The consequences are hard to imagine. Only the most cold-blooded haters are actually rooting for it to happen. But if The Boston Globe, facing what seems to be a terminal case of lost advertising in its printed version, does cease to exist someday soon, what will it mean for Dorchester?
There will be a huge crater in the regionâ€™s news-gathering capacity, a deficiency that could have long-range impacts on democracy and civil society. And thereâ€™s the hard-to-quantify morale blow of seeing a Boston institution deep-sixed by its New York master.
This kind of damage, at least, will be spread out across the Globeâ€™s expansive circulation turf â€” from Fitchburg to Falmouth. And itâ€™s likely that other news outlets â€” some existing, others yet to be conceived â€” will move to fill some of the void.
Dorchester, though, stands to take a singularly tough hit if the Globe sinks. Although the paper has been loathe to acknowledge it loudly, it is, after all, a Dorchester-based concern. The mothership property on Morrissey Boulevardâ€”valued at $36 million by the latest city countâ€”is an economic engine that spins out consumers, jobs and, yes, residents.
â€œThe talk about the Globe is a scary proposition,â€ says State Rep. Marty Walsh. â€œMost of the jobs there are blue collar: the drivers, the press people, even delivery routes.
â€œWe have a ton of people here who depend on the Globe for their livelihood,â€ says Walsh. â€œIt would be devastating to the local economy.â€
The Munroe family on Popeâ€™s Hill is a prime example. George, 65, left the paper two years ago after working there for 42 years, starting as a messenger and working his way into the photoengraving unit where he served as a journeyman and a manager. His wife Gerri worked part-time at the Globe in the same profession, splitting her hours between Morrissey Boulevard and the Heraldâ€™s shop, from which she retired. (Many union members routinely shift off between the two dailies.)
Their son Scott, 33, and his wife Donna met at the Globe. Scott works there now a union pressman while Donna is a journeyman mailer, following in her dadâ€™s footprints. Despite the Globeâ€™s reputed anti-nepotism rules, the Munroes say that their story is a common one.
â€œThese jobs have always been a way up for people from Southie and Dorchester and the city neighborhoods,â€ says George. â€œIt used to be that once you got a job at the Globe, you were set for life. Most of these folks there donâ€™t have any other trade skills outside of a newspaper. Now thereâ€™s no place to go. Theyâ€™re not going to get a job doing what they were doing.â€
As New York Times and Globe managers huddle with union reps this week seeking $20 million in contract concessions, the mood in the Munroe family is a mix of disappointment and anxiety. Scott has worked the presses on Morrissey Boulevard since he was 18 and is now contemplating a new career. Like his union colleagues, he will likely accept less money and a cut to benefits to stave off an imminent closure. But, he says, the writing is on the wall. He doesnâ€™t expect the paper to last long, even with the cuts.
â€œI appreciate everything the Globe has done for us over the years,â€ he says. â€œI guess I feel more disappointed than anything. Iâ€™m lucky in a way, because Iâ€™m young enough to do something else. I have friends in their 50s with kids in college. Those are the guys I worry about.â€
There is anger, too, most of it directed at the New York managers who made decisions years ago that the Munroes believe hastened the paperâ€™s decline. The New York Times has operated as an â€œabsentee landlordâ€ and lost touch with local advertisers, George says.
â€œThe Taylor family had been in the business for 100 years. They had the foundation that gave so much back. They had lunch every week with the big advertisers. The new owners, they didnâ€™t take care of community ties that they needed to.â€
He blames the bosses, too, for â€œgiving upâ€ on finding a business model that would prevent the free content delivery of the Internet from undermining the ad base â€” the fundamental driver of the companyâ€™s fiscal crisis. George believes that the Times simply wants to do away with the Globe product and take over the remaining circulation for its own interests. Parts of a Times-owned printing plant in Billerica â€” due to close later this yearâ€” are being reconstituted in the Dorchester plant to ready for such a plan, Munroe says.
â€œWhen we started printing the New York Times a dozen years ago, I said that in 20 years we will probably just be the New York Times-slash-Boston edition. Just one newspaper. Thereâ€™s a lot of benefit to that from the Timesâ€™ perspective. Their national circulation would jump by 100,000 readers and they will be able to charge more for their ads.â€
The best possible outcome at this stage, the Munroes believe, will be for a new, local ownership group to take over. The consensus among employees there now, Scott says, is that the recent brinksmanship with the unions is a Timesâ€™ effort to â€œclean things upâ€ for such a sale. Even if such a shift were to preserve the paper, as media critic Dan Kennedy writes this week in a column for The Guardian, â€œAfter this weekâ€¦the Boston Globe will never be the same.â€
That reality unnerves even those who admit to harboring a longtime â€œlove-hateâ€ relationship with the cityâ€™s broadsheet.
In the 1980s, Savin Hill resident Bill Walczak was a harsh critic of the paperâ€™s coverage of Dorchester news. He organized meetings with Dorchester actvists and Globe editors to confront the paper over what he and others saw as a â€œbiasâ€ against the neighborhood.
The Globe has improved substantially, Walczak believes, and contributes to the civic health of the neighborhood in ways that are hard to quantify.
â€œThere are so many different levels of wrong that will happen if the Globe fails,â€ Walczak argues. â€œHaving some Globe reporters living here â€“ who experience the same things we do â€“ thatâ€™s been so important. Not being able to explain ourselves to the outside world is very harmful.â€
Walczak doesnâ€™t like to contemplate life here without the Globe as a viable news outlet. Still, even before the potential shut-down made headlines last weekend, Walczak and other neighbors have anticipated the Globeâ€™s eventual passing. A city-sponsored task force on the future of Columbia Point, which has been meeting for the last year, has included guidelines for the re-use of the Globe property in its draft recommendation plan, still being ironed out through a series of public meetings. Under the present plan, neighbors would prefer the Globe property to be developed into a mix of retail, housing and office space.
Don Walsh, a Savin Hill man who chairs the task force, says that while no one on the group wants the Globe to die, they were forced to take that possibility into account.
â€œBy no means are we trying to get rid of [the Globe],â€ Walsh said. â€œBut everyoneâ€™s aware that newspapers are in trouble and something could happen.â€