The tentative deal between the New York Times Co. and the Boston Newspaper Guild over wage and benefit cuts at the Boston Globe (here, here and here) comes in the midst of unprecedented economic turmoil.
Oddly enough, that may be a positive sign for the future of the Globe, because it demonstrates that the newspaper industry’s problems can’t be attributed solely to the Internet.
Take a look at today’s Globe. The state’s landmark universal-health-insurance program is being cut, and state treasurer Tim Cahill is calling for even deeper cuts. Homeless families are crowding motels. Harvard University is laying people off. The Twin Rivers casino in Rhode Island is heading for bankruptcy. (Take note, Gov. Patrick.) Housing prices continue to drop. Local merchants are hoping to rescue the bankrupt Faneuil Hall Marketplace. And on and on it goes.
In a perverse sense, though, these are all good signs for the Globe. In recent months we’ve heard a lot about the hopeless situation faced by major metropolitan newspapers. Much of their readership has moved online, but advertising hasn’t. And though charging readers for online content would surely be a boon, there are many good reasons to think people won’t pay.
But underlying the pessimism has been an unspoken assumption that current downward trends in print readership and ad revenue will continue until they converge at zero. That’s not going to happen. Somewhere there’s a stabilization point. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell has proven that it’s possible to get small enough to break even or earn a small profit. Surely the Globe can do the same. With a readership and ad base considerably larger than the Herald’s, the Globe also should be able to preserve most of its core mission, which is to cover the city and the region as aggressively and thoroughly as possible.
One person who should be feeling very good today is Guild president Dan Totten. As New York Times media reporter Richard Pérez-Peña reported on Monday, Totten has been criticized, rightly so, for keeping his members in the dark. And following the narrow defeat of the first deal a few weeks ago — a defeat that Totten encouraged — the phrase you most often heard about Totten was “in over his head.”
Today, though, Totten can rightfully be said to have gotten a better deal for his members. Yes, it still adds up to a $10 million giveback, and it still means the end of lifetime job guarantees for nearly 200 Guild members. But the total pay cut is lower (about 8 percent when a mandatory furlough is figured in, as opposed to about 10 percent in the first deal), which members will presumably find more palatable, even though cuts in benefits are deeper.
Neither side blinked. But Totten’s instinct that it was worth the pain of forcing management back to the bargaining table proved to be right.
Finally, the Globe’s report today includes some crucial numbers that have been missing from most of the coverage — that Globe reporters earn between $40,000 and $70,000 under the current contract. So let’s consider the impact of these various proposals on, say, a youngish reporter with a bit of experience, making $50,000.
- Under the proposal that the Guild rejected, her salary would drop to $45,000.
- Under the 23 percent pay cut that management unilaterally imposed after the “no” vote, she’d be making $38,500.
- And under the 8 percent total cut now being proposed, she’d make $46,000.
The agreement will be put to a vote on July 20, and though predictions can be futile, it’s hard to imagine that it won’t pass. I also wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a deal to buy the paper very shortly thereafter.
Overall, a very good day for the Globe, for its employees and for Boston.
More: The new deal is an improvement if you think that one of the messages coming out of the “no” vote was that folks would rather take a smaller pay cut even if it meant a larger cut in benefits. I should have acknowledged that that’s likely to be a controversial proposition. The Phoenix’s Adam Reilly is soliciting comments on that very point.