Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Saber-Rattling at Star-Ledger to Intimidate Unions

Despite Losses, Threat by Newhouse to Close the Paper Rings Hollow

Given its dominant franchise in New Jersey, it's hard to believe the Star-Ledger loses money, but there's little argument that it's bleeding gobs of cash.

Newhouse, which owns the Newark-based paper, wants 20 percent of the staff out the door -- or it threatens to sell the Star-Ledger. The rub there, at least in the newsroom, is Newhouse guaranteed lifetime employment so long as reporters didn't unionize. But that only applied if Newhouse owned the paper. With a new owner, all bets are off.

The Star-Ledger does have a few pesky unions to deal with. One represents the drivers, who have the unmitigated gall to not lay prostrate in front of Donald Newhouse and throw cash at his feet.

The drivers aren't giving Newhouse the concessions it wants, so now it's taken the drastic but legally necessary step of announcing that if the drivers don't cough up some bucks, it'll either sell the Star-Ledger or close it in January.

"It is most unfortunate that we have to send out this notice, but the Drivers have left us with no choice," publisher George Arwady wrote in a memo to employees.

Arwady is playing a dangerous game of chicken. The Star-Ledger's troubles may be real, but saber-rattling does nothing to solve them. It's hard to take his threat to close the paper seriously, given that its reporters supply a lot of other content to other Newhouse papers in the region, including the Jersey Journal, the Trenton Times and the Staten Island Advance.

Get rid of the Star-Ledger and you cripple the other titles, which have already been hobbled by mediocrity, thin staffs and declining numbers. Donald Newhouse is too smart to let that happen. The drivers know that. Which doesn't mean they won't have to give up some of what's in their contract. But they also know that what's ailing the Star-Ledger isn't of their making.

No comments: