The Boston Globe: A real conversation starter

You could be forgiven for feeling like you heard it all before when you woke up this morning to headlines saying that The Boston Globe’s management and its largest union held talks to discuss pay cuts and other concessions to keep the 137-year-old daily newspaper breathing.

After all, you HAVE read it before — several times.

The union and the Globe both refuse to talk about what they’re discussing in private, but it’s pretty clear that you don’t meet for nearly 13 hours and pledge to meet again the next day if all you’re doing is altering some HR paperwork. The fact that a National Labor Relations Board meeting scheduled for today isn’t happening — it has been tentatively rescheduled — shows that “impasse” might no longer be the right word to characterize the dispute. The cut is still supposed to go into effect this week, though it should not be too hard for the Globe to deposit some cash into a reserve fund that it can use in the future if it ends up reaching an agreement with the guild.

The upshot of all this talk could be significant. The Times Co has taken off the table its threat to close the money-losing newspaper, which cools things off to some extent. Nevertheless, the company does not want to gut a property that it once praised to the skies and paid $1.1 billion for, even though its revenue is falling steeply enough that it needs to find some major ways to cut costs.

If the Times Co and the union can strike an accord over concessions, the Times can get out of what has become one of its toughest trials with cost savings AND its reputation of being a business that cares about journalism intact. Union members, meanwhile, will not have to think about their immediate plans for life with nearly a quarter less money than they were making before.

It’s not what flacks call a “win-win,” but at least everyone would walk away alive.

Working for the Globe every night and day

Covering the roiling labor dispute between The New York Times-owned Boston Globe and its biggest union, the Boston Newspaper Guild, is all about hours (or days) of tedium, punctuated by brief, jarring moments of action — usually when reporters are scrambling to catch up with the Globe’s own coverage of its future.******Our Boston-based interin Erin Kutz got a taste of this on Monday when I asked if she could go to Weymouth, Massachusetts, to stake out the scheduled talks between the Globe and the guild.******To recap: Guild members on June 8 rejected a concession package that the Times Co said it needed to get $10 million in savings that would help save the paper from, well, annihilation. In response to the union’s “no” vote, the Times did what it promised to do: cut guild salaries by 23 percent to get the savings. Now, the two sides are about to duke it out in front of the National Labor Relations Board, which has its first hearing on the case on Tuesday.******But first, the guild and the union met in Weymouth today to discuss… stuff. The Times said it was about implementing the pay cut. The guild said it was an opportunity to present a new proposal. The Times doesn’t want to give the impression that it’s still open to discussion because the only way that it can get the government to allow the 23 percent pay cut is to prove that it reached an impasse with the guild.******So what’s going on in there? Erin reported back that nobody is saying very much, even after waiting there with the TV crews for more than four hours. Talks are scheduled to go on, but in the meantime, Globe reporter and union member Scott Allen brought this message from guild President Dan Totten, who’s locked up with the Times crew in Weymouth:***

Things are moving forward. I can tell you they’re speaking in civil tones. I think the mood by the end of last week was as bad as the situation is. It is something we can fix and both sides, management included, are motivated to bring this thing to a close and move on to the next chapter.

******Allen also said:***

I’m not particularly frightened about having a new owner. It could be an exciting and positive development, but it makes a big deal of difference who that is.

******Does this sound like an impasse to you?******(PS, Erin got to go home, finally)******(Photo: Reuters)

Hangin’ with USA Today’s new masthead

Gannett Co Inc has not been too generous lately with making its executives available to media reporters. And why would it? Few newspaper publishers have because there’s little good to say about the business.

Ad sales are tanking, as usual. Debt is looming (what else does it ever do?). Lots of self-styled media experts can’t let a day go by without writing a few blog posts telling publishers that they brought it on themselves and they deserve to die.

With that merry backdrop, I was surprised to get invited to a press conference and an interview with Gannett’s latest picks for editor (John Hillkirk) and publisher (Former Detroit Free Press Publisher David Hunke) of USA Today. Gannett brought them to New York to meet the insular Manhattan media world, which is responsible for writing all those obituaries that you’ve been reading about newspapers lately.

Murdoch on newspapers (and other things)

News Corp Chief Executive showed up for his latest interview on the Fox Business Network (which he owns) on Monday. Here is a transcript of some of his remarks. He covered a lot of ground, from tonight’s union concession vote at The Boston Globe to the future of newspapers and the inclusion of software on computers sold in China that will block access to certain websites. We are providing excerpts — we trimmed for length, most notably excising his comments on healthcare and taxes (We know it’s the Internet, but we had to shorten it up a bit. You can see or read the whole thing here.

