Free Globe

Working near the heart of the financial district in Boston, I’ve noticed what I believe is a new phenomenon. Just about every day, I can get either the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, or the New York Times for free. The Globe usually has a cover page reflecting a sponsor of the free newspaper (most often my recent alma mater), but the Herald and Times are just plain free, the same version you can buy for $0.25 to $1.00 at the vending machine on the corner.

One theory is that they are trying to put Metro out of business, and then they’ll stop their freebies (potentially an antitrust “dumping” violation if this is really the plan). Metro is a short, free newspaper that has been popping up in cities all over the world (they apparently only provide PDF versions of their paper on their website). The quality of the writing is terrible, but it’s short, and, well, free. For many commuters, it’s all they have time to read on the train anyway. It’s interesting how often people (myself included) will chose something much worse because it’s free, rather than pay $0.25 for a real paper, which in this day and age is also basically “free” if you earn a reasonable salary. This is perhaps also the appeal of the shoddy camcorder versions of current-run movies that circulate on peer-to-peer file sharing networks.

Another theory is that the papers make so little money from vendor sales (versus advertising) that the increased circulation from free giveaways actually increases advertising revenue more than the lost sales. Most cultural weeklies have gone this way—I remember when I first moved to Boston I accidentally stole the Boston Phoenix a couple of times before I realized that it actually cost money. Shortly thereafter they made it free and my guilt was assuaged.

There’s been a lot of talk about near-zero-cost publishing on the web and the impact on copyright, creativity, and the dissemination of information. But could it be that “real” publishing is also becoming so cheap that the same issues arise there? People are rarely willing to pay for standard news content online, perhaps the same is becoming true offline.

NPR Discovers the Weblog

I expect other bloggers share my slight irritation when the traditional media run a story about the “blogging phenomenon.” On Sunday morning, NPR Weekend Edition interviewed New York Times correspondent Matthew Klam who had a story in the Sunday Times Magazine about blogging and the election. Two of the more inane questions (from memory) were:

  • Are some bloggers more trusted than others?
  • Why do you think bloggers are having a bigger effect in this election than in 2000?

The New York Times writer’s answer were almost as inane. He commented that in 2000, a lot of bloggers were still hand-coding HTML.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I would just prefer that they leave us alone. Let us do our thing, and let them do their thing.

I’m also struggling with the question of how an associate in a fairly sizable law firm can continue blogging. I know some of my readers are partners or solo practioners who don’t have to be as concerned about discretion; but what about for those of us low on the totem poll. Any suggestions?