‘Boston Globe’ Newsroom In ‘High State of Anxiety’

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By: Joe Strupp

The ongoing turmoil at The Boston Globe, where the Newspaper Guild remains the lone union unable to reach an agreement to avoid a shutdown of the paper, has many staffers on edge — with one veteran calling it a “terrible rollercoaster.”

While the threat of a shutdown has been on mind for weeks, several newsroom rank and file say the last two days of events — in which the guild had $10 million in concessions rejected — has heightened concerns and made the future less-secure than ever. Others say the lifetime job guarantees for some staffers, which the company wants removed, are a major sticking point.

“You’ve got to be careful getting too up or too down,” said Scott Allen, a 17-year veteran and reporter with the paper’s investigative team. “It is a terrible rollercoaster to be on.”

He notes the Globe threats to begin efforts to close, as recently as Monday morning, then a pullback to allow more negotiations, adds to stress. “You have this yo-yo effect of despair and hope, one after the other,” he said. “Right now, my sense is [the guild negotiators] were not leaving in a huff, they are not at impasse.”

Allen was referring to the guild’s announcement Monday that it was walking away from talks for the moment, but expected to be back at the table later this week. Still, the uncertainty grows worse and worse, staffers say.

“It is fair to say people are in a high state of anxiety,” says Scott Helman, a nine-year Globe reporter. “People are really nervous. Everyone recognizes we have to make concessions. But we are trying to make sure we do that in a fair way.”

The Guild has detailed its $10 million offer of concessions, which were rejected on Sunday. But it appears a key issue is the lifetime job guarantees for some veteran staffers, which the paper wants to remove, but guild leaders have said is non-negotiable.

Some newsroom veterans say that had created at least something of a divide within the union.

“Large numbers of people will be laid off if that guarantee is lifted,” said Dan Wasserman, the Globe’s editorial cartoonist and a 23-year employee, who is covered by the protection. “I think the union is hoping the company will attach some monetary value to the lifetime guarantee.” He said the contract has a provision that allows the company to remove the lifetime protection “but they have to go to arbitration.”

“Everybody is worried, and everybody is pretty angry,” Wasserman added. “The [New York Times company] has succeed in uniting the union in a way it was not before.”

Matt Viser, a five-year reporter, also revealed some concerns. “It has gotten more tense. There has probably been more worry in the past few days,” he said. “I am more nervous about the endgame. There is a realization that changes are coming and that may mean drastically scaling back.”

But some others, such as columnist Scot Lehigh are not as worried, believing the threats are just tactical in the negotiating effort: “There is a lot of posturing going on. My very strong expectation is that it is all going to work out, the two sides will strike an agreement.”

Statehouse Bureau Chief Frank Phillips agreed. “I can’t imagine the New York Times is going to shut The Boston Globe,” he said. “People are a little edgy, but no one is panicked.”

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