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.