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The newspaper industry is taking a beating in this recession, and one of the hardest hit has been the Boston Globe. Earlier this week, the New York Times Co., which owns the Globe, released quarterly numbers showing the company lost $74.5 million in the first quarter of this year. That is more than 200 times what it lost in the same period last year.
On Thursday, New York Times management told Globe reporters the company plans to enforce the May 1 deadline for concessions. If the Globe's 12 unions don't come up with $20 million in contract concessions in the next week, the Times threatens to shut down the paper.
Status of the negotiations
The Boston Newspaper Guild — the largest union at the paper — has met three times with Times and Globe management. The management calls the talks "substantive." Meanwhile, the union has persuaded the Times to turn over the Globe's finances for the union to review. That's important, because the Times doesn't publicly report earnings for its individual papers.
But the guild members get it. They see what's happening in their industry and understand the paper is losing money.
The guild's president publicly says his union is willing to offer significant cost savings, as long as management is willing to do the same. For example, union employees say it's unfair that management's 5 percent wage cut will lapse in January when they're being asked to take permanent wage cuts.
And behind the scenes, people say they're willing to take a salary reduction, but the question is how much. Five percent seems reasonable to many people, but the company needs to slash more than 22 percent from the salaries of the approximately 700 guild members — and that feels drastic.
So the question is: What combination of benefits do you give up? And the guild members seem divided on that issue.
"The main word the union has is, We want this paper to thrive and to survive," says Beth Daly, a reporter and union member. "And for that aim we will work for everyone and anyone to make that happen."
But the union does not have much leverage, according to some observers who've watched other papers go through a similar process.
Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school, says the New York Times company is serious about its need to get some deep concessions quickly from the 12 unions operating at the Globe. He has analyzed the finances and says the New York Times company is earning just enough to cover its interest payments on debt, which is better than some papers, but not sustainable.
"I mean, my view is that they're looking at a situation somewhat similar to what Hearst looked at or Scripps looked at," Edmonds says. "We're under the gun to save the whole company, and we sure can't do that if we're racking up the losses we're making at the Boston Globe."
Drumming up public support
The newspaper guild has posted an online petition for the public to sign up and show their support for the Globe. On Friday afternoon, guild members will rally downtown with union members and politicians in Boston.
I talked to some reporters this week who weren't thrilled with the idea of participating in a rally — standing side-by-side with union bosses and the politicians they cover. But because the situation appears to be so dire for the paper right now, some changed their minds by the end of the week and plan to attend.
Can the Globe be saved?
The Herald reported last week that John Henry, the Red Sox owner, is interested in buying the Globe. There is a lot of speculation about whether the New York Times Company has a potential buyer waiting in the wings — and is just doing the bidding for that potential buyer now.
The union wanted the ability to talk directly to any potential buyers, but the New York times Company rejected that request. Many people think the best hope for the Globe would be to have another company step in and work directly with the union. But, others say, that hasn't really worked for other papers struggling with similar challenges.
At this point, the fate of the Boston Globe remains unclear at best.
This program aired on April 24, 2009.
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