As The Globe Turns

So, with 80% of the membership voting, the Boston Newspaper Guild narrowly rejected the proposed $10 million in wage and benefit cuts offered by the New York Times Co. Almost immediately, an across-the-board 23% wage cut will go into effect for Guild members.

The door does not appear entirely closed — both the Guild and the newspaper seemed to leave open room for resuming negotiations or at least discussing the pending 23% cut, and that could be me offering an overly optimistic reading between the lines — but it looks pretty grim. The next steps could involve a surprise, late-breaking settlement, sure, but more likely a protracted court struggle or even closure.

The problem with this whole scenario is that there is a lot of shady stuff going on. You have one observer doing the math and coming to the conclusion that the Globe’s finances are nowhere near as dire as they have been painted (combine that with the NYT’s shoddy accounting of the sacrifices they asked of the Globe, and other questions about the veracity of their claim that the Globe expecting a loss of $85 million this year). You have the NYT Co. being bizarrely silent throughout the negotiations process, which just inflames the other side. You have the Guild’s leadership under scrutiny. And the list goes on. And the picture grows even murkier, the paper’s fate less certain.

But you know what? I’m having a lot of trouble mustering the will to care. Hell, I’m having trouble mustering the will to finish this post, even though I’ve certainly had things to say on the matter before. Maybe it’s battle fatigue. Maybe it’s a creeping feeling of hopelessness. Or indifference. I don’t know. But while the NYTimes has been shut up in stony silence and the Globe has been wrestling internally with its own fate, the readers have been left to watch the spectacle unfold, seeing pieces of the paper get sloughed off and the occasional WTF feature snag prime column inches. I understand that livelihoods are at stake, but let’s divest the personal concerns from this situation for a moment, if I may. Isn’t a newspaper supposed to service its readership? How, right now, are we being served?

To zoom back out to the big picture, let’s look at the news industry. It is in peril. This standoff between the Globe and the Times is representative of the worst possible consequence of a deeply troubled media climate. As I’ve said before, while the short-term solution may be to staunch the bleeding, that must be coupled with innovation. Any cost-saving measure, no matter how drastic, isn’t going to be worth enacting if there’s no plan for evolution. The Globe’s dire straits could prove to be a crucible for that innovation — when you’re up against a wall, you’ve got to get creative, right? Now’s the time for crazy thinking, for bold actions. But I haven’t seen any real indication of that.

Either way you look at it, from the reporter taking home a 1/4 less in their paycheck to the readers wondering what will become of their regional paper of record, it’s just sad. Any newspaper wants a good story on its front page. But you never want it to be your own.

EDIT: I stand corrected. Forget I ever used the I-word. Ryan Thornburg really hit what I was getting at, and far more eloquently than I ever could have. Innovation is out. Experimentation is in. Why? In his words, “Innovation only values success. Experimentation also values failure.” A must-read.

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