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Globe Could Face Cuts Regardless Of Concessions

This article is more than 13 years old.

More than 600 members of the Boston Globe's largest union will get their first look Thursday night at $10 million in contract concessions that the paper's owner, The New York Times Co., says are needed to keep the Globe in business.

The Boston Newspaper Guild will present the deal to its membership, but will not push for or against its ratification.

The deal reportedly includes pay cuts of more than 8 percent, five unpaid furlough days and an end to lifetime job guarantees that were a major sticking point in negotiations.

It is not clear when there will be a vote on the proposal.

For more on the road ahead for the Boston Globe, WBUR spoke with media analyst Mark Jurkowitz. He's a former Globe reporter and now the associate director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

You worked for the Globe for 10 years and know many of the people in the Boston Newspaper Guild. Do you think this is a deal the union will approve?

MARK JURKOWITZ: Well, it's hard to say. I don't think it's a foregone conclusion. I don't know if they'll release it, but you could see a vote that's far from unanimous on this. On the other hand, it's worth noting that this whole process has exposed some (fissures) in the Guild and some disagreement between, for example, the editorial folks and some of the business folks represented.

But at the end, you sort of have to think that ultimately there will be a deal for now because the alternatives seem a little too grim to contemplate, probably for anybody there. So I think that in the interest of saving the Globe for now and moving on to an uncertain future, the best guess will be that something will pass.

At other papers — the San Francisco Chronicle, for example -- the unions made concessions only to face even more cuts later on to save the paper. Do you see that possibly happening at the Globe?

JURKOWITZ: I think most folks on Morrissey Boulevard would tell you that even with this deal, you are going to see a likelihood of further cuts and further depletions of the staff. I think, frankly, what was reputed to be the biggest sticking point in the negotiations with the Guild -- the lifetime job guarantees -- the fact that that's now been negotiated away, should be widely interpreted as opening the possibility that there will be more layoffs and that more people will go.

So I think that while a lot of folks will think at this point that the Globe will move on in some form from here on, the widespread sense is that there will continue to be more cuts, or some more cuts, and a smaller staff and in some ways a smaller newspaper than what you see now under any scenario.

There's persistent speculation that the Globe's owner, The New York Times Co., is looking to sell the Globe. If this union-management deal is approved, does the Globe become more attractive to buyers? And how does this potential union-management deal affect perception of the Globe's value?

JURKOWITZ: Well, the perception of the Globe's value is an interesting thing. With the numbers that have been bandied about publicly, about how the Globe's doing — the $85-million loss a year — I think there is a very public perception out there now about the fact that this is a very troubled institution. So I think it's clearly understood within the industry that the Globe's value is diminishing, and that it's something of an iffy product to take over at this point.

There's a widespread — again — sentiment or belief that part of the reason that the Globe negotiated pretty hardball with the unions this time out was to get rid of those provisions of the contract that would make it less palatable for another entity to come in and buy this. In other words, you don't want a new buyer to come in and essentially the first thing they have to do is fight with the unions to get rid of some of the cost structure there.

So, yes, one conceivable scenario — and there are a number of them — is that this will make it easier for the Times to sell the Globe to somebody who doesn't have to worry about these union provisions (and) would have more flexibility on how to handle the staff and cut staff. And who knows what the purchase price would be that the Globe could have a new owner in a relatively short period of time. Frankly that depends on whether anybody out there thinks that it's a good investment at this point.

Do you think there might be a buyer out there?

JURKOWITZ: It's hard to conceive that there isn't some entity out there that wouldn't buy the Boston Globe, particularly now, with the idea that it could make it even leaner and meaner, and that after the recession eases that this wouldn't be something worth having. It's not clear who it would be at this point.

How would cost-cutting change the Globe in the future? If there is less content in the print division, what will that do to the Globe's online entity,

JURKOWITZ: Well at this point it's really hard to distinguish, frankly. I mean, the newspaper is really one entity at this point. People like to talk about the online product versus the print product, but you're really talking about one newsroom and the content stream that they put out.

There are obviously a lot of different scenarios. There's a scenario under which the Globe doesn't publish the paper as often, or really turns the paper into a digest of news and puts most of its energy onto the web site.

But the bottom line is, if there's a dramatically-reduced newsroom -- and just left people producing the content — whether it goes into a print product or whether it goes into an online product, you're just not going to have as much journalism.  And it's conceivable that in this new model going ahead, the Globe could rely largely on its online product, focus heavily on local. But again, the real issue is: Are the bodies going to be there to produce quality journalism no matter which sort of pipe you push it out through?

This program aired on May 7, 2009.


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