Breaking the News

For the sake of both papers, the Globe and the Times should split

Local media reported earlier this month that The New York Times Company has threatened to close The Boston Globe, its erstwhile New England jewel whose once-bumper profits have morphed into massive losses. It’s easy to see why Times executives are fed up—losses at The Globe this year are projected at $85 million, a heavy burden that virtually no media company can bear in today’s economic environment.

But what is frustrating about the situation is that The Times’s plans for The Globe amount to the same tired tactics that have been tried time and again—pay reductions and layoffs for Globe staff. While this might staunch a small portion of the blood—the target is to reduce the losses to $65 million—it is hardly a long-term solution. After all, given The Times’s own deteriorating finances, a $65 million loss doesn’t seem very sustainable over the long haul either.

Instead of continuing this loveless marriage, the two papers ought to simply file for divorce. And they should do so the Massachusetts way: no fault, just a clean break.

The Times could spin off The Globe to a newly-created foundation chaired by local civic and business leaders. This would allow The Times to free itself from subsidizing The Globe's losses, and allow The Globe to both significantly reduce its tax liabilities and raise donations from readers. These improvements, on top of The Globe's existing advertising and subscription base, would let the paper avoid closure—and perhaps significant layoffs as well. And unlike for most papers, the actual conversion of The Globe to a non-profit would not cost money; after all, there are no owners or shareholders to buy out, as there are for The Times Company as a whole.

A similar model has already been implemented successfully in St. Petersburg, Fla. Decades ago, Nelson Poynter gave his two main media properties, the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly, to an eponymous foundation with the directions that the papers were to be run as public trusts. Today, the St. Petersburg Times is perhaps the best newspaper from any small or moderate-sized city. In fact, just last week the paper won Pulitzer Prizes for both national reporting and feature writing.

Some media analysts have argued that newspapers should try to set up university-style endowments and live off investment returns. But such proposals are extremely far-fetched, as billions of dollars and years of work would be needed to fully endow the nation’s great newspapers. Even National Public Radio, which began to accumulate an endowment following a $225 million gift in 2003, relies on the fund for just a small fraction of its total budget. The aim of converting The Globe to a non-profit is to avert catastrophe, not to create a new model for newspapers.

But, at this point, the first goal seems ambitious enough. It would truly be a shame if the nation’s most intellectual city were home only to a trashy tabloid and a few free subway papers. Bostonians who think better of their city should not fault Times executives for threatening to close their paper. They should simply offer to take it off of their hands.

Paras D. Bhayani ’09, a former Crimson managing editor, is an economics concentrator in Pforzheimer House.