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Cardiac kids (continued)

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a year makes. Last February 24, the trade magazine Editor & Publisher reported that New York Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. had no interest in investing in newspapers targeting the youth market or commuters.

"I think [youth papers] are condescending, I think they degrade the readership, I think they’re talking down to the reader," Sulzberger said during a speech at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. "They’re saying, ‘You don’t [understand] what we offer ... so we’re going to give you this thing that you can get.’ And you know something — bullshit. We don’t want to become less than we are to reach an audience whose needs we wouldn’t do a good job of meeting."

That, as they say, was then. On Tuesday, the Times Company announced that it would pay $16.5 million for a 49 percent share of Boston’s Metro, a free weekday tabloid aimed at — yes — young people and commuters, launched in 2001 by a European media conglomerate. Once the deal has been finalized, the Metro will start offering some Boston Globe content (the Globe is owned by the Times Company), although Globe publisher Richard Gilman says the Metro won’t include any of the Globe’s longer stories or opinion columns. So don’t start looking for Joan Vennochi in the Metro.

Unlike the Washington Post, which started its own tab, the Express, or the competing "red" papers of Chicago (the Tribune’s RedEye and the Sun-TimesRed Streak), the Times Company decided to invest in an existing paper. Why? "It’s better for us to go with an established product, because in part it allows us to tap into the Metro’s expertise and the excellent track record they have with free newspapers around the world," Gilman told me.

He adds that the Metro will continue making its own editorial decisions, including whether to run Globe content. The bottom line appears to be that this is a deal only a finance person could love, as it’s more about cross-selling advertising into local Times Company products — the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, New England Sports Network (the Times Company is a minority owner of the Red Sox, which in turn co-own NESN), and now the Metro — than it is about journalism.

That’s a lot of media properties in one market. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell, who stands to be most affected by the sale, did not respond to my request for comment. But on Wednesday, both the Herald and the Globe reported that he would fight the deal on antitrust grounds, arguing to the Justice Department that the possible negative effect on competition would violate the law. "It is clearly anti-competitive and not in the best interest of the general public or advertisers," Purcell told his newspaper. Earlier, when I asked Gilman about the potential legal implications, he replied, "We do not believe that it creates any kind of antitrust issue or question. The Boston newspaper market is the most crowded newspaper market in the country, with more daily newspapers per thousand population than any other city in the country. And as important as this is to us, it represents a relatively small percentage of newspaper readership." Purcell himself owns about 100 community newspapers in Eastern Massachusetts, most of them weeklies but also a few dailies. Given the state of antitrust law, it appears unlikely that there will be any impediments to the deal. Still, corporate media consolidation is a real concern, and the Times Company’s move only adds to that.

Russel Pergament, founding publisher of Boston’s Metro and now the publisher of a similar paper called amNewYork (which competes with New York’s Metro), thinks the deal is a smart one for the Times Company. "The most appealing demos also happen to be the most elusive ones, and that is young working people," says Pergament, adding that traditional newspaper companies "missed that generation." He says, "A well-run commuter daily can expand the reach of a paid daily very dramatically and very efficiently." As for why the Globe wouldn’t launch a free tab of its own, Pergament says, "They wouldn’t know how to start one. They’d need a 37-person steering committee and catered lunches." The deal gives the Globe an entrée to the market while at the same time bringing in cash for Metro International, whose North American division also owns papers in Philadelphia, Toronto, and Montreal, Pergament observes.

BAY WINDOWS has made it official: former Phoenix news editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar has been named editor-in-chief of the venerable newspaper serving the gay-and-lesbian community, as well as of a sister publication, the South End News. Both papers are weeklies. Ryan-Vollmar had already revealed the move on her weblog (see "Media Log," BostonPhoenix.com, December 22, 2004).

The announcement was made in a press release issued this past Tuesday by co-publishers Sue O’Connell and Jeff Coakley, who are also Phoenix alumni.

I had the pleasure and privilege of working with Susan from the mid 1990s through last August, including during her five-year stint as news editor, which began in 1999. Without disparaging her predecessors in any way, I can confidently say that she will be the best thing that ever happened to both papers.

Dan Kennedy can be reached at dkennedy[a]phx.com. Read his Media Log at BostonPhoenix.com.

page 4 

Issue Date: January 7 - 13, 2005
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