Unkindest cut?

By ADAM REILLY  |  July 10, 2008

But not everyone in the newsroom was piqued. Another editorial employee actually took solace in the union’s delayed response, arguing that the lag time suggests that the wage-cut proposal is nothing to get too excited about. “If the union thought it was serious, they would have mentioned it beforehand,” he argues. “This might be a way of saying, ‘Gosh, times are tough. Here’s one option. Let’s look to see if there are other options.’ ”

Right now, in the Globe newsroom, this is the prevailing interpretation of the wage-cut proposal: it’s a tactical gambit that’s really aimed at pushing the paper’s unions to re-open their collective-bargaining agreements and accept other concessions. “The idea” — i.e., the wage cut — “is so ridiculous that there’s no way people will agree to it,” a third newsroom staffer says. “There has to be a different endgame.”

It’s possible, though, that this confidence is misplaced. According to one source, the Globe’s losses in 2008 have been even worse than Ainsley anticipated in a grim forecast earlier this year. (Ainsley declined comment for this story.) There are a number of other steps that could help shore up the paper’s finances. The potential closure of the Billerica plant would save money. So will the planned incorporation, this coming September, of the Globe’s currently stand-alone business pages into the City&Region section. And so, too, could the elimination of the paper’s famed job-security list, which guarantees work in perpetuity to a fortunate few employees, should they so desire. (Some names on said list: recent Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Feeney; political columnists Scot Lehigh and Joan Vennochi; metro editor Brian McGrory; feature writer Irene Sege; metro columnist Adrian Walker; and cartoonist Daniel Wasserman.)

The problem, this source says, is that none of these fixes is a panacea. “There’s no financial model that’ll stop the bleeding,” he claims. “We deliver a product whose business model doesn’t work. Printing a newspaper on paper and delivering it to people is not sustainable.” The fact that Globe management has taken the unprecedented step of offering the unions access to its financials, he adds, suggests that the wage-cut proposal was made in complete seriousness.

Changing times
Whether the wage-cut optimists or their pessimistic counterparts are proven right, one thing seems certain: the Globe is about to experience some unprecedented flux. Thus far, the paper hasn’t exactly been immune to the broader industry’s woes; the past few years have brought multiple rounds of buyouts and the shuttering of the foreign bureaus. Still, despite the fact that the New England Media Group (which includes the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette) consistently drags down the Times Company’s performance, the Globe has so far avoided the layoffs and debilitating cutbacks that have plagued most other papers. And this, in turn, has allowed the Globe and its staff to consistently produce an unusually strong product. (When I told one reporter that he seemed awfully optimistic in light of this summer’s developments, he responded with a laundry list of recent editorial achievements, including Feeney’s Pulitzer and Donovan Slack and Keith O’Brien’s heartbreaking opus on South Boston teen Acia Johnson’s troubled life and tragic death.)

Now, however, this era of relative insulation looks to be coming to an end. In the aforementioned June 18 letter, Thornton, the Globe senior V-P, spoke of creating a “far different and more efficient business model.” And a related theme — the fact that the time has come for the “Globe to solve the Globe’s own problems” — was emphasized at the June 23 town meeting. What this is going to mean in practice remains to be seen. But chances are high that implementing this new, austere vision will prove more than a little painful.

On the Web
Don't Quote Me: http://thephoenix.com/blogs/dontquoteme/

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