.

The question is, are they prepared to do that “heavy lifting” and where will the money come from?

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