Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Trouble with Boston

The parent company of the Boston Globe newspaper, the New York Times; has threatened to shut the Globe down if they cannot get at least $20 million in savings out of the paper for next year.

[The story] quoted an unnamed person saying that in the meeting, management said that without the concessions, The Globe would lose $85 million in 2009.

The Times Company chairman, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., and Catherine J. Mathis, chief spokeswoman for the company, each declined to comment or confirm the article.

The company paid $1.1 billion for The Globe in 1993, the highest price ever paid for a single American newspaper, and it was highly profitable through that decade. But in recent years, the erosion of advertising and newspaper circulation has been more severe in the Boston area than in most of the country.

Advertising revenue for the industry fell 16.6 percent in 2008, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

The Times Company also wants to end a provision in The Globe’s contracts that gives certain employees lifetime job guarantees.

Well, first of all, seeking $20 million in cuts, in a paper that is losing $85 million a year seems... Absurdly inadequate I think is the phrase I'm looking for?

Also the fact that there are still lifetime job guarantees in today's economy ought to be a pretty strong indicator of a company that isn't exactly caught up to the realities of business today.

Though it's not mentioned in the story, I happen to know those lifetime guarantees are printers union jobs. I've known a few people who had them. They also had (and have) RIDICULOUS pensions as well. People retiring at 55 (30 years as a master printer plus 7 years as an apprentice and journeyman, hired on right out of highschool) with 120% inflation indexed pensions and full gold plated medical for life.

Any concession they wrung on those lifetime guarantees would almost certainly NOT include losing those pensions and medical benefits of course.

Aside from the structural problems however, the article credits the decline in advertising revenues; saying only that the Boston market was harder hit than New York.

Really? Because other papers in the market aren't seeing nearly the decline that the Globe is...

In fact, the Globe has been in decline faster and steeper than the other papers in the region, for about 16 years now. In 2008 the Globe's average weekday circulation fell to 350,605, down from 382,503, or 8.3 percent. Sunday circulation fell 6.5 percent to 525,959.

The competing newspapers for the Boston Area, the Boston Herald, and the Patriot Ledger (and to a lesser extent, a smaller local paper, "The Enterprise"), are doing alright... as much as any newspaper is anyway. Both are down about 4%, HALF the decline of the Globe; and counter to the general trend in the newspaper business (actually in most any business) of the second and third papers in a market (which they are) losing more circulation in a downturn than the market leader.

The important thing there is, the Herald and Ledger are both TRULY local; and more conservative than the Globe, especially on social issues. Though they are now owned by the same publisher (as of 2006, The Enterprise), they maintain their respective moderate center right, and moderate center left stances.

In addition to the general downturn in newspapers over the past 20 years, the Globe has lost more and more circulation, as it has moved further and further left; and especially as it has been controlled more and more by the editorial voice and opinions of the NY Times corporation.

The Globe is very clearly a left newspaper. They spent most of their 137 year history as a center left paper, drifting gradually more to the left since the depression; until they turned SHARPLY left, with the takeover by the NY Times (though they are in fact still not as far left as the Times).

Ok, Boston's something like the tenth most liberal major city in America, in the second most liberal state* right?

Well... Not really.

Massachusetts has a reputation as a very liberal state, and Boston a very liberal city; and to an extent that's true. Certainly it is reflected in the states voting record, and much of it's congressional contingent.

However, regarding Massachusetts as a liberal stronghold, fails to take into account the true nature of the states liberalism.

The vast majority of the Boston area is blue collar, and low level white collar, union, catholic, old line northeast democrats; with a significant minority of what we used to call Boston Brahmin democrats (rich, socially and politically conservative on a personal basis; but they support liberal politicians to seem "progressive", to make sure "the right people" run things, and because democrats are easier to buy off).

Outside of the immediate Boston area, Massachusetts is basically politically identical to western Pennsylvania. It's union Democrats, and center right Republicans; pro gun, pro hunting, pro business, and anti-leftist. Hell, still today, Western Massachusetts, and the adjoining parts of Connecticut and New York, are the firearms manufacturing capital of the western world.

I was born and raised in Boston, and just south of it. I know it. I lived it for more than 20 years (combined. I left, and then moved back during the .bomb). I was born in Southie, and have lived in Southie, Roslindale, West Roxubry, Dorchester, Mattapan, Milton, Quincy, Canton, Randolph, Newton, Dover, and Marlborough (not in that order).

I'm Boston Irish; with an Irish immigrant father, and a second generation mother. We're walking stereotypes. My family are all either cops, criminals, lawyers, politicians, teachers, nurses, firemen, civil servants, or tradesmen (or sometimes more than one of the above). Blue collar and low level white collar, social and political conservative, Democrats (well... I've got an aunt and an uncle who are ridiculous lefties, and a pair of uncles who are to the right of Pat Buchannan... but they're outliers).

Let me tell you, people from the area may vote Democrat; but they aren't anything like the Democrats in San Francisco or LA (except Cambridge and Brookline anyway).

What Boston area Democrats are, is machine voters. Democrats bring back more pork, more jobs, grant more favors etc...

If you want to be a part of the machine, you become a democrat, that's how it is.

If you want a building permit, you go to your cousin, the selectman, and he talks to the zoning commissioner for you. Of course, all the selectmen for your area are democrats. If you want a construction contract, you go to the public works commissioner, your brother in laws old friend; also a Democrat. In fact all the public commissioners are Democrats too.

That's how it is.

These folks aren't leftists by any stretch, and in fact aren't particularly socially liberal.

Just ask a gay man from Boston how easy it was to come out; or BE out, outside of downtown, Newton, Cambridge, and Brookline. Ask him if he would walk in Southie alone at night; or EVER, hand in hand with his boyfriend.

So when the Globe is run by clearly anti-American, anti-religious, anti-catholic, anti-israel, pro-islam, New Yorkers (even though it has local editorial and reporting staff)... Well, people just don't like it.

The Herald on the other hand does just fine with a center right viewpoint, a great sports page, a strong focus on being local issues, and criticism of Washington, no matter who is in power.

Funny enough, that suits Bostonians just about right.

* An aside for those of you counting more liberal cities and states: San Francisco, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, New York and Newark (not necessarily in order); and for states, California.

HT: Doug Mataconis