All is not happy for the dinosaurs still living in the land before time. Up in Boston, for example, the venerable Globe has gone through a gut-wrenching week or two that began with management proposing an 8 percent pay cut for its unionized newsroom employees, who said forget about it. Management promptly agreed to forget, and responded with a new proposal — a 23 percent pay cut.
At that point the parent New York Times Company, which had bought the Globe for $1.1 billion in 1993 and had declined even to consider a sale in 2006 when an offer of $500 million was in the air, apparently began to sing a different song. On Monday, June 15, the Times’s own media columnist asked six different media analysts what price the Times might command for the 300,000 circulation Globe. The answers ranged from around $250 million to some negative number — the amount the Times would have to pay a buyer to take the Boston paper off its hands.
The high estimate came from analyst John Morton, who noted that a buyer paying that price would impose cost cutting measures that would make the contract just rejected look like “paradise.”
Can you imagine what it’s like to be the editor of such a news operation? While all that corporate crap is flying overhead, you have to get a reporter to go to City Hall at night, report on a municipal budget hearing, and be excited enough to stay awake during the deliberations and then report it all correctly the next morning.
Of course mistakes are made (see page 2 of this issue for some of our most recent bloopers), and criticisms are expressed. Some thoughtful responses add value to the entire discussion. A U.S. 1 reporter’s recent column on his experiences serving as executor of his mother’s estate drew an informative response from an attorney specializing in such estate work — see page 4 of this issue. And the article on town-gown divisions prompted a letter writer to cite the French historian Alexis de Tocqueville in describing the longstanding role of charitable and nonprofit organizations in American society.
But not all commentators are so enlightened. And many are more brutal than ever. Given that most letters to the editor now come via E-mail, and that many reactions are posted by readers within seconds as they read stories online, the artfully composed corrections of the past (“reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”) may become dinosaurs themselves.
Our cover story of June 3 on the classical radio station, WWFM, generated some heated response. One online critic wondered how U.S. 1 could be so stupid as to ignore Princeton University’s student-run radio station, WPRB. “It’s as if the reporter landed in Mercer County from another planet,” wrote one. U.S. 1’s reporter and the WWFM manager “should know that it reduces your credibility to ignore the elephants in the room.”
If we could engage that critic, we would ask a question in return: Isn’t it possible that — given the clutter of radio signals on our dials — the vast majority of central New Jersey residents have no idea that the elephant is even in the room?
That article on WWFM also drew the ire of WQXR, the classical FM station in New York owned by the New York Times. Our Between the Lines column on page 2 of this issue details our error in reporting the financial condition of the station. But the Timesman speaking on behalf of WQXR demanded more than a correction; he also wanted an apology. Which he is about to get.
But first a word about the lecture that came with these demands. We wish we could report it verbatim but the Timesman asked that all communication be private and not for publication (if the government could keep a lid on its employees the way the Times does on its employees there wouldn’t have been a Watergate or Iran contra scandal).
Suffice it to say that the lecture began with an admonition about the need for accuracy in reporting, the insistence of the New York Times on accuracy, and the lack of journalistic integrity of publications such as ours that do not attain that level of accuracy. Of course, the Timesman was not surprised by our woeful performance, given that our mission as a community newspaper is simply to provide puff pieces for community institutions such as WWFM. That’s only his opinion, of course, but he is entitled to it.
Now that apology: To the hardworking people of WQXR, who have to operate under the specter of a rumored sale by your parent company to help manage its cash flow problems, we apologize for the owners and the business managers of the Times who put the paper into such a bind in the first place; we apologize for those who thought that the Times could profit from a real estate deal in midtown Manhattan and from a stake in the Boston Red Sox (what kind of conflict does that pose for reporters covering the rival Yankees?); and we apologize for all those Times “suits” who failed to implement a profitable Internet strategy (how many of those business guys took 23 percent pay cuts?).
On behalf of all them, we apologize. We hope it will brighten their day, but we doubt it — all is not happy in the land before time.