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Times Co. says Globe on path to profitability

By Robert Weisman and Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / September 10, 2009

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Top executives from The Boston Globe’s parent company told employees yesterday the newspaper is on a path to profitability as a result of pay cuts and price increases that took effect over the summer.

During two sessions at the Globe’s offices, New York Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and chief executive Janet L. Robinson thanked employees for their sacrifices and stressed that the improved financial conditions meant the company does not need to sell the paper if offers are not satisfactory.

The company confirmed in August it had hired investment banker Goldman Sachs to help explore a sale of the New England Media Group, which includes the Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Sulzberger said the Times Co. has received preliminary bids and would begin taking prospective buyers through the Globe and the Telegram & Gazette properties over the next couple of days. “Our hand is not being forced,’’ he said. “We are not in a situation where we must absolutely sell the Globe or the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for the good of the compa ny.’’

At the Globe yesterday, employees repeatedly asked if price alone would determine the sale of the paper, focusing their concerns on one of the reported bidders, Platinum Equity, a California investment firm. Platinum bought the San Diego Union earlier this year and swiftly cut about one-fifth of the newspaper’s staff. Sulzberger said a decision on the sale would hinge on several factors, including the price and the impact of a sale on the Globe’s journalism, its readers, and the Greater Boston community.

“We are going to take into account more than simply the money on the table,’’ Sulzberger said, including “the effect of the sale on the community and your mission to provide the best journalism can.’’

Mark Barnhill, a principal at Platinum Equity, declined to comment.

Globe publisher P. Steven Ainsley, meanwhile, said the paper’s executives also hoped to decide on a new strategy on whether and how to charge for access to content on Boston.com by year’s end. He said possible scenarios include putting the website behind a pay wall, but such a move would have to balance the potential for increased revenue against a potential loss of visitors if the site were no longer free. “It’s an enormously complicated analysis,’’ Ainsley said.

Yesterday’s meetings marked the first time Times Co. executives have met with Globe workers in more than a year. A common complaint among Globe employees was that the most senior Times Co. executives did not travel to Boston for a face-to-face meeting with employees at which they might have explained the paper’s financial condition and made the case for sacrifices.

Sulzberger acknowledged that “reasonable men and women may disagree about whether we should have come here before to talk to you.’’ But he made no apologies for the Times Co.’s strategy to seek cuts from employees.

Although the sessions were mostly civil, there were some contentious moments. Classified sales employee Jeanne Shimkus drew a smattering of applause during the morning meeting when she attacked the Times Co. executives for imposing cuts on employees and questioned their credibility. “I have no respect for anything you say. And I don’t believe a word you say,’’ Shimkus said.

Sulzberger quickly moved on to the next question. “If you have no respect for anything I say, and you don’t believe anything I say, then we don’t have the basis for a conversation and a dialogue,’’ he told Shimkus.

During the same session, Marty Callaghan, the president of the Boston Newspaper Printing Pressmen’s Union, urged Sulzberger and Robinson to make sure any prospective owner knew how many sacrifices workers have made this year. “You banged us around really good,’’ Callaghan said. “Some new owner better not come in here and think that they are going to go, with the way things usually go, and come in and bang these unions around again.’’

Times and Globe executives said the company will continue to look for ways to trim expenses, but did not outline any specific plans for job cuts or other reductions. “We’re always looking for efficiencies,’’ said Ainsley. “We’re always looking at staffing.’’

But he added, “We’re spending a lot of time waiting on seeing what the economy does for us over the next few months before we make any specific decisions.’’

Although Robinson emphasized that the company is on better financial footing, she said she could not predict when the Globe would be profitable again.

Robert Gavin of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Robert Weisman can be reached at weisman@globe.com; Todd Wallack at twallack@globe.com.