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NY Times Pulls Plug: Boston Globe has 60 Days Left (UPDATE)

UPDATE: The New York Times has now updated this story, saying that the Boston Globe is not necessarily under threat of closure, as previously reported. Clearly there are intense negotiations going on. Expect more contradictory reports. (11:18 am PST May 4, 2009)

UPDATE 2: Here is the guts of the statement issued by The Times in its SEC filing today:

Today, The New York Times Company released the following statement regarding recent negotiations with unions representing employees of The Boston Globe:

"We are very pleased to have reached agreements with six of the seven unions that were involved in recent negotiations. This includes agreements with the drivers, mailers, pressmen, the electricians, machinists, and technical services group. As a result of these agreements, which are subject to ratification by union members, we expect to achieve both the workplace flexibility and the financial savings that we sought from these unions. We are not, therefore, making a filing today under the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. We appreciate the productive and cooperative approach demonstrated by the leadership of these unions throughout these difficult negotiations.

"We are disappointed, however, that we have not yet been able to reach an agreement with the Guild. Because of that, we are evaluating our alternatives under both the Guild contract and applicable law to achieve as quickly as possible the workplace flexibility and remaining cost savings we need to help put The Globe on a sound financial footing." (11:32 am PST May 5, 2009).

Though it has been inevitable for months, it was still a shock to see the headline that the Boston Globe is to close its doors in 60 days. The New York Times, which owns the Globe, made the announcement when talks with union reps failed to wrangle sufficient costs savings to continue publication of what has long been the journalistic anchor of the entire New England region.

News of the Globe's impending demise feels much like those moments when a major politician or sports star, a "Tip" O'Neill or a Ted Williams, passes. One is tempted by thoughts like: "Oh my God, the Globe's sportswriters won't even get to find out how the Red Sox do this season!" (Followed by the thought: "Well, at least they'll get to write about the Celtics' finish.")

This is a fairly tight-knit city in many ways, one that knows how to publicly mourn its heroes, and share its disappointments toward its larger arch-rival city to the southwest. In this context, the invasive takeover of the Globe by The Times in the early '90s has never sat well with locals.

Probably the person who said it best was columnist (and journalism professor) Eileen McNamara who wrote in the tabloid Boston Herald recently:

"From the moment the Times Co. purchased The Globe in 1993, it has treated New England's largest newspaper like a cheap whore. It pimped her out for profit during the booming 1990s and then pillaged her when times got tough."

Well, in that case, it is the pimp that is in deep trouble now. This closure is actually an act of financial desperation by The Times, which as we have consistently noted, does not show on its balance sheet a convincing argument that it has a sustainable business model. It is shedding assets right and left, laying off staffers without public notice, cutting salaries, thrashing about like a small-mouth bass locked onto a Rapala lure being pulled to the boat by an old man with a fishing rod.

That old man, of course, would be named Destiny.

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