April 6, 2012
BOSTON — The Boston Herald has had its share of struggles over the years. The paper almost shut down in 1984; more recently, it's had to lay off dozens of editorial people and all the delivery drivers. But publisher Pat Purcell is optimistic about the future now that the paper has moved out of its old headquarters and revamped its news-gathering model.
Out with the old ...
He won't miss the mice or the mold, but Purcell was a little nostalgic about what the old building at One Herald Square meant to him.
"It was really, really something for me to, as a guy coming up on the business side, to have Ted Kennedy, Joan Kennedy, governors, other senators, presidential candidates come through the building. It was really amazing," he said.
After 53 years Purcell and his team have packed all those memories away, moving to new digs on the waterfront across from the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. As Purcell took me into a humming newsroom, he gestured to all the open space: "We looked at a lot of spaces where there were these partitions and, you know, if it’s 6 feet or 8 feet it doesn’t matter — it’s a wall, it’s a barrier. I wanted to eliminate all the barriers to communication."
... In with the news
The wide-open space is now home to the Herald's print, web and video reporters and editors, who now sit side-by-side at long open desks. Gone are the barriers between departments.
There are still sections in the paper, "but the idea that we could lead the paper with an entertainment story or a sports story is a new approach and one that I think is innovative and points us in the right direction," Purcell said.
Granted, he acknowledged, "the advertising model is lagging" for online properties. But all media outlets face the same problem — and, Purcell said, his audience is larger than ever. Despite drastic declines in print circulation, the Herald gets about 4 million readers a month, most of those online.
No more dead trees?
In fact, Purcell can even imagine a day with no newsprint at all.
"Back in, I think it was 1988, 1989, I was at News Corp. and we were contemplating what newspapers or what the newspaper industry was going to be like with computerization," he said. "One of the guys who was a big, big proponent of online and computerization said we have to stop chopping down trees and smearing ink on them."
The Herald has already shed its 50-year-old printing presses. Purcell admitted it was hard asking his rival The Boston Globe to print his paper — an arrangement that began in January — but said that in the end, it was just a business deal..
"I came to the realization that we are in the information business a long time ago," he said. "I didn’t need to be in the production business, I didn’t need to be in the distribution business."
As for those persistent rumors that the Herald is on its last legs, Purcell just laughed at them.
"People at the Globe tell me they used to predict the budget for our demise almost every year," he said. "It's pretty gratifying that we’re still here …we’ll keep pushing the envelope and hopefully good things will happen."
Here’s to a two-newspaper town.