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More of the Commonplace

The Herald-Traveler and Record American, now on sale at all Boston newsstands

By Robert Decherd

YOU HAVE to be a careful operator to keep a newspaper solvent these days, and Harold Clancy, the chief executive of the Boston Herald-Traveler Corporation, has provided us the textbook case of neglect. Clancy spent so much time over the last decade in a challenge before the Federal Communications Commission trying to save the corporation's lucrative subsidiary, WHDH-TV, that he let the Herald Traveler slip into organizational disarray. Now, having lost the battle before the FCC, he has been forced to sell the Traveler to the Hearst Corporation, owner of the Boston Record American; a decade's inattention had left the paper wholly dependent on the television revenue of WHDH. Today, Boston has one less newspaper, one new television station (WCVB now broadcasts over channel 5, previously WHDH), and a lot of unemployed journalists.

The consolidation of the Record American and Herald Traveler--both children of mergers themselves--has caused considerable confusion for the two papers' loyalists. Most are trying to figure out what exactly has happened to their old favorite. Until June 18, when the Traveler ceased publication, Boston had three distinct newspaper readerships. The Globe did, and still does, hold the allegiance of card-carrying liberals and people who like nothing better than the good dirt on their local alderman (not to mention their next door neighbor). The Traveler represented Old Boston--the conservative establishment and the middle class working families who enjoy breakfast much more when the news is good news. The Record American, bless its tabloid soul, carried the numbers every day, ran lots of patriotic and sensational stories on subversives and fires, and generally catered to the city's hardcore working class people. But while the Record's editorial approach clearly came out on top in the latest merger, the transition destroyed the fibre by which Hub Area Readers identified their respective morning rags.

The first order of business when the Traveler folded was for the regulars at The Globe to recount old tales of covering stories with tenacious, but friendly, competitors from the Traveler whom they spent years trying to screw out of inside information. The Globe's management, still gasping at the relatively paltry $8.5 million price tag paid for the Traveler and its immense mechanical plant, mustered the good-naturedness to run a front-page editorial welcoming their new competitor. The Herald Traveler and Record American's publisher, Harold Kern, welcomed his paper into existence--also on the front page--with a four paragraph blurb reminiscent of copy composed by a disenfranchised PR man.

The Herald Traveler and Record American's big pitch is that by reading the paper you get Two for One (like Cert's, click-click): "Boston's 2 Great Newspapers Now One Greater Newspaper," read the message over the new banner on Monday and Tuesday. Unfortunately, the true character of the product is more a combination of the two papers' weak points. Many, if not most, of the Traveler's best writers left town for other jobs or joined The Globe. Some hooked up with WCVB. Some are still looking for work. Few of the Traveler's Old Guard wanted to be associated with the Record. So it is not surprising that the Record made much ado about the syndicated features it was picking up from the Herald Traveler. Probably the best thing Hearst retained was The New York Times News Service, but even that was not the bidding of The Times. Times's managing editor Abe Rosenthal wanted to give the news service to The Globe, but the publisher, Punch Sulzberger, had too many scruples to break the Herald's contract.

THE RECORD, for its part, sacrificed much of its personality in order to capitalize on its new plant. The old tabloid format went down the drain, along with the daily full front-page photo of The Drama of Everyday Life (kids' cats stuck in trees with firemen on the way; the near rescue of a suicide victim; the wreckage of the car and truck that crashed head-on at 80 mph, miraculously killing only seven out of eight occupants). The front-page maze of banner headlines luring readers to inside pages gave way to a single full-column headline atop the new paper; there will be no more 60 pt. "Reds Repelled in Viet Rocket Attack" leading to a five-inch AP story on Page 2.

Hub Area Readers will have to give the Cert's Special time to get settled before they know just what two for one has reaped. It would help readers adjust if the management did something about the new banner. Jammed in a two and a half inch space, the paper now carries the full name of both parents, an edition box, a silly little weather box with a pup and an umbrella for partly cloudy, a drenched little-leaguer for rain, and so on. Even sillier, the afternoon edition comes out with virtually the same material, but with the order of the banner reversed: instead of the morning Boston Herald Traveler and Boston Record American, it's the Boston Record American and Boston Herald Traveler. And the Luftwaffer eagle on the Record's must gives reason to think that the paper might fly out of your hands at any moment.

The selection of stories in the new paper reflects the Record's controlling interest. The Vendome fire provided strong front page copy for five days, and there were an appropriate number of "braves" interspersed in the accounts of the tragedy. The break-in at the Democrats' headquarters in Washington didn't see the front page except for a slugline "Dems Quarters Break-In" in the table of contents. Wire copy dominated news space, and there was little investigative material outside of trying to track down, no less, the Route 2 sniper. And the editors still love the Record dialect in headlines: "U.S. Confuses Red Radar, Cripples Red Air Defense." Not to mention the non-sequiturs like "List 29 Americans Dead in British Jet Crash" or "Hub Tolls Grief for 9 Firemen."

Somewhere along the consolidation line, the Record management hired a graphics "expert", no doubt to modernize the appearance of two for one. The result is a hodgepodge of old and new that serves mostly to clutter up the paper. There are so many boxes throughout the pages--particularly the editorial and society pages--that layouts resemble an architect's sketch for a high-rise complex, only with copy filling the gaps where windows and air should be. The editorial page is adorned with one of those snappy buglines that saturate the paper, "View Point," and if you can look at the page long enough to read it, you'll find that the editorial position is all Hearst and Record American. Not that the Herald was much different in content, but the tone was more guarded.

ONE NOTICEABLE difference is that the editorial positions are now surrounded by more dissenting opinion, compliments of the Herald Traveler's syndicated columnists. In fact, there are four full pages filled out by the stable of syndicates. Likewise, the society page is overrun with columnists, many formerly of Herald Traveler fame, and the two solid pages of comics challenge even the most adamant eight year old. The sports pages of either of the old papers were more sympathetic to Boston's own than The Globe, and this hasn't changed with merger. There's just more of it.

More of the commonplace everywhere. That may be the best way to describe Boston's newest newspaper. But so far, the more has not coalesced into the better. The Record and Herald has a long way to go before it endears itself to its readers, and is able to shirk the stigma of being the remnant of two familiar, and exquisitely distinct. newspapers.

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