Top of Mind: Mike Barnicle
Is it possible Mike Barnicle is still the most obsessed-about journalist in town? One could make the case: Consider the fuss when he joined Jack Connors and Jack Welch in trying to buy the Globe, and the further fuss that followed his rumored job talks with WBUR. Meanwhile, more than a decade after losing his marquee Globe column for sins against journalism, Barnicle is a fixture on NBC and MSNBC, and fields assignments from Newsweek and Time. On 12/5 at the Charles Hotel, he talked with Boston about those projects—and shared his thoughts on a few other topics, too.
Burnett: Any columnists you consider a must read?
Barnicle: My friend Steve Lopez at the L.A. Times. I think pound-for-pound, he is the single best newspaper columnist going—city columnist. I think Kevin [Cullen]’s doing a good job [at the Globe]. But I don’t know that a lot of publishers want columnists.
Burnett: Well, it’s part of the Globe’s DNA.
Barnicle: If you look around a lot of newspapers, they’re in such critical shape. I don’t think a lot of publishers are looking for city columnists, metro columnists, someone to mix it up.
Burnett: Why not? Purely financial, or something deeper?
Barnicle: I think it probably is something deeper, and I’m not smart enough to figure it out, or see that deep. Part of it is financial, part of it is, I think one of the problems with the newspaper industry is that it’s run by a bunch of old white guys, and they think like old white guys. They’re just getting over the fact that TV is here to stay. They haven’t even gotten to the Internet, and what that’s doing to their business. And you know, it’s jump ball every day at four o’clock. What are we going to be tomorrow? And I’m not just talking this city. Other than the Times and the Post, and the Wall Street Journal, it’s: What are we going to be tomorrow? Are we going to be a city paper? A regional paper? What are we going to do about Condoleezza Rice in Mumbai? Where do we put it? On page one? On three? We have that great story about a baby being born on the middle of the Mass Pike. That’s a reader.
And the larger issue obviously is there is, and they’ll have to find a way to cope with it, is there’s no more news. You get it on your belt buckle. Fifteen seconds after it happens. Your toaster. Your blender. You’ve got 600 channels at home. That morning paper, the people who go out to the end of the driveway or to go into the variety store, to pick up that paper, they all look like Wilford Brimley. And these old white guys running these papers haven’t figured that out. They haven’t figured out that three blocks from here you have the Harvard Crimson, the Harvard Lampoon. And over there, hire some 23-year old kids, but bring them back into the building, show them a desk, take their phone away. Shut their phone off, and say “Hey kid, it’s 10 o’clock in the morning. Go out the door. Come back at five with a story.” And the kid will say, “What kind of a story?” Any fucking story. A story. Go get a story. Don’t sit here and call people up. Go get a story. Go ride the train. Go sit in the Boston Common. Watch people pass by. Try to imagine what they do for a living. Why is the guy wearing one brown shoe and one black shoe? Why is the 65-year old guy carrying a school bag? Why is the nurse crying sitting on the bench? Go write a story. People like to read about people. That’s never going to change.
Burnett: That’s something you obviously used to do. Collecting stuff. You’re still writing, but do you miss that stuff?
Barnicle: Yes, I do miss it. I was younger then, I like people. I still do it, I don’t write about it a whole lot, but I still do that sort of thing. I did it yesterday. I was in Greenwich Village, at a place called Viceroy, at 18th and 8th, sitting in there, having a cup of coffee with someone, just shooting the shit. Yeah, I miss the interaction that there used to be. I miss a lot of the people who are no longer in the business. I miss what the business used to be. I am glad it’s still around, I hope it’s around forever. I sometimes have my doubts. But the answer is yes. I don’t miss seeing my name in the paper.
Burnett: Why not?
Barnicle: I don’t know. I never really get a high out of it, the way some people do, I never sat there and thought, “I’ll show ‘em” or “I’ll change things” or “this will have an impact.” I never thought like that. In some ways I think I’m fortunate that I never thought like that.