In news, you get what you pay for

The Spotlight movie, which focuses on the efforts of the eponymous investigative team at the Boston Globe credited with triggering the worldwide outrage over the clergy sex abuse scandal, is getting rave reviews for its taut writing, attention to detail, and superb acting.

But among those in the news industry, it’s also being acclaimed for something that often goes unnoticed by news consumers: the resources that were committed to flesh out the deeply buried information. The movie shows what can be done when news operations at their best allow their reporters and editors to do their jobs with full backing.

But that was almost 15 years ago and a lot has changed in the news business, mostly a lack of money brought on by plummeting subscriptions and plunging ad revenue. As more and more readers go to the Internet for news, their expectations on cost have dropped as well; most don’t want or expect to pay for it.

As newsrooms continue to shrink and those who remain learn to deliver their product in new and inviting forms, the business side of newspapers, especially legacy media, is groping for ways to find revenues to keep the content up to the quality that has marked their existence for generations.

Pop-up ads, full-screen takeovers, even the Google ads placed down the sides or in stories do little to up the bottom line. Ad-blocking software is being offered to smartphone and tablet users, increasingly the prime visitors to news sites, to defeat the efforts to get eyes for advertisers and dollars for journalism. Increasingly, media outlets are turning to “native advertising,” those pieces that look, read, and talk like a news story but are, in fact, paid advertisements produced outside the newsroom by the business side.

The Globe launched its most recent effort last week with a story about do-it-yourselfers who turned their hobby into a business.The piece was different in appearance with a different font than the news stories on the page and was set off with a clearly marked “Sponsored by Rockland Trust.” A tag on the story says “This content was produced by Boston Globe Media in collaboration with the advertiser. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.”

What’s interesting about the Globe‘s new effort is that it is being run by Andrew P. Gully, the former longtime managing editor at the Boston Herald whose nose for hard news was legendary in the city. Gully wrote the DIY piece, giving it some gravitas as well as the touch of an experienced reporter, which he was for about 20 years.

The New York Times has become a leader in native advertising, running its 100th sponsored content piece recently. The Times runs multimedia pieces, incorporating interactive graphics and videos to try to attract clicks and up the revenue. It appears to be working, with digital advertising revenue up 18 percent in the latest quarter, though still just a fraction on what it used to — and to some extent still does — pull in for the dead tree ads.

But the native advertising comes with dangers, especially for old-time readers and journalists worried about the line being blurred. Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan heard some concerns from readers that they felt duped to click on a story they thought was legitimate news only to find it was an ad. The pieces were on a strip under a banner titled “Stories from our advertisers.” Readers complained that it indicated the links were real news stories by real reporters, only to find out they were real commercials. One reader wrote the Times “will seriously Kardashian its reputation by crossing this line.”

Sullivan talked with the Times digital revenue officers, who had already planned to drop the “Stories” from the banner, so it merely reads “From our advertisers.” But Sullivan, herself a longtime veteran of newsrooms, understands the need for money to run a credible operation while also acknowledging the “fine line” media outlets have to walk.

“There is, however, an inherent problem: If native ads look too much like journalism, they damage credibility; if they look nothing like journalism, they lose their appeal to advertisers,” she writes.

There will always be those of the “information wants to be free” cult but it also comes with a caveat: You get what you pay for.



As the House dithers, the debate over the state’s solar power support system heats up.(State House News)

On the topic of dithering, Scot Lehigh fears legislation to beef up the state’s anemic public records law has fallen into a black hole otherwise known as the Speaker Robert DeLeo‘s House of Representatives. (Boston Globe)


Hingham’s $40,000 investigation into who sent town officials an anonymous letter takes a new turn and a report prepared by private investigators indicates the town is riven by rival political factions. (CommonWealth) The Hingham Journal catches up with the story.

More roadblocks for IndyCar, reports the Herald‘s Joe Battenfeld, who says a major convention booked for Labor Day weekend in 2018 would preclude the race from taking place then. (Boston Herald)

A woman’s body found in Chelmsford is confirmed as a missing woman from Lowell. (The Sun) In Plymouth, the body of a Malden teen who had been reported missing was found washed ashore on an isolated peninsula. (Patriot Ledger)


Gov. Charlie Baker says he’s “convinced” fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel are legal and aren’t a form of gambling. (Boston Globe) Columnist Duel: Joan Vennochi asks why Attorney General Maura Healey, a strong casino gambling opponent,seems so reluctant to move to try to shut down fantasy sports sites in the state. Shirley Leung says thank God Healey is taking a go-slow approach and not going at them in the no-holds-barred manner of her New York counterpart, Eric Schneiderman. (Boston Globe) A Herald editorial sides with Healey and also pans Schneiderman’s move. Though Baker and Healey both say the sites should be able to operate, she differs with him by saying they are a form of gambling, setting the stage for a debate about what sort of regulation the sites should come under, writes the HeraldMatt Stout. The Berkshire Eagle argues that the sites should be regulated.

