With 2009 drawing to a close, it’s now possible to say something that would have been inconceivable six months ago: the New York Times Co. is still the owner of the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, and is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
Was it all a dream? Starting last spring, and stretching well into the summer, there was nothing but tumult. First the Times Co. demanded — and ultimately got — $20 million in concessions from the Globe’s unions. The drama was high, as management threatened to shut down the paper if the unions refused to meet its demands, while the Boston Newspaper Guild — by far the largest union at the Globe — rejected one set of concessions before finally bowing to the inevitable.
Then the Times Co. put both papers on the market. And, for a while, it looked like a significant restoration was in the works. A group headed by former Globe executive Steve Taylor emerged as a leading would-be possible buyer for the Globe, and former T&G editor Harry Whitin looked like he might be moving into the publisher’s office at his old paper.
But Times Co. executives decided to hold on to the Globe. Then, yesterday, they announced that the T&G was no longer for sale, either.
No doubt the papers were pulled off the market for a variety of reasons, both good and bad. Costs are down, circulation revenue is up thanks to a hefty price increase and, overall, the financial picture at both papers appears to be brighter than it was a year ago. On the other hand, is there any doubt that both papers would have been sold if Arthur Sulzberger and company had been able to get what they considered to be a fair price?
With things more or less the same as they ever were, members of the community have a right to feel as though they’ve been jerked around. It would be a good idea if the Times Co. devoted 2010 to rebuilding the Globe’s and the T&G’s ties to the community.
Naming Chris Mayer to be the Globe’s next publisher (he’ll have responsibilities for the Telegram & Gazette as well) was a smart first step. He’s energetic, he’s rooted in Greater Boston and he seems far more likely to be a presence on the local scene than his recent predecessors have been.
But both papers have a long way to go if they are to recover from the wounds they’ve suffered — wounds that are largely characteristic of what the entire industry is going through, but some of which were self-inflicted. The best thing the Times Co. can do next year in these parts is to make itself invisible.