WASHINGTON - Leaders of The Newspaper Guild (Communications Workers of America) are optimistic about their future relations with the two businessmen who reached agreements to buy two leading Guild-represented papers, John Henry at the Boston Globe and Jeffrey Bezos at the Washington Post.
Reflecting the financial ills that beset metropolitan papers in an era when the Internet has robbed them of advertising and when computers and television have grabbed their readers, the papers sold for less than expected, given their markets. Henry will pay $70 million for the Globe. Bezos will pay $250 million for the Post.
Part of the Guild's optimism comes from the joint announcement by Bezos and current Post management that they intend to extend union contracts at the paper for a year. The current Guild contract at the Post expires August 9.
"This is potentially an entirely new era for the Post," Guild President Bernie Lunzer said. "Our members made the Post one of America's most engaging, high-quality and vital news products, and we see the sale as an opportunity to build on that and create a model for profitable journalism." Maintaining and enhancing editorial quality has been a key Guild goal ever since the union's founding in the mid-1930s.
"We are eager to work with the new management to continue the proud traditions of quality journalism" at the Post, added Cet Parks, executive director of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. "We expect Mr. Bezos to respect the status of all unions at the paper, including the Guild as the designated representative of the newsroom and commercial-side bargaining unit." WBNG represents 900 workers.
"We intend to stay the course by working toward a new labor agreement. We hope, based on all of the above, the new owners are just as eager to reach a new pact."
Securities law obligates buyers of publically held enterprises - as the Post is now -- to bargain agreements and honor pension liabilities, Parks noted. Bezos plans to take the Post private.
Boston Newspaper Guild President Scott Steeves says his local's optimism comes from the fact that it negotiated a contract with the Globe's current owners, the New York Times Co. That pact has another 18 months to run.
It also helps that Henry is local, Steeves said. Henry owns the Boston Red Sox, New England's iconic baseball team. The Globe is New England's leading paper.
"They were absentee landlords," Steeves said of the Times Co. "We were second fiddle to them, if that." The Times Co. had bought the Globe just over a decade ago, for $1.1 billion.
The Times Co., first told the Boston Guild of the possible sale during bargaining, Steeves explained. He said there were other bidders for the Globe, including some who would not keep its quality up. Faced with a prospective sale, the Boston Guild negotiated a contract with some improvements, including the first raises in six years, and had it in place months before the sale announcement.
The contract's existence "gives us time to feel us out and time for him to get to know us," Steeves said of Henry.
Donald Graham, chairman and CEO of the Post, which the Meyer-Graham family has controlled since 1933, said on August 5 the Post Co. is selling the paper and allied properties to Bezos, owner of Amazon.com. Bezos' private company, not Amazon, will own the Post. The Post has lost money for seven straight years, and the overall Post Co. was profitable only because of its for-profit Kaplan Educational Services subsidiary.
Both papers are known for distinguished news coverage. The Post, already a very good paper, rose to national prominence in the early 1970s as the second paper, after The New York Times, to publish the Pentagon Papers, the secret and detailed record of U.S. involvement and war in Indochina, which began in the 1950s.
The Post then hit the jackpot by exposing the constitutional crimes of the Nixon administration collectively known as Watergate, including burglary, political sabotage, misuse of federal agencies and Nixon's conspiracy to cover up everything. Nixon eventually had to resign before being impeached, convicted and removed from office.
The Globe, which also published the Pentagon Papers after Nixon got court injunctions against the Times and the Post for doing so, has been a lead paper in investigating and exposing sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church - an important issue in heavily Catholic Boston.
Photo: Manuel Belce Ceneta/AP