Correction to This Article
An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that Atlanta has two newspapers with the same owner. The combined Atlanta Journal-Constitution is now a single newspaper.

Boston's Scrappy Herald, Screaming for Readers

Boston Herald Editor Kevin Convey, with his office poster of Che Guevara.
Boston Herald Editor Kevin Convey, with his office poster of Che Guevara. (By Bizuayehu Tesfaye Via Associated Press For The Washington Post)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 28, 2008

BOSTON -- Kevin Convey is proud of that morning's screaming front-page headline.

"HONEY, I DUCT-TAPED THE KIDS!" blares the Boston Herald, describing a local mother accused of mistreating her young children and posting the photos on MySpace.

"Tabloids in some cases say what other papers only think," says Convey, the Herald's editor, whose office faces a freeway separating the paper's unfashionable neighborhood from the blue-collar enclave of Southie. "If you don't have fun putting out a tabloid, you're brain-dead."

Convey may be having a grand time, but his paper is hurting, its daily circulation having shrunk to 203,000 (compared with 384,000 for the Boston Globe), and just 113,000 on Sunday. He is down to a scrappy band of 10 city reporters, beyond those in the features, business and sports sections.

As a severe advertising downturn continues to squeeze even the country's elite newspapers -- the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times have all been cutting staff -- it could decimate the No. 2 papers in the handful of cities still fortunate enough to have them. And that has sparked a debate here about whether an increasingly upscale Boston still wants, or needs, a tabloid.

Putting aside markets where two papers either have the same owner (Philadelphia, Atlanta) or share business operations with federal approval (Detroit, Seattle, Denver), the only remaining major cities with head-to-head competition are New York, Washington, Chicago and, to a lesser extent, Los Angeles (where the Daily News editor quit this month after 22 of his 122 staffers were cut). The parent company of the Chicago Sun-Times is looking for a buyer after former owner Conrad Black's conviction for fraud and obstruction of justice. The Washington Times is a money-losing operation subsidized by members of the Unification Church. And the New York Post, awash in red ink, thrives only because of the deep pockets of owner Rupert Murdoch.

It was Murdoch who rescued what had been the Herald-American in 1982, buying the paper from Hearst hours after the building was shut down, leaving some staffers in tears. "It was like Fleet Street around here," Convey recalls. "The place was flooded with Englishmen." Twelve years later, to regain the local Fox TV station that federal regulators had forced him to unload, Murdoch sold the paper to his publisher, Patrick Purcell.

But as this city becomes more of a technology, banking and medical center, who exactly is the Herald's audience?

"It's almost as if Boston doesn't have a place for its second daily anymore," Boston magazine columnist Joe Keohane wrote recently, particularly one that features a constant parade of "pervs, solons, swindlers, bums and punks."

Convey, who keeps a poster of Che Guevara in his office, says the problems facing his guerrilla operation are not directly linked to the shrinking of the city's working class. Still, he says, "a lot of people find tabloids to be beneath them. In Boston, where the air is a bit more rarefied and you're closer to Harvard, some people have a problem with tabloids. I think there's a certain nobility in tabloids."

Says Herald columnist Howie Carr: "I don't think it's that Massachusetts has become snootier. The old Herald readers are just leaving the state. The blue-collar exodus has affected the paper."

An increasingly crowded media marketplace has been strangling also-ran newspapers since the Washington Star, Philadelphia Bulletin and Chicago Daily News vanished into history a quarter-century ago. The Cincinnati Post, which closed at year's end, is the latest second-place paper to bite the dust.

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