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: In some ways, the columns seem to be animated by that sort of thing, that there was an agenda. That you had something to say, things you wanted people to be aware of, powerful people you wanted to be held accountable. It wasn’t driven by that?
Barnicle: Not really, no, because I think one of the most difficult things to do. You can make people laugh. You can make people cry. But I think it’s a bridge too far to make people think. If they do, if they think about it, if they pause for a second, and think about something you’ve written, then that’s a real bonus. But to get into it, thinking, “I’m going to make them think about this one…” It never worked for me.
Burnett: Could you do it three times a week, if you had to?
Barnicle: I could do it seven days a week. Still today. I am constantly amazed at the number of people who think I’m on vacation. The people who call me with story ideas, or something that happened to them or some injustice, no exaggeration, on the average of four or five times a week, I’ll bump into someone at the airport, at the ballpark or wherever who says, “You know, you wrote a thing about my brother-in-law, or my father.” On the average of a couple of times a week, I’ll get calls from someone who says, “Hey, Mike, my kid’s having a tough time and something happened to him…”
Burnett: Giving you a tip, or pitching you for a piece. So the material would be there, clearly. Back to the newspaper industry, because you’ve got strong opinions about it, and I thought your comments were particularly relevant to the Globe… What should it be? If someone said to you, “Here’s the keys,” what do you do?
Barnicle: I don’t know if I would be doing a whole lot of things differently than what they’re doing right now. I think Marty Baron is a terrific newspaper editor. It’s a struggle each and every day to put that product out, given the diminishing resources, given the lack of energy that exists around the entire industry, given the cutbacks. I don’t know that I would be doing anything a whole lot differently. It’s still a pretty good looking paper. We get it in New York at 6 o’clock in the morning. Good-looking paper today. I have no idea how many people are in that newsroom today, but I’ll bet you it’s less than half the people who were in the newsroom 10 years ago. So, finding people who can write now, maybe a couple of stories a day, as opposed to a 10-15 years ago, people who would take 3-4 days to write one story. That’s tough. It’s a tough job.
I might try to beef it up with a little more humor. I might actually go over to the Lampoon and hire a couple of kids and have a “funny thing happened to me yesterday” page. Because at some point, if you don’t start attracting people your age to look at the paper, to buy the paper, then it is going to disappear, and it is going to only be online. So you have to keep thinking about ways to get new readers. And I’m not talking about 52-year-old guys who moved here from Battle Creek, Michigan. I’m talking about kids who go to school here, who might pick it up for the sports page, and eventually stay here, maybe live here, to get them to keep buying the printed product.