Media World: Boston Newspaper Guild in a Catch-22

The 700 members of the Boston Newspaper Guild, the largest union at The Boston Globe, are in a terrible Catch-22.

If they vote "yes" on the concessions sought by Globe parent the New York Times Co. (NYT), they face 8.3 percent wage cut, five-day unpaid furloughs and other cuts in benefits and pensions. The Times Co. has threatened to impose a 23 percent pay cut or shutter New England's largest newspaper.

"It looks like it's too hard to call," said Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, who has followed Boston media for years, in an interview with the DailyFinance. "There is still such tremendous uncertainty."
For one thing, as Jurkowitz notes, there is no guarantee that these would be the last concessions. The Globe has been a disaster for years for the New York Times Co., which spent $1.1 billion in 1993 to buy the paper and assorted properties. More than a decade later, the New York-based publisher needs to achieve $20 million in savings from the unions in Boston. The Globe is expected to lose $85 million this year.

Like other big city metros, the Globe was hurt by plunging circulation and advertising revenue as readers increasingly sought their news online. In the first quarter, the operating loss at the News Media Group, which includes The Boston Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and their websites, was $54.3 million, compared with an operating profit of $13.3 million in the first quarter of 2008. Loses at the New England papers were "significant," according to the Times.

Some observers, including Jurkowitz, wonder if the ultimate goal of the Times' cost-cutting is to make the Globe "a palatable option" for a new owner. The New York Times Co. is under significant pressure from Wall Street to boost its share price, which has fallen more than 60 percent over the past year.

As the Associated Press notes, "The Guild's leadership has not endorsed the contract, instead agreeing only to allow its members to vote on it. Six other Globe unions have approved concessions -- but they hinge on the Guild's ratification of new terms."

If the Guild votes the proposal down, things are going to get extremely ugly quickly.

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