By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 4, 2009
The New York Times Co. said last night that it is notifying federal authorities of its plans to shut down the Boston Globe, raising the possibility that New England's most storied newspaper could cease to exist within weeks.
After down-to-the-wire negotiations did not produce millions of dollars in union concessions, the Times Co. said that it will file today a required 60-day notice of the planned shutdown under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification law.
The move could amount to a negotiating ploy to extract further concessions from the Globe's unions, since the notice does not require the Times Co. to close the paper after 60 days. The deadline, however, would put the unions under fierce pressure to produce additional savings, and the Boston Newspaper Guild promptly called the step a "bullying" tactic by the company.
Some industry observers have expressed skepticism that Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. would want his legacy to include the shuttering of the Globe, which his company bought in 1993.
But the Times Co. itself is under strong financial pressure. It recently mortgaged its new Manhattan headquarters, borrowed $250 million from a Mexican billionaire at 14 percent interest, laid off 100 newsroom staffers and cut salaries by 5 percent.
Globe management said in a toughly worded statement: "Filing the WARN notice is a difficult step that we would like to avoid. But, unfortunately, given the state of the negotiations, it is one we must be prepared to take."
The paper's circulation dropped 14 percent in the most recent six-month period. The Globe is expected to lose $85 million this year, the company says.
Boston residents have long resented the takeover of the Globe by a company based in New York, with which the region competes in sports, banking and cultural bragging rights.
The notion that Boston, home to some of the country's top universities, could lose its major daily would have been unthinkable before the recent nationwide plunge in advertising revenue. That dive has triggered a wave of newspaper bankruptcies and the closing of the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
A Globe shutdown would leave the city with only one daily newspaper, the tabloid Boston Herald, which has just 10 news reporters and is battling its own financial difficulties.
"From the moment the Times Co. purchased The Globe in 1993, it has treated New England's largest newspaper like a cheap whore," former Globe columnist Eileen McNamara wrote last month in the Herald. "It pimped her out for profit during the booming 1990s and then pillaged her when times got tough. It closed her foreign bureaus and cheapened her coverage of everything from the fine arts to the hard sciences."
McNamara, who now teaches journalism at Brandeis University, ridiculed Sulzberger as "the boy genius whose crack management skills have helped drive the parent company of two of journalism's most respected newspapers to the brink of bankruptcy."
The Globe says the parent company is seeking $10 million in savings from the Newspaper Guild -- the paper's largest union -- as well as $5 million from the mailers, $2.5 million from the drivers and $2.2 million from the pressmen.
Negotiations were disrupted when the Times Co. acknowledged a $4 million accounting mistake in the talks, requiring the Guild, which represents 600 editorial, advertising and office workers, to dig even deeper for savings.
The Globe quoted the head of the Teamsters local, which represents the newspaper's drivers, as saying his union had come up with the $2.5 million in salary and benefit cuts demanded by the company. But the Times Co. is also said to be seeking to eliminate seniority rules and lifetime job guarantees for some union members.