On FOX Interactive possibly looking at job cuts:

“It’s too early to talk about job cuts. … We’ve put new management in there, they’ve been there three weeks and they’re making a close examination of it and they’ll no doubt set some new directions, strengthen other very strong parts of it, and you know, the advertising is at least double what Facebook has and it’s in pretty good shape. But there will be, I’m sure, changes with the new management.”

On Chase Carey assuming the titles of deputy chairman, president and chief operating officer July 1:
“No, we’re not making any commitments on that [being an heir apparent] at all. Chase is coming in to be my partner and right-hand, he was with us for 17 years before. I think he’s like coming home.”

4,000 Boston Globe readers can’t be wrong

Next Monday is the day when members of The Boston Globe’s biggest union will vote on concessions that the paper’s owner, The New York Times Co, says are necessary to keep the paper from closing. The public relations campaign is heating up already.

The Boston Newspaper Guild published a press release on Friday about the testimonials of 4,000 Bostonians who signed an online petition to save the Globe. Their comments are stirring, but nothing talks like money.

Let’s take a look: The New York Times says it needs $20 million in cost cuts from several Globe unions. At that point, the paper will be on track to lose only $65 million this year, not the $85 million currently projected. A smaller loss, the thinking goes, might make the paper more attractive to a buyer once the Times can rustle one up.

Newspapers: They’re *still* dying

Moody’s debt analyst John Puchalla analyzed the state of newspapers today. Conclusion: The sun rises in the east, usually in the mornings. In other words, newspapers are still doomed.

Despite the report’s obvious conclusion, it’s worth reading for Puchalla’s analysis of the cost structure that newspapers deal with. Here’s an excerpt from the press release announcing the report:

Currently, a structural disconnect exists in the newspaper industry’s cost structure. Just 14% of cash operating costs, on average, are devoted to content creation — the primary value creation activity — while about 70% of costs support the print distribution model and corporate functions. The remaining 16% of cash operating costs relate to advertising sales — another critical task that drives the majority of newspapers’ revenue. The overall imbalance limits the industry’s flexibility to overcome competitive threats. …

McClatchy: What happens to a delisting deferred?

McClatchy Co is one newspaper publisher that knows how to set up a good cliffhanger.

The owner of the Miami Herald and Sacramento Bee said in a press release on Tuesday that it once again meets the New York Stock Exchange’s listing standards.

In other words, it gets to keep playing on the big board.

McClatchy was in danger of having its stock delisted because it failed to meet the minimum requirements that the NYSE has for a company’s stock price.

Philadelphia papers will charge for Web news

Elton John and Bernie Taupin might have to consider rewriting “Philadelphia Freedom.”Brian Tierney, chief executive of the company that owns The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, plans to begin charging for news online by the end of the year, he said in an interview with a local Fox TV affiliate.

“I think by the end of this year we’ll starting doing what a lot of other newspapers are looking at doing and charging something for it,” Tierney said. “We can’t spend $53 million on newsroom costs and give it away on the back door in terms of things. There will be a small charge for that.”

When asked by Fox 29′s Steve Keeley when such a charge would go into effect, Tierney said “by the end of the year.”

Tierney also said he plans to take on Google over possibly getting money for Philadelphia Media Holdings from its content that resides on the search engine’s site.

Newspapers plot survival as quietly as they can

Newspapers are in the business of making information public so readers can benefit. Newspaper publishers are in the business of revealing as little as possible unless someone springs a leak.

In the case of the two-dozen newspaper publishers who met in the Chicago area to discuss ways to get people to pay for the news they read online, the leak landed in the hands of The Atlantic. Here is an excerpt:

There’s no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all. A longtime industry chum, consultant Barbara Cohen, “will facilitate the meeting.” …

Murdoch says no to U.S. government newspaper bailout

News Corp Chief Executive and newspaper empire builder Rupert Murdoch showed up on the Fox Business Network (which he owns) on Thursday to talk about the future, or lack thereof, of newspapers.

Two key points: News Corp’s papers, which in the United States include The Wall Street Journal, the New York Post and the Ottaway chain of local dailies, will not take government money to help them stay afloat; and there is private financing for media companies out there. Here’s what Murdoch said on those topics, and more. (Thanks for FBN for this transcript)

On how newspapers will make money in the future
“Newspapers will make money the way we make it now – from our readers, from our advertisers. Newspapers may look very different. Instead of an analog product printed on paper, you may get it on a panel which will be mobile, which will receive the whole newspaper over the air, and be updated every hour or two. All of these things are possible and some of the greatest electronics companies in the world are working on this right now. I think it’s two or three years away before they get introduced in a big way and then it will probably take ten to fifteen years for the public to swing over.” …