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Boston Herald Publisher Pat Purcell: ‘We’re Still Alive’

As the Boston Globe struggles to end major losses, the other daily newspaper in Boston is in the black. At a time that many newspapers are struggling, Boston Herald owner Pat Purcell has sold off some other papers to pay the Herald’s debts. Purcell says he struggles to control costs at the Herald, but that he’s optimistic about its future.

We recently sat down with Purcell in his office to discuss the future of newspapers in Boston and the country.

Bob Oakes: We’ve heard that the Herald is doing OK. Is that true, how’s the Herald doing?

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The Boston Herald is known for its flashy front pages. VOTE: What's your favorite Herald headline?

Pat Purcell: We’ve had a decent year. We ended up in the black. With everything else that’s going on in the industry, I’m very proud of the job that everyone’s done.

On the business side, what are the biggest things that you’ve done that have helped put you in the black — the biggest things in your mind?

When I owned the community newspapers, we had a lot of debt — the reason that the Herald has been able to do reasonably well the last two years is that we are debt-free.

Bigger picture: How do you think journalism has changed in America, especially newspaper journalism, in this financial crisis?

The idea that you can be all things to all people, and provide international and national news, to the extent that newspapers do today or did yesterday, is something that people are going to have to recognize they can’t do it anymore.

Our primary role going forward is going to be the best local news source we can possibly be. Whether or not that information is distributed over a printed page or over an electronic device, that is what’s going to continue to make us important in people’s lives.

It is no secret that every newspaper company in the country is struggling financially right now. And that is because we let the genie out of the bottle. We allowed our content to be distributed free of charge, and that late ’90s period where the Internet was getting a foothold and Google began was a period when newspapers were fat, dumb and happy.

Google has gone from no advertising revenue in 1998 to $20 billion in 2008. And that has come right out of the coffers of traditional media companies.

Editorially, the Herald is covering the city with about a third smaller staff than the Boston Globe.

[Laughs] That’s always been the case. We bring a unique perspective to our readers. We present stories in a way that is loud, it’s in your face, and that’s who we are.

You have kind of a big smile on your face right now. Not only are you comfortable in that loud, in-your-face role, you’re very pleased with it if I’m reading your face correct.

That’s absolutely true. I mean, it’s really fun to come to work every day.

Respond to a critic who might say, “OK, the Herald is loud. In some ways it’s kind of boisterous. But it’s not necessarily illuminating.”

We have many voices, we cover many stories, we give perspective on various issues — that is a special bit of information that you might not get anywhere else.

The Boston Globe’s owner, The New York Times, is trying to sell the paper. Are you hoping that there’s local ownership of the Globe?

I hope there’s ownership that recognizes what needs to be done. It’s been great fun competing. But there are ways in which we could be more efficient if we just agreed to cooperate with one another.

You know, we’re one of the few remaining two-newspaper cities in America.

Do you see Boston as continuing to be a two-newspaper town or will it one day, maybe soon, be a one-newspaper town? Can it sustain two dailies?

Well it has. Could the Boston Globe survive? Absolutely. And, you know, I hope it does. Could it be run differently? Should it be run differently? I think the answer to those are absolutely yes.

It’s important to too many people for it to be in the position that it’s in today.

Would you like to own the Globe? Or a piece of the Globe, with other partners?

I’ve got the Herald to run. And, you know, if somebody wants to deal with me, I’d be happy to deal with them.

Should we take that to mean that you’re not actively out there right now looking for partners to buy the Globe with?

That’s correct, I’m not.

Now let’s come back to the Herald. Give us, from Pat Purcell’s point of view, the future of the Herald in the near future, and then the long-term future.

We will continue to have our unique voice. We will continue to serve this community with the coverage and the opinions and the perspective that we provide. I’m an optimist by nature and I’m very practical about the way in which we run the business.

I have this front page from December of 1982 on the wall…

Which reads, “You Bet We’re Alive.”

“You Bet We’re Alive.” You know, that means a lot. And so, we’re still alive.

Pat Purcell, thanks a lot, appreciate it. Thanks for having us over to your office.

Thanks very much. I enjoyed the chat.

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