Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rallying to the aid of the Boston Globe

Crowdsourcing and the wisdom of the crowd are pretty alien concepts to many journalists who see a lack of professional vigour undermining the validity of the results obtained when you ask the general public for an opinion.

Only yesterday, I was reading about the Editor of the Birmingham Post, Marc Reeves, who was crowdsourcing photos for his paper, news that was met with outrage from some journalists - the very first comment saying: 'Great way to fill up a page on restricted resources. 'Let's slash the workforce, keep the managers, and make the papers a scrapbook for sumitted letters, photos and match reports.'

There was some support for the Editor:
'I read these comments and feel quite sad. For too long, journalists have behaved as though they are the only ones with a right to appear in a newspaper. If the Post chooses to pick pictures to print, and people are happy for their pictures to be used, then surely there's not a problem. Newspapers need to be part of a community online to survive, and you can't be part of a community if you believe that you are better than everyone else.'
Meanwhile, over in the States, the New York Times company has threatened to close the Boston Globe because between them they are making such big losses ... and one of the most interesting responses has come from the blogoshpere where a number of local bloggers have launched a blog rally.

The instigator appears to be Paul Levy, the president and CEO of the local Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre. Here, in his own words is what is going on:
'We have all read recently about the threat of possible closure faced by the Boston Globe. A number of Boston-based bloggers who care about the continued existence of the Globe have banded together in conducting a blog rally. We are simultaneously posting this paragraph to solicit your ideas of steps the Globe could take to improve its financial picture:

We view the Globe as an important community resource, and we think that lots of people in the region agree and might have creative ideas that might help in this situation. So, here's your chance. Please don't write with nasty comments and sarcasm: Use this forum for thoughtful and interesting steps you would recommend to the management that would improve readership, enhance the Globe's community presence, and make money. Who knows, someone here might come up with an idea that will work, or at least help. Thank you.'
Well, the people of Boston have certainly come up with lots of ideas - there are currently 62 on Paul Levy's blog alone - and they make for very interesting reading. Although one poster asks who is co-ordinating all the responses and is told: 'Co-ordination is not part of social media', I've decided to try to pull them all together ...

My co-ordination is not scientific. I haven't managed to find all the comments as they are spread across many different blogs (most of which, like my blog, have no form of search), but I have captured a few hundred points. I have tried to split them into three different sorts of comments: those that have suggestions for how to improve the print edition; those which primarily suggest going digital; and those that cover other areas such as ownership.

There are a few points that need to be born in mind while reading the comments: Leicester is not America, the Mercury is not the Globe (two very big differences are that the Mercury makes a profit and it is almost entirely devoted to local news), and, of course, those commenting are part of a self-selecting technorati who almost certainly don't represent everyone in Boston (let alone Leicester).

Having said that, UK newspapers face many of the same issues as those in the States and the future of news and our papers is often the main topic of conversation whenever senior media people get together. It's not that often that we get the opportunity to hear what so many readers think ... and they do come up with a lot of very interesting ideas.

To see all the comments that I managed to collate click here, published via Google docs. I apologise that the document doesn't look that pretty, but I haven't found any time to format it yet.

To be honest, I started collating the comments out of personal interest, but thought others might find them useful, given that so many people that I speak to want to discuss the future of newspapers and where our digital offerings fit in our thinking. My own feeling about the comments is that I feel optimistic and doomed in equal proportions as I read through them.

I'd love to hear your views on the future of newspapers in general, and the Mercury in particular and, if that's too big a topic, just let me know of any ways you think we can improve the service we offer in print or online now.


By the way, the image at the top of this page was produced at Wordle and is a graphical illustration of the words found in the all the comments on my Google doc. It's a sort of tag cloud except it's not as good as it is only an image and doesn't link to the words!