Newspapers hit hard by dose of bad news

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Newspaper dramas played out on several stages around the nation Friday. There was a cliff-hanger, a tragedy and sturm und drang aplenty.

The months-old battle between the Gray Lady and her proverbial billion-dollar baby continued. The New York Times threatened to shutter its money-losing property, the Boston Globe, if the Massachusetts paper did not come up with $20 million in union concessions immediately.

The Globe asked for more time, bolstered by a public outcry from lawmakers, loyal readers and local officials who took great umbrage over the idea that New Yorkers could close down their hometown paper.

In a last-ditch effort, the Globe claimed that its parent paper made a $4.5 million error in its accounting, justifying an extension of the deadline.

“This is a huge, huge mistake by the company,” said Daniel Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents 600 employees. “They should credit us with the three weeks we spent negotiating in good faith. Let’s extend the clock.”

Relations are not cordial between the two.

The Globe is losing about $1 million a week in operational costs. The Times, meanwhile, is suffering through employee buyouts, pay cuts and a 28 percent drop in advertising revenue. Critics also made accusations that the traditionally populist Manhattan paper has resorted to unseemly union busting.

In possibly the worst-case scenario of the week, the Baltimore Sun cut its 205-member newsroom staff by nearly a third in a reorganization meant to keep the paper solvent.

Sixty-one people - including editors, photographers, critics, columnists, sports reporters, copy editors, page designers and graphic artists - lost their jobs.

Three staffers - two reporters and a photographer - were told the news as they covered an Orioles baseball game in Los Angeles, ironically reported live by a blogger from another newspaper.

“Tough times in the newspaper biz,” wrote the Orange County Register’s Bill Plunkett. “Two writers for the Baltimore Sun in the press box here got the news - by phone, during the game - that they had been laid off in the latest round of cost cutting. Stay classy, Baltimore Sun management.”

The moment made international news, covered closely by the British press in particular.

Sun officials issued a now familiar statement, indicating the paper - like dozens around the nation - was rethinking market strategies.

“We’re going to become a 24-hour, local news-gathering media company so we can more effectively gather content and distribute it among our different platforms: print, online and mobile,” spokeswoman Renee Mutchnik said.

“As everyone knows, more and more readers are moving online, and advertisers are following them. This is our plan for success, not just survival.”

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