To read the Boston Globe’s account of cutbacks announced by the New York Times Co. yesterday – including 35 positions to be eliminated in the Globe newsroom – you’d think that newspaper analyst John Morton believes they are the inevitable consequence of rising costs and a softening economy. The Globe’s Christopher Rowland writes:
ROWLAND: US newspapers have been taking a beating on the price of newsprint, which has been rising 10 to 15 percent a year with another price increase due to take effect Oct. 1, said industry analyst John Morton, president of Morton Research Inc., of Silver Spring, Md.
“That, combined with advertising revenue not keeping pace with inflation, puts a profit squeeze on companies, and one of the ways you can alleviate that is laying off people,” he said.
But wait. In an article published by the Globe’s corporate big brother, the New York Times, Morton sounds like a fire-breathing populist, ready to lead the oppressed workers in a round of “Solidarity Forever.” Here’s how Katharine Seelye ends her story:
SEELYE: John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst, said that one of the many business and social trends working against newspapers was public ownership of newspaper companies.
“Wall Street appreciates cost-cutting and improving margins and increased profitability,” he said. “Those are the things that make them dance a jig at night. They put that kind of pressure on publicly owned companies, and newspapers are no more immune to that than anybody else. These cuts and layoffs are known as dancing to Wall Street’s tune.”
Whoa! I like that John Morton. Hold on, though. Because Frank Ahrens, in the Washington Post, captures yet another side of Morton. To wit:
AHERNS: Newspaper analyst John Morton, however, said that all media are suffering from an ad slump and that yesterday’s cuts do not yet sound the death knell for newspapers.
“In terms of what it’s doing to editorial staff, these are not horrible cuts,” Morton said. “All three of these papers have fairly fat staffs compared with most other papers, if you take the rule of thumb of one editorial employee for every 1,000 [in] circulation.” [The three papers Morton’s referring to are the Globe, the Times and Knight Ridder’s Philadelphia Inquirer, which also announced major cuts yesterday.]
Gee, that certainly doesn’t sound like the guy who mocked owners for “dancing to Wall Street’s tune.”
So which John Morton should we believe? I’ve interviewed Morton a number of times over the years, and have always found him to be consistently hard-headed in his business assessments, yet also consistently concerned about the effects that corporate ownership is having on newspaper quality. What we’re seeing here are both Mortons, albeit with each paper choosing which Morton it likes better.
I understand the need to pick a quote and run with it, and I understand that Morton isn’t the story. But it’s too bad that the neither Globe, the Times nor the Post offered enough Morton so that readers could fully understand his views.
(A brief pause for credit: Although I’d come up with the Globe-Times comparison on my own, I hadn’t known about Morton’s remarks to the Post before my morning read of Romenesko.)
Locally, Jay Fitzgerald of the Boston Herald has a rock-’em, sock-’em take on downsizing at the tabloid’s Expressway rival, writing:
FITZGERALD: The planned bloodletting cast a pall over the Globe’s newsroom. Some staffers were grumbling about Morrissey Boulevard’s news operation taking a far bigger hit, from a percentage standpoint, than the Times’ newsroom. The Times Co. will slash about 250 jobs from its flagship New York Times broadsheet, 45 of them within the Times’ newsroom.
This past spring, the Globe covered in endless detail a huge downsizing at the Herald, which cost that paper a quarter of its newsroom jobs. (So did I, mainly on Media Log at BostonPhoenix.com.) Now it’s payback time at One Herald Square.
A final observation: The Globe’s recently unveiled Sidekick section must cost something, no? Given that the daily entertainment guide still has virtually no advertising in it, wouldn’t it be a good idea to think about dumping it in order to save the jobs of a few people who cover actual news?