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: The question that’s relevant here I guess is how you feel about it. Is it the Times Company coming in and being corporate raiders of a kind? The Taylor family [the Globe’s founding owners] being greedy at the time, not anticipating where this would go? How it’s been diminished, now it’s a satellite.
Barnicle: I never sat around the table with the Taylor family and the [then co-owning] Jordan Trust, so I don’t know what pressures were brought to bear upon [former publisher] Bill Taylor to sell that paper. I understand it was pretty complex, with certain members of the family wanting to get out of the newspaper business. I think the Times bought the paper with the best of intentions, obviously. They’re a great newspaper company. Think about it, it was 1993, we might as well be talking about.
Burnett: It certainly feels that way: different era, different era. Do you have a relationship with the family at all?
Barnicle: With the Taylors? Yeah. I used to see [former publisher] Ben Taylor. I haven’t seen him in several months. Bill Taylor I never see.
Burnett: Is it possible today for someone to have the influence, the readership and the audience that you once had?
Barnicle: I don’t think so. I think, in a 10-year span, when you think about the power and the reach of the Internet, basically it didn’t exist 10 years ago. When you think about the influence of the cable news channels: it was CNN, and Fox had just started, MSNBC had just started. They basically were not relevant in terms of news gathering, news dispensing, news devouring, ten years ago. BlackBerrys basically weren’t around. Cell phone news was in its very early stages. If you had 15 channels on your cable, you were thrilled.
Burnett: I guess I’m wondering, for columnists, someone to sort it all out for you, someone to bring a singular voice, that’s a different thing. Seems to me. at least, none of those things compete exactly with what a columnist can do.
Barnicle: Well yeah, but you have to break through all of that clutter, and there’s a whole lot more clutter now then there was then. A whole lot more clutter. Just look at the numbers. The Sunday paper was doing around 800,000. What does it do today? 500,000 maybe? The daily paper was doing 500,000 then, what does it do today, 300,000? Just the numbers alone would tell you that it’s going to be tougher today to do it. I still think the biggest obstacle to that is all of the other things that are out there competing for people’s attention. It was far easier to get people’s attention for something you wrote or something that happened years ago, than it is today.