Saturday, April 04, 2009

Boston Globe to shut down? Get a grip

The shocking banner headline today reporting the potential demise of the Boston Globe is greatly exaggerated.

The story not only was vastly overplayed but also may serve to unnecessarily damage the newspaper’s already weakened business. The editors, who evidently let emotion overcome their news judgment, should have known better.

While it is unfortunate that the continuing deterioration of the newspaper business is forcing publishers to take previously unthinkable measures to reduce operating costs, it is not the least bit unusual in this toxic economy for the management at a newspaper – or an automaker or any of dozens of other businesses – to ask for concessions from its employees.

The only shock in the news from the Globe is that the New York Times Co. wants only $20 million in concessions from its unions to help offset an expected $85 million operating loss. Given the magnitude of the projected deficit for 2009, the target is surprisingly low.

The givebacks were demanded at a meeting with union leaders on Thursday morning, where NYT Co. threatened to close the paper unless it the cuts are rapidly approved.

Addressing more modest budget shortfalls at the Newark Star-Ledger and San Francisco Chronicle, the respective publishers of each paper extracted concessions of approximately $40 million and $50 million from their unions.

Tough as this will be for employees whose pay, benefits or retirement are cut – not to mention those who lose their jobs altogether – the concessions being sought at the Globe appear to be relatively moderate as these things go.

The Globe’s editors should have recognized this. They would have been well within their rights to publish a story about the management demands and the union response, but they went off the deep end in deciding to top today’s front page with a fat, two-line banner.

Not only are they unnecessarily alarming readers and Globe employees but they also may have harmed the newspaper’s business prospects.

The headline is almost sure to be used by salespeople for competing media to encourage merchants to diversify their advertising spend so they are not over-dependent on the Globe in the event the paper were to succumb.

While few of us dare predict what will happen next in the ongoing drama of the newspaper industry, it seems highly unlikely that NYT Co. would walk away from its $1.1 billion investment in the Globe without trying a few more tricks to save the business.

The Globe may stop spinning some day. But not yet.


Blogger Unknown said...

Oh, I'd say given the drain, if the Times Company could pay anybody to take over this albatross (as, for example, Tribune Company paid Robert Maxwell $60 million to take the NY Daily News off its hands), it would.

No, Alan, I've heard chatter that says a shut down or the Globe is not so out of the question, including those who've been pushing for years to hive off printing and distribution.

Part of the issue for the strategic position of the parent company today is not just the operating loss but the liability of the shutdown cost.

I know I can be accused of being too pessimistic about the fate of print and you too optimistic (and flip those positions on online) but I at least have to defend the news judgment of the editors of the Globe. Was this a negotiating move? Of course. But it's a credible threat. See your backyard at the Chron.

9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can add. The Times spent $1.1 billion to acquire The Globe. The Times is now $1.1 billion in debt. Duh!

The same with the formerly profitable L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune. Zillionaires overspend to take over a company, load it with debt, then complain because the paper now makes no money.

The shame is that so many good newspapers will become casualties of takeover fever.

-- Albert Park
San Rafael, CA

6:16 PM  
Blogger Burks said...

Its a good headline. Besides, its The News. It will increase their renown, increase their circulation, as it initiates the next round of gravitas and substantial reckoning.
Far from a "bargaining strategy," the Times has just told their kids the dog died. (Interesting to see such liberal watchdogs struggling with unions.) How many times have we seen unions assured their members "this is only a bargaining strategy" as they blew their own brains out with their own intransigence? We're only part way into this recession, and the Times is optimistic about seeing Obama turn things around. But there will be more consessions to come.
Get a grip? Yes, indeed. But get a real grip.

Mark Burks
Warsaw, IN

8:03 PM  
Blogger asnet said...

Something important is being lost in the talk: the Globe has become a major national newspaper superior to its parent in many ways. In editing, writing quality and style it is much better than the Times. Degrading it or shutting it would be a great loss.

11:02 PM  
Blogger DANIELBLOOM said...

I agree, that was a stupid headline to put on their own paper. talk about burning their own bridges and letting their readers down! think poz, not negative. the stupidest headline in the Globe ever. ouch.

i liked Matthew Storin's take in the Ap article by Verna Dobnik of AP, he said it was part of a deal to get lower price for sale NYT was planning to a third party,,,,

by the way, Alan, did you get my notes abotu the word SCREENING replacing READING For reading online? what is you reax?

3:31 AM  
Blogger DANIELBLOOM said...

Matt Storin, who was the editor of the Globe when the Times purchased it, said he was shocked and saddened when he saw Friday's headline. The threat to close it "is obviously a negotiating tactic, but one that has to be taken seriously," said Storin, who now teaches journalism at Notre Dame University.

"I do think it's obvious that the Times would like to get the Globe off its books," he said. "It's possible they're trying to reduce costs because they have a prospective buyer who is negotiating on that basis."

3:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in New Hampshire and just cancelled my Sunday subscription to the Globe. I should have done it years ago. I can't remember the last time I really read through it.

I think the Globe is at risk. It is not what it once was. I see this even in our local papers, which have shrunk in pages dramatically in the last 6 months. I think there is a real seismic shift in the paper business and the Globe, in the big picture, may not be worth keeping going for long.

The only constant in this environment is the acceleration of change and those who don't comprehend this will be shocked by the ramifications. Just look at what the iPhone has done in just he last year!

JIm Luther
Hollis, NH

2:08 PM  
Blogger Amy Segreti said...

Great post, as always, Alan.

I think a general theme that I'm noticing is that journalists are having less and less faith in themselves. The fact that newspapers are closing is getting to them, and people are allowing the dismal situation to spiral into an repeated "journalism is dying" mantra, at the very time when we need to be standing up for ourselves and working harder, how ever difficult that may be.

I wrote a blog post around this idea, check it out if you like:

Otherwise -- I will continue reading your wonderful insight, ideas and news on the industry. Always a pleasure.

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a suburban Boston non-journalist subscriber to the Times and the Globe, I would have canceled the Globe several years ago were it not for my wife's insistence on continuing to receive it. But most days it goes entirely unread by either of us. I would read it if it did a better job of covering local, state and regional news. But it does a poor job of that. On national and international news, why not read the Times. I can't remember the last time someone said to me, "Did you read the Globe article today about..."

12:36 PM  

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