By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A threat or an extension? Or both?

If I’m reading the morning papers correctly, then we learned two new things as the New York Times Co.’s 30-day (32-day?) deadline for the Boston Globe’s unions expired last night. (The Globe’s story is here; the Boston Herald’s here.)

First, the 30-day deadline has become a 90-day deadline. The Times Co. had threatened to shut the Globe today if its demands weren’t met. Instead, it has said it will file the legally required paperwork to close the paper in 60 days. Color this any way you like, but it looks to me as though Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (in photo) and company just tacked on two months, something they had previously indicated they would not do. Howard Kurtz reports in the Washington Post:

The move could amount to a negotiating ploy to extract further concessions from the Globe’s unions, since the notice does not require the Times Co. to close the paper after 60 days. The deadline, however, would put the unions under fierce pressure to produce additional savings, and the Boston Newspaper Guild promptly called the step a “bullying” tactic by the company.

OK, but wasn’t yesterday’s Globe supposed to be the final edition if management didn’t get what it wanted? This looks like more of a retreat than a “bullying” tactic. If the company’s rhetoric was to be believed, then it was going to stop publishing immediately and sort out the legalities later. That didn’t happen. Thus it looks like we get to go through this all over again in late June.

Second, perhaps management didn’t make a new demand, but it certainly clarified one of its demands. We’ve all been reporting that the company was seeking $20 million in union concessions, and that lifetime job guarantees for more than 400 employees somehow figured into that.

Now we know that the company is making two separate demands: $20 million in concessions, and an end to lifetime job guarantees. That presages much deeper cuts — which, unfortunately, makes sense, since the Globe is reportedly on track to lose $85 million this year.

The idea of lifetime job guarantees seems unsustainable at a time when the newspaper business is getting much, much smaller. Yes, I am a junior faculty member working toward tenure, which is often described as a lifetime job guarantee. But my understanding is that it’s easier to get rid of a tenured professor than it is a union member in the Globe’s so-called Book of Life. It could be that the only way to eliminate them is to throw the Globe into bankruptcy and let a judge void those provisions.

The New York Times today runs just a short story on the Globe negotiations, sticking to a pattern of undercovering what’s happening here. We talked about the lack of Times coverage (among other things) on “Beat the Press” last Friday. (The segment also features a wide-ranging interview with Globe editor Marty Baron, who tries makes up for the silence emanating from New York. Baron, in his subtle way, says some surprisingly tough things about Times Co. management.)

The Globe is the largest, most significant paper in the United States to face closure, yet it’s gotten less national attention than the shutdown of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, the number-two paper in a smaller media market. You’ve got to think the Times’ ability to set the news agenda has a lot to do with that.

Finally, a word about Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, the working stiff from Wellesley, who yesterday wrote yet another piece making fun of the Globe. I am a conflicted Howie fan. There are few columnists or talk-show hosts as talented and entertaining as Carr. But his juvenile-delinquent act has gotten tiresome.

For Carr to pretend that the Herald’s relative financial health is somehow evidence that the Herald has “won” is ludicrous. Weekday circulation of the Herald’s print edition is half that of the Globe’s, and the Herald is barely a factor on Sundays. According to Compete.com, the Globe’s Web site, Boston.com, drew nearly 5.5 million unique visitors in March, compared to nearly 1.1 million for BostonHerald.com.

Adam Gaffin has further thoughts about Howie.

The Herald’s coverage of the Globe’s troubles has been first-rate. Every morning, I rush to check BostonHerald.com to see what’s new. Carr’s sneering screeds only detract from that.

Photo of Arthur Sulzberger Jr. (cc) by JD Lasica and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Previous

Media Nation on the air

Next

It depends on what the meaning of “30 days” is

8 Comments

  1. Patricia of Trakai

    First of all, according to Media Nation itself, the 30-day threat came out on April 3, so 30 days later would be May 3, not May 1.As far as whether there’s a “retreat” because yesterday’s edition wasn’t the last ever … maybe some NYT lawyers made it clear between April 3 and May 3 that ignoring the WARN law would cost the NYT Co. a lot more than keeping the paper running for 60 more days. That bears some looking into.

  2. Peter

    “You’ve got to think the Times’ ability to set the news agenda has a lot to do with that.”Finally, some agreement about the media bias. It’s just that in this case, they are underreporting a story that the left cares about.

  3. rozzie02131

    When Scripps and Hearst made their first announcements about the Rocky and the P-I, they were paragraphs in most paper’s business briefs. I don’t think the stories got mountains of coverage until the closure was days away. It’s been very hard to believe the Globe is at that stage yet, and today’s WARN development only confirms that view. If things continue to move toward a July shutdown, it’ll be a bigger story. But by then, there could a lot of other top 20 market papers ready to join them.

  4. raccoonradio

    WBZ radio just ran poll results: under “if Boston only had to have one paper which one would you like it to be?” the Globe just edged out the Herald, 52-48. “Debble-dee-bee-zee” (as their newsreaders often call it) aired three sound bits from Globe boosters, two from Herald fans (“I used to buy the Globe years ago, but…)As far as the Globe’s poss. shutdown getting less attention nationally than expected, just check out Free Republic where there are many “die, Globe!” comments and threads being posted.And yes, the Herald’s coverage of all this is great. How much coffee did Jessica Heslam have to consume during the coverage of the all-night talks!

  5. Ani

    I agree with you, Patricia of Trakai, about the relative costs of shutting down immediately and compliance, and can easily picture exasperated lawyers trying to rein in an intemperate client. On the other hand, I can also imagine that it has been part of the strategy all along.Remember when Obama at his last news conference, I think it was, said something about his being surprised at how legislators couldn’t seem to drop the adversarial political stuff even in a time of crisis? I feel that way about all the sides in this dispute, the crisis being the general health of newspapers. “A house divided against itself …”

  6. NewsHound

    Howie Carr is having a lot of fun making a lot of money being a little silly and ludicrous. It’s a wonderful life for Howie.As for the Globe and its unions – – – surely this is a cat and mouse game now. With technology innovations and declining circulation, newspapers no longer have universally competitive, price effective advertising rates and obviously not the rates that will support union costs at the Boston Globe aside from the millions paid to executives and directors. If the unions do not surrender to the Times operating closer to break even – maybe even at a small profit they will most likely liquidate these assets but I wonder who in the world could be in the market for a used, major daily newspaper printing press in 2009. The real estate is another story.I still wonder how much of the earlier $85 million is for depreciation, amortization and debt interest.

  7. NewsHound

    There is a very strong chance The Globe will end this year. Regardless, many papers are ending and this is a tragedy. There are many other opportunities for obtaining news and as such, no longer economically efficient.The tragedy is that they have been a way of life since prior to the beginning of this nation. To me newspapers have represented our greatest and most important freedom – the idealism that when we serve in the military in time of war or pledge to the flag it is in the spirit of preserving freedom of the press – our very most protective freedom.Newspapers have kept government more honest – from the smallest town villages to the federal government. That is what is so important to our civilization, aside from the loss of the funnies. As Warren Buffet says – newsppers no longer have essential pricing power.

  8. Ron Newman

    So far, all the papers that have ‘ended’ were secondary papers in their markets. If the Globe (or the San Francisco Chronicle) ‘ended’ that would be a very different thing.I too am now confused about the 30- vs 32-day thing.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén