The New York Times Co. is sticking by its May 1 deadline to gain $20 million in cost-saving concessions from Boston Globe unions or shutter the paper. That doesn’t mean the Globe would close next Friday, but owners would make the decision then. Expect this one to go down to the last minute.
The Boston Globe has a story explaining its much-maligned lifetime job guarantees. The deals negotiated 15 years ago have become a hot potato as Times Co. has threatened to close the Globe unless $20 million can be cut from the expense line. The story has some interesting background on how guarantees grew out of management’s successful efforts to seize control from the unions more than 30 years ago.
Guarantees are almost unique to the newspaper industry, having first been negotiated in the 1960s when automation was threatening to put compositors and pressmen out of work. Publishers figured they could offer lifetime employment to people whose jobs were threatened and still make more money because the productivity benefits of automation were so great.
Another interesting motivation was the effect of automation on strikes. “The US newspaper industry averaged 30 to 40 strikes a year in the 1960s,” the Globe says, quoting industry analyst John Morton. “Now, they are rare. The last major newspaper strike occurred in Seattle in 2000.”
Of course, what seemed like a good deal at the time has become an anchor around some publishers’ necks as guarantees have limited their flexibility to manage expenses. In a similar move, the steel industry negotiated generous pension and health care benefits with its unions in the 1960s and 70s. Thirty years later, companies found themselves spending twice as much to pay retired employees as they paying productive workers.
Trouble in Paid Content Land
New York Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger vowed to stay the course during a shareholder meeting earlier this week. He defended the Times Co.’s commitment to editorial quality and the validity of the advertising model, yet he hinted that other options were on the table. “”We continue to take a fresh, hard and deep look at various subscription, purchase and micropayment models,” he said.
Sulzberger may want to consider the experience of INDenver Times, a startup staffed mostly by members of the failed Rocky Mountain News. We told you about them on Monday, including their plans for an ambitious paid subscription model that includes “direct, real time conversations with our editors and writers…from 10 am to 5 pm every weekday.” Well, not so fast. INDenver Times just announced that it didn’t meet the 50,000-subscriber threshold it needed to pursue its novel business model and so won’t be going ahead with paid subscriptions. The announcement was murky on whether INDenver Times will go ahead at all. Various spokespeople talked around the importance of journalism but didn’t say whether that would include an ongoing commitment to this venture.
The Wall Street Journal carried this front-page banner headline week: “Computer Spies Breach Fighter-Jet Project.” The Journal doesn’t run many banner headlines, so this must be a big deal, right? Actually, apparently not. As Slate’s Jack Shafer explains, the breach in question poses no significant threat to the F-35 Lightning II fighter jet program. It amounts to theft of a maintenance manual. “The Chinese now know how many miles the F-35 can fly before its timing belt must be replaced, its oil changed, and its tires rotated,” he explains. Shafer also documents the putdowns from by Journal rivals Washington Post and New York Times, which both gave the story barely passing mention in their own pages. He also points to a recent piece in The Nation, intriguingly titled “Has the ‘Journal’ Lost Its Soul?” However, The Nation‘s servers appear to be down this morning, no doubt the victim of a Chinese hacker attack.
We’ll be watching with one sleepy eye next week as Sen. John F. Kerry holds hearings in Washington on the financial problems facing the newspaper industry. The fact that there is no support at any level of government for a bailout of the industry doesn’t faze Kerry, who appears to be more interested in appeasing the editors at the Boston Globe who have endorsed him for many years.
Forecasting Media’s Future
Also next week, we’ll be speaking in San Francisco on the topic of “World Without Media: What Will Fill The Void?” along with online journalism and social media expert JD Lasica at the New Communications Forum. This general session presentation begins Tuesday at 4:00. Click on the logo at left for a discount. Get an even bigger discount by registering with code SNCR New Communications Forum is one of the best social media events of the year. whoIts organizer, the nonprofit Society For New Communications Research has assembled a faculty of leading new-media thinkers who reserve some of their best stuff for the biannual conferences. Take a look at the agenda and see what we mean.
We’ll also be leading a panel on Wednesday on the topic of “Media in Transition: The Future of News in a Democratized World” at the co-located Inbound Marketing Summit. The three panelists are all newspaper industry veterans who have successfully made the jump to the digital world: Dean Takahashi of VentureBeat, Tom Foremski of Silicon Valley Watcher and Ken Doctor of Outsell. Click the image at right and use code VIPS50 to get half off the conference fee.
Nicholas Carr points us to a site maintained by one Timothy McSweeney, which is one of the funniest – and by that we mean “most droll” – online outposts we’ve encountered in some time – and by that we mean days. Check out the syllabus for an “Internet-Age Writing” class. A snippet:
“Students will acquire the tools needed to make their tweets glimmer with a complete lack of forethought, their Facebook updates ring with self-importance, and their blog entries shimmer with literary pithiness. All without the restraints of writing in complete sentences. w00t! w00t!”
And also: “Students will work to make their blogging more vivid using the fundamentals of the craft, such as imagery, foreshadowing, symbolism, and viral paparazzi photos of celebrity nip slips.”
This entry was posted on Friday, April 24th, 2009 at 8:14 am and is filed under Business News, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia, Newspapers, Solutions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.