Boston Globe publisher retires after paper nearly dies

Fifty-six. Is it the new 65? Ask Steven Ainsley, the 56-year-old publisher of The Boston Globe. He is retiring, parent company New York Times Co said on Thursday, after three years as publisher. His successor is Christopher Mayer, 47, who joined the globe in 1984.

In the press release, the Times Co noted the two Pulitzer Prizes that the Globe won under Ainsley’s reign. It didn’t mention that other thing that happened this year, which was the Times threatening to close the paper unless unions buckled and agreed to millions of dollars in concessions to stem outrageous operating losses that could have hit $85 million this year. It also didn’t mention the layoffs, the closing of the Globe’s international bureaus and the attempts to sell the Globe for next to nothing after buying it in 1993 for $1.1 billion.

But those are details.

The Globe’s story says that Ainsley is considering nonprofit work after the Times. All we can add is: Isn’t that what you’ve been doing at the Globe?

Here are a few excerpts, meanwhile, from the Globe story:

Ainsley said he was glad to have seen the Globe through to a stronger financial position. “It’s been difficult but enormously gratifying,” he said. “Clearly we’ve had a lot of work to do here this year. I think we’ve made extraordinary progress in getting the Globe on sound financial footing.” Mayer, a native of upstate New York and a graduate of Yale University, said he is enthusiastic about the Globe’s prospects. “It’s a big challenge but it’s also a great opportunity and a great institution,” Mayer said.

Asked whether he anticipates making changes at the paper, he said the Globe has “very talented people,” and that he and his team will be working on strategies to take the Globe into the evolving digital era.

New York Times, BusinessWeek: The autumn of their years

Publishing beat reporters should expect a flare-up in their carpal tunnel syndrome in the coming weeks. Here is why:

The New York Times Co will decide whether to sell The Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette by “early fall,” the Worcester daily reported on Friday, citing Times Co Chief Executive Janet Robinson. Fall this year begins on September 22, less than two weeks from today. McGraw-Hill, meanwhile, set September 15 — next Tuesday — as the deadline for bids on BusinessWeek magazine (Bloomberg apparently has reentered the bidding process too).

Here is an excerpt from the Telegram & Gazette’s story:

“The New England Media Group is in better financial shape than it was at the beginning of the year,” Ms. Robinson said at an afternoon “town hall” meeting… “Our hand is not being forced to sell. We are not in a situation where we are absolutely being forced to sell the Globe and the T&G.”

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.

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)

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.

Mr. Sulzberger goes to Amazon

When Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry convenes a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on Wednesday to discuss the fate of U.S. newspapers, don’t look for the man who controls the fate of Kerry’s hometown Boston Globe on Capitol Hill.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr, whose New York Times Co is threatening to close the Globe, will be at a press conference in New York City where online bookseller and retailer plans to release a new version of the Kindle electronic book reader. At least, that’s what The Wall Street Journal says. Amazon and the Times declined to talk to us about the Wednesday event or Sulzberger’s planned appearance.

Senator Kerry need not worry that he can’t question Sulzberger in person. As much as Sulzberger probably wants to limit his talking points to the Kindle, we’re in a Globe state of mind. After all, talks resume tonight over $10 million in cost cuts it wants to wrest from the Globe’s biggest union. We would be happy to ask Kerry’s questions on his behalf.

Boston Globe, still alive

When we went to bed late last night, the state of play on The Boston Globe didn’t look so hot. Since then… it’s still not looking so hot.

The short story: Some of the Globe’s union appear to have reached tentative accords with the Globe and its parent company, The New York Times, which has threatened to shut down the money-losing paper if it doesn’t win $20 million in concessions. The Boston Newspaper Guild, which is on the hook for $10 million alone, said it has offered more than it has to, but it appears to not have been enough so far. The Times Co, meanwhile, said it would file a federal government notice that it intends to shut the paper. The big issue? Lifetime job guarantees that the Times wants to eliminate.

Here’s the latest from the sleepless reporters at its smaller competitor, the Boston Herald:

An aggressive sales plan for The Boston Globe?

The first question one of my editors asked me on Friday night when hearing that The New York Times Co threatened to shut down The Boston Globe was whether it was a negotiating tactic. That’s an easy one, for sure. Unions causing you problems at your business? Need to cut costs? Threaten to kill the whole business. It helps your adversaries reorganize their priorities right quick (Though sometimes they really mean it. Look at Hearst in Seattle).

Here’s a hypothetical recipe for how you could do it if you were running The New York Times:

    You spent $1.1 billion on a paper that, thanks to the sunset on the newspaper business, is worth far less now. In fact, it’s dragging down the whole company, and you would rather let it rot than eat away at the fortunes of your flagship paper. The last time someone hinted that they would be willing to pay — about half  of what you did — you said “no.” Oops. Now no one will buy it, even though you’re also selling free tickets to see the Red Sox in the form of your stake in the company that owns the team. Tell the union reps that you need $20 million in cost cuts, that your loss on the paper will be $85 million this year and that you need it done pronto. If not, no more paper. To make it really crazy, do this on a day when the paper’s editor is across the country in Oregon, delivering a lecture to journalism students that deals with the sorry state of affairs that the journalism world is in. Wait for someone in the union to leak the threat to the nearby alternative paper that follows the Globe’s goings-on like white on rice (The Boston Phoenix in this case), then let the Globe’s editors run their own story. (PS: I won’t link to the Phoenix because it’s throwing a pop-up ad at me whenever I visit the page that invites me to download anti-virus software. I won’t inflict that pain on readers.) When other reporters call, decline comment. Watch the story go around the world. Watch a buyer emerge, someone who fulminates long and hard about civic responsibility and not letting a hallowed journalistic institution go to ground. Sell it to that buyer at a massive loss, which one of the in-house tax geniuses can find a way to write off in a way that’s advantageous to the company.

I’m not saying that the Times wouldn’t let the Globe die or that it wouldn’t be a big loss to Boston. Still, The New York Times Co wants to protect one thing: The New York Times. That’s what the Ochs-Sulzberger family’s trust is all about. The shares in that family’s trust control the company but it’s really about the paper, and it’s not certain that a huge offer to buy the company out could persuade the family to get rid of it (despite prior evidence). Heck, the Times even lists the trust as one of its risk factors in its securities filings.