One of those competing sources is the Boston Phoenix, one of several alt-weeklies owned by Phoenix Media. Phoenix editor Carly Carioli posted on Thursday what was at once a celebration of Boston.com’s legacy and, post-paywall, its obituary.
It’s easy to take Boston.com for granted, but take it from someone who’s spent a lot of time analyzing what works and what doesn’t in online news: Boston.com is the single-best city-dot-com site in the country…. It got in early enough to grab the city-dot-com real estate, and then never lost sight of the online/community mission that sprung up around the journalism the Globe was creating.
I say all of this to lament what appears to be the end of Boston.com.
There will be endless parsing of the Globe’s decision to put a bunch of its journalism behind a paywall, and as everyone knows by now, intelligent people can disagree about whether these things are gonna make money or kill their publishers. Putting aside that argument, the most basic thing to understand is this: what made Boston.com such a great site was that it was both city-dot-com and a really great newspaper site — and that it is now headed for a vastly more conventional model by splitting those missions up.
Carioli, like many others, notes the is-it-really-a-coincidence coincidence of Dave Beard leaving his position as Boston.com’s editor, the very day before the web-split announcement. “I haven’t spoken to Beard, but it’s hard not to see his decision to take a job at The National Journal as a vote of no-confidence,” Carioli writes.
A week before the announcement, in anticipation of some type of new Globe paywall, Dan Kennedy of Media Nation wrote, “I predict, at best, very limited success—so limited that it may prove not worth doing.” After the announcement, he writes, “I’m skeptical, but I’m impressed.” After a Q&A with Globe publisher Christopher Mayer, Kennedy ends with these closing thoughts:
In this morning’s Globe, columnist Brian McGrory sneers at “every high-brow thinker in the new media business [who] has condescendingly repeated a phrase that is somehow as insidious as it is inane: Information wants to be free.” This is an oft-repeated bastardization of something Stewart Brand said in 1984:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it’s so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
I know of no serious media thinkers who believe journalism ought to be free. The question has always been, Who pays?
The Globe isn’t the first news outlet to take a chance in answering that question, and it won’t be the last. But it is the first to try this particular two-fer strategy, and the rest of the industry will surely be watching closely to see what it looks like.