Language Matters at the Globe

I wish The Wall Street Journal had taken better care in crafting the lede of its story on the Boston Newspaper Guild’s rejection of the cost-cutting proposal of the Globe’s owner, New York Times Co.

The Boston Globe’s survival was jeopardized Monday when its largest union rejected a package of wage and benefits cuts that management had deemed necessary to keep New England’s largest daily alive.

I know what my old paper is getting at, but as the story itself makes clear, the issue of whether the Globe’s survival hinged on the vote was a contested one, to say the least. The union didn’t believe it. What’s more, TimesCo had virtually taken the issue of closing the Globe off the table at the time of the vote.

Indeed, Guild members voted “no” precisely because management had already said it would use another tactic to force down costs, again, as the Journal’s own story says:

Despite the threat of closure, calls for rejection of the company’s offer had gotten louder within the Guild in recent weeks, union members say. Many members, they say, had stopped believing the company was serious about closing the paper because most of the talk by management had shifted to another alternative.

The alternative was declaring an impasse in talks and imposing a 23 percent reduction in wages, as TimesCo. promptly did after the vote. As a consequence, TimesCo. now does not foresee closing the Globe.

So that lede was never really right.

And let’s face it: if the Globe’s survival is on the line, it was jeopardized long before Monday’s vote. That happened over the last decade or so as advertising revenue at the TimesCo. unit that includes the Globe, New England Media Group, fell off the table, to $319 million in 2008, from $552 million in 2000.

That’s $233 million right there, enough to explain the $85 million loss TimesCo. says the Globe is “on pace” to post this year.

Whatever the union’s faults, it hasn’t been setting corporate strategy.

What union does have say-so over, to some degree, is costs, and the Guild says its members haven’t had a raise in four years. (See this June 3 letter from the Guild to its members.)

Anyway, if management says the union vote really “jeopardized” the Globe’s survival, that’s fine. But the story should say, “management said.”

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Dean Starkman Dean Starkman runs The Audit, CJR's business section, and is the author of The Watchdog That Didn't Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism (Columbia University Press, January 2014). Follow Dean on Twitter: @deanstarkman.