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Howard Kurtz on the Media: New York Times Backs Off Threat to Close Boston Globe

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The Boston Globe and its largest workers union have finished all-night contract-concession talks without a deal. The Globe's owner, Times Co. has threatened to shutdown the 137-year-old newspaper. Video by AP

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Boston Globe dodged a corporate bullet yesterday as the New York Times Co., after all-night bargaining with union leaders, backed off a threat to notify federal authorities that it plans to close the paper within 60 days.

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The company has reached agreement with six of the Globe's seven unions over its demands for $20 million in concessions, but not with the Boston Newspaper Guild, which has accused Times executives of "bullying" tactics. A guild spokesman said negotiations would resume soon.

"It's posturing by both sides," said State House bureau chief Frank Phillips. "The New York Times doesn't want to embarrass itself by shutting down one of the great institutions, not only of Boston but of America, really."

The Times Co. ratcheted up the pressure minutes before a midnight deadline Sunday by announcing that it would file the required shutdown notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification law.

The hardball approach has sparked considerable resentment in Boston toward the New York owners, who bought New England's largest newspaper in 1993, and roiled a newsroom that has won 20 Pulitzer Prizes.

"It's just been terrible," said columnist Alex Beam. "I think people feel this isn't going to end well for us as a group in the next six, nine, 12 months. There's a feeling that everyone's expendable."

Globe Editor Martin Baron, who declined to comment yesterday, told Emily Rooney of WGBH-TV that "you don't want to confront the possibility that your own newspaper will get shut down." That "disturbing" specter, he said, has caused "an enormous amount of anxiety and tension."

The Globe, which is on track to lose $85 million this year, has repeatedly trimmed its staff and closed its foreign bureaus. Advertising revenue at the paper and its Web site declined more than 30 percent in the first quarter of the year. But Dan Kennedy, who teaches journalism at Northeastern University, said its estimated $300 million in annual revenue should enable a slimmed-down paper to survive.

Kennedy faulted Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. for a strategy based on little public communication. "Arthur Sulzberger has yet to talk to Boston, and we feel like he owes us an explanation -- it's our newspaper," he said.

Rooney, who hosts the program "Beat the Press," said: "The Times has really handled this about as badly as you could. . . . The Boston Globe is the newspaper of record here. It would be like The Washington Post disappearing. That's what the Globe is to this community. They still break news. They're the only ones who really have the resources."

Guild spokesman Andy Paven said the union had offered $10 million in requested savings through a 3.5 percent pay cut, unpaid furlough and reduction in retirement benefits. The sticking point remains lifetime job guarantees for 170 of the guild's 660 journalists, advertising and business office employees, previously negotiated in return for other concessions.

The Teamsters union, representing 245 mailers, said it reached a tentative agreement early yesterday for $5 million in concessions and changes in lifetime job guarantees. Another union, representing 210 drivers, said it reached a tentative deal on $2.5 million in concessions. Such agreements must be approved by the rank and file.


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