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Globe trims budget as ad revenues drop

With the economic recovery sputtering out, the Boston Globe’s management is quietly tightening its belt. In recent weeks, the region’s largest daily newspaper has dropped its Sunday "Peaks and Valleys" column, a compilation of news from around New England, and the Saturday "Spiritual Life" column, which focused on religion. Those moves are part of an overall strategy to cut back on the use of freelancers. A hiring freeze already in place has reportedly been expanded as well.

"I guess they had to make cuts in the City & Region section. We were the non-staffers, so they were able to dump us without any union problems or anything like that," says former "Peaks and Valleys" columnist B.J. Roche of her and Rich Barlow, who wrote "Spiritual Life." She adds: "I’ve been getting a lot of e-mails from people. I feel like I had a great run. I had a lot of fun. What else can you ask for?"

The cuts follow a July 14 announcement by the Globe’s owner, the New York Times Company, that June ad revenues for its New England Newspaper Group (the Globe and Worcester’s Telegram & Gazette) were down 2.8 percent compared with the previous June. The announcement blamed the decrease on a softening market for travel, national-automotive, telecommunications, banking, technology, and entertainment ads.

Globe officials have little to say about the cutbacks. Editor Martin Baron referred an inquiry to publisher Richard Gilman, who was not available for comment. In an e-mailed statement, Globe spokesman BMaynard Scarborough said, "The newspaper industry is in the midst of a slower than expected economic recovery. We’re optimistic about the months ahead, but we are continuing to carefully monitor and control expenses."

The Globe’s moves reflect widespread unease in the newspaper business, which had been expected to perform strongly this year but has instead become caught up in the overall economic malaise. According to the trade magazine Editor & Publisher, help-wanted advertising — a major revenue source for the daily press — was flat from February through June after having risen slowly for some time before that. Perhaps most dramatically, the Los Angeles Times recently went through a major round of budget-cutting — including the elimination of 60 newsroom positions — not long after winning five Pulitzer Prizes, the most it had ever received in one year.

"I wouldn’t call it a nosedive, but it’s faltered," says newspaper consultant John Morton of the current media climate. "It’s primarily a reflection of retail spending. Consumer spending, which is two-thirds of the economy — and more than that for most newspapers, because most newspapers are intensely local — has been softening fairly quickly."

For the Globe, this softening has come during an expensive year, with the paper committed to covering stories such as the presidential campaign, the war in Iraq, and ongoing strife between Israel and the Palestinians. Then, too, it has not gone unnoticed that the paper sank a reported $500,000 into a fancy media party at the new Boston Convention and Exposition Center on the eve of the Democratic National Convention. Just the cost of doing business? Well, sure. As it turned out, though, the timing was a bit awkward.

But even though the paper is in budget-conscious mode, last week it brought in a well-known freelancer — former Boston Herald television critic Monica Collins — to write an every-other-week column for the Boston Globe Magazine, which will debut on September 19, and to contribute pieces to City Weekly (see Media Log, BostonPhoenix.com, August 5). The message appears to be that when the editors really want something, they’ll find the money.

The cost-cutting also coincides with a truce in the labor-management battle at 135 Morrissey Boulevard. Last week, the Boston Newspaper Guild approved a five-year contract for its members by a 578-to-90 vote — although, since most of the period covered by the contract is retroactive, it will expire in December 2005. Guild president Steve Richards, a copy editor in the Globe sports department, says he’s "concerned" about the budget cuts, but adds, "At this point, I don’t know of any impact or significant impact on our membership. Certainly we hope that remains the case."

Issue Date: August 13 - 19, 2004
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