New York Times Seeks Buyer for Boston Globe; Murdoch Sells Weekly Standard

A Boston Globe story said the New York Times Co. had hired Goldman Sachs to seek bids for the paper.
A Boston Globe story said the New York Times Co. had hired Goldman Sachs to seek bids for the paper. (By Josh Reynolds -- Associated Press)
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 2009

The New York Times Co., while furiously slashing costs at the Boston Globe, has hired an investment bank to shop the paper around, the Globe disclosed yesterday.

The report, which came after the company cut the pay of Globe journalists by 23 percent, said the information came from two people interested in making a bid for New England's largest newspaper. But whether a serious buyer emerges for the money-losing daily is an open question.

In another development that could alter the media landscape, Rupert Murdoch is on the verge of selling his conservative magazine, the Weekly Standard, to billionaire Philip Anschutz, owner of the Washington Examiner. A source familiar with Murdoch's plans, who declined to be identified discussing private negotiations, confirmed a Los Angeles Times report about the pending deal. It is not clear whether founding editors Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes, who launched the Washington weekly in 1995, would stay on, but they would represent a key part of the magazine's value to Anschutz.

The Globe story said the Times Co. has hired Goldman Sachs, the same Wall Street firm trying to sell the company's 17.5 percent stake in the Boston Red Sox, to seek bids for the paper. The Globe had been on track to lose $85 million this year, and the Times Co., which bought the paper for $1.1 billion in 1993, is also immersed in a tide of red ink.

The Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents 660 newsroom, advertising and circulation employees, narrowly rejected a proposal Monday that would have cut salaries by 8 percent and imposed a one-week furlough. That led the Times Co. to declare an impasse and impose the deeper pay cut, prompting the Guild to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

"After this experience," said Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, "people here are willing to take a chance on a local owner in hopes that he or she will have a more genuine commitment to the Globe.

"What we're seeing from the Times is not the fair-minded face of the editorial page, but a single-minded, hard-nosed focus on the bottom line. We were asked to do it at gunpoint, and it got people's backs up." The Times Co. had no comment yesterday.

Donovan Slack, the City Hall bureau chief, said she has "serious questions about my union leadership and the choices they made in the face of what was clearly a real threat. . . . For me it comes down to paying my mortgage and buying my groceries." Slack said she had viewed the Times Co. as "a cathedral of journalism" but now "would love a more financially stable owner."

Jack Welch, the former General Electric chief executive who was once reported to have an interest in buying the Globe, said on his Twitter page that it was "ironic" to see the Times "act so brutish toward labor. Certainly would be crucifying any company with labor practices like theirs."

The Globe's struggles are emblematic of an industry hit by a wave of bankruptcies, layoffs and plummeting advertising revenue. Tom Fiedler, dean of Boston University's College of Communication, said that "here in Boston, the Globe has been such a dominant force in journalism that there is a value there." He said the Globe is probably worth about $200 million, in part because of its real estate, and that a buyer would likely take it into bankruptcy to further reduce costs.

"People are a little numb about it, honestly," Lehigh said. "We're confused, angry and scared."

Murdoch's News Corp. launched the Standard shortly after the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress, with Kristol, a former GOP operative, at the helm. While the 83,000-circulation magazine has never made money, it has had a significant impact on political debate, especially during the Bush years, with its top editors doubling as commentators at Murdoch's Fox News.

Murdoch has never considered the Standard to be a core asset and now deems it a luxury as he copes with the recession's impact on his media empire, which includes the Wall Street Journal and the money-losing New York Post.

Anschutz, a major Republican donor, is a publicity-shy Denver financier who has holdings in energy, railroads and telecommunications. His AEG Worldwide owns or controls such sports arenas as the Staples Center in Los Angeles and such franchises as the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and the Los Angeles Galaxy soccer club, which lured superstar David Beckham from Britain.

Five years ago, Anschutz bought the San Francisco Examiner and the string of suburban papers that became the Washington Examiner, a free daily with a conservative editorial page. News Corp. declined comment, and Kristol, Barnes and a spokesman for Anschutz did not respond to messages.

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