Wynn Resorts wants to built a footbridge that would span the Mystic River and provide an easy 10-minute walk from the Assembly Square T station in Somerville to its Everett casino. The plan would appear to help mitigate at least some of the concerns about casino traffic overwhelming the area, but Somerville’s mayor, Joe Curtatone, a fervent casino opponent, says it’s a bridge too far. (Boston Globe)


Racist incidents are turning American college campuses into powder kegs. (Washington Post)

Governing examines kid-friendly cities and finds many of the nation’s urban areas, including Boston, aren’t so friendly. Roughly one of every five households in Boston have children, which is on a par with San Francisco and Seattle. In Laredo, Texas, by contrast, one of every two households has children.

A US airstrike on an ISIS stronghold in Syria appears to have killed “Jihadi John,” the masked English-speaking terrorist who has appeared on several videos showing beheadings. (New York Times)


With just three months before the kickoff Iowa caucuses, there is growing anxiety within the GOP establishment about Donald Trump and Ben Carson and bewilderment about how to defeat them. (Washington Post) Meanwhile, Trump goes after Carson big time. (Washington Post)

President Obama says Trump’s immigration plan is not realistic. (Time)

Duxbury attorney Brian Cook announced his candidacy as an independent for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Robert Hedlund, who was elected mayor of Weymouth. (Patriot Ledger)

Gov. Charlie Baker is moving to put his imprint on the state Republican committee by backing more moderate candidates for posts, a move likely to anger the party’s conservative wing. (Boston Globe)

The Massachusetts House set March 1, 2016, for the special election to fill the state representative seat in Brockton when now-Sen. Michael Brady won his current seat. (The Enterprise)

Latinos are making inroads into elected office in Massachusetts, but remain underrepresented relative to their share of the population. (Boston Globe)


Surging land costs are combining with high labor and material costs to send housing costs in Boston soaring, a situation that is precluding virtually any construction of more reasonably-priced housing, according to a new report from the Boston Foundation. (Boston Globe)

The Gloucester Marine Genomics Institute appears to be gaining traction, which could bring life to the city’s waterfront. (Gloucester Times)

Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, has opened one store in Boston and plans another for Hingham. (Boston Business Journal)

High job openings but low hiring rates indicates there is a mismatch between jobs and skills in the nation, according to Department of Labor report. (U.S. News & World Report)


State education commissioner Mitchell Chester formally recommends that the state develop a new assessment that incorporates elements of MCAS and the Common Core-aligned PARCC test. (CommonWealth)

Marty Meehan formally takes the reins of the UMass system, the first product of that system to do so. (The Sun)

Greater Boston takes a look at Gradifi, a startup website that aims to get businesses to contribute to their employees’ student loan debt by paying a monthly amount to knock down the accumulated interest.


Doctors at Cleveland Clinic are near a breakthrough that will allow them to transplant a uterus into women who cannot conceive. (New York Times)

Tom Keane isn’t going to pay attention to Boston’s new grading system for restaurants. (WBUR)


US Rep. Steve Lynch isn’t happy about new flight patterns that are taking hundreds of planes (and their noise) right over the homes of constituents of his Milton — and Mike Deehan reports that he’s playing a little Southie hardball with the FAA to draw the agency’s attention to the matter. (WGBH)

After removing “dubious” voters, the MBTA announces new train car designs. (WBUR)


New Bedford officials reached an $8.5 million settlement with the owners of a former waste site near an old railroad yard to clean up PCBs at the contaminated site, the largest such settlement in the city’s history. (Standard-Times)

Solar power is making utilities nervous. (Christian Science Monitor)


A Sharon psychiatrist has agreed to pay more than $360,000 in fines and restitution after the Attorney General’s office alleged he took advantage of addicts by charging them for an opioid addiction treatment that was already covered by their MassHealth insurance plan. (Patriot Ledger)

A New Hampshire mother and two others are charged in connection with the fentanyl overdose death of the woman’s 17-year-old daughter. (Boston Herald)