Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Must Promise To Use this Power Only for Good

Off and on, I've been trying to find the blog post where I first suggested that Boston University ought to buy the Boston Globe, and turn it into a giant mentorship/curriculum. Let the pros stay and do their jobs, but they're all required to take on one or two journalism students as mentors for the semester...maybe for a year (or longer if the student desires).

The Globe gets an owner that won't pimp it out like a cheap whore, and BU gets enormous prestige and a fabulous real-world learning environment for its students. Everyone wins.

Of course, despite the same hit to its endowment that all colleges are feeling, I think that BU could afford to drop the dime and buy the Globe, especially if we're talking $200 million...or even just the oft-quoted but hard-to-substaniate $20 million. However, I agree that if the Globe is losing $85 million a year, then even BU can't afford to float that boat.

Still, drastic changes are necessary at the Globe, no matter who owns it or when. I would argue that despite BU's, ehem, "checkered past" with unions, I'd still trust it to "do right" by journalism than I would The New York Times Co. at this point...or most other owners.

Anyways, I originally wrote down the idea as a comment to a May 2006 blog post at Dan Kennedy's Media Nation. If BU does end up buying the Globe, I will expect a modest finder's fee. 5% would do nicely. :-) Hey, at least it'd be going to an alum! (BU College of Arts & Sciences, Class of 1998)

For what it's worth, I said it again in September 2006, and have been mentioning it off and on...including in an e-mail to BU's Dean of the College of Communication, Tom Fiedler, in December 2008. At the time, it was a side note to Mr. Fiedler's quote in the Daily Free Press about the old COM Tower being taken down. But, interestingly, that was right before I noticed the New England Center for Investigative Reporting...which seems to have been launched on January 16, 2009. Coincidence? I think NOT! :-)

I wish I could've had the foresight in 2006 to see the stock market crash of 2008. Oh well.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Not a bad idea.....kinda like a teaching hospital...where Patients receive a high standard of care....while students are taught the ropes.

I think the pros at the Globe could still deliver a quality product while taking young (interns) under their wing.

Never mind the plenty of cheap (free)help they would have for grunt work, etc. That might make it cost effective.

Would it be a non-profit?

COuld they still get out from under the union contracts?

mediaseth said...

BU did a good job with the Chelsea School system after receivership and only recently turned it back to the city. We didn't have a BU student teacher in every class, but if the School of Education can handle it, so can the School of Journalism.

Aaron Read said...

FWIW, don't overestimate how much "free help" students could really provide. Yes it's a factor, but even in my Utopian ideal it's not a cure-all for the Globe's budget woes.

I'm not sure it would legally be required to be a non-profit, and I think the political restrictions of being so might...might...be detrimental to the Globe. On the other hand, I think the Globe would benefit from being operated with a non-profit mindset...meaning it never has to answer to anyone (i.e. stockholders) who doesn't believe in focusing on journalism first, profit second.

I feel the union contracts will almost certainly be destroyed no matter who owns the Globe. Probably what will happen is the NYTimes will sell to another party for the express purpose of that party taking the Globe into (and hopefully through) bankruptcy...thus giving the opportunity to clear the decks of all union contracts.

That may or may not be a bad thing. Generally I am not a fan of unions...especially Boston-based unions...due to their general obnoxiousness and tone-deafness to the surrounding circumstances. But automatic destruction of all union contracts is rarely a positive thing for workers.

BU doesn't exactly have a happy history with unions (although how much of that can you attribute to former President John Silber is an open question) but I think overall the environment of any university is going to be more friendly to the plights of a journalism enterprise than most private businesses. I also think that kind of environment could be a good motivating factor in convincing Globe staff to stick around (if offered the opportunity) despite the lack of union contracts.

Equally as important: a BU-owned Globe means BU has a vested interest in maintaining quality journalism because otherwise the mentorship/teaching aspect is lost. In other words, the journalism becomes part of the core overall mission; quite possibility to the exclusion of other, monetary, considerations. VERY few for-profit entities can truly make that claim.

Anonymous said...

**FWIW, don't overestimate how much "free help" students could really provide. Yes it's a factor, but even in my Utopian ideal it's not a cure-all for the Globe's budget woes.**

I'm not suggesting that they'll get a boatload of "free" help from students...but like the hospitals, the students do get paid...but the hospital is getting a bargain, cuz the students want to be there.

**On the other hand, I think the Globe would benefit from being operated with a non-profit mindset...meaning it never has to answer to anyone (i.e. stockholders) who doesn't believe in focusing on journalism first, profit second.**

Well, they WOULD be answerable to a board...who would require them to not lose money....not too dissimilar to the situation now. Currently, the owners of the Globe would be thrilled simply not to lose money.