I feel pretty sad about the “profound dismay” expressed by former and current New York Times‘ employees due to a decision by management to freeze the pension plan for foreign bureau employees and other “recent developments.” The union sent a petition letter (384 signatures as of this writing) to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. expressing their concern.
We have worked long and hard for this company and have given up pay to keep it solvent. Some of us have risked our lives for it. You have eloquently recognized and paid moving tribute to our work and devotion. The deep disconnect between those words and the demands of your negotiators have given rise to a sense of betrayal.
A Huffington Post article on the matter by Michael Calderone notes that it could have been worse.
Bill O’Meara, president of the New York Newspaper Guild, said some staffers had considered even “more dramatic” actions.
“There were people who wanted to storm Arthur Sulzberger’s office,” O’Meara told The Huffington Post. “There were people who wanted to stage a walkout.”
The problem here is that this is 1960’s style labor posturing that really feels ancient in today’s media world. I don’t like it anymore than anybody else, but crying for yesterday does nothing to solve today’s problems. Managers of public companies have fiduciary responsibilities to their owners, the shareholders, and people don’t buy or hold stocks in companies that can’t produce growth. It’s not about how much money one makes, nor is it directly about margins; it’s about growth, and there are only two ways to do that. You can increase revenue, which isn’t happening anymore, or you can cut expenses, and that’s what’s happening here.
There’s very little growth in any sector of our economy right now, but this is more than just an economic problem. This is a problem of core business decay, and it will not get any better unless there’s a total reinvention undertaken. The truth and the laws of economics apply to everyone, even a vaunted institution like the New York Times.
What can be done? Take a look at the marvelous work of Lewis DVorkin at Forbes. Here’s a company that has blown out the original concept of making media and replaced it with a much leaner, more nimble and flexible system. The problem, of course, is that there’s no room whatsoever for organized labor’s perspective, which is now simply dead weight around the necks of the people who are trying to save the institution.
But beyond that – and to every individual in media today – the safe harbor that once was “the collective” is no more. It is literally every man and woman for themselves. If your organizations won’t or aren’t able to assist you in reinventing you, then you must do it yourself. I get the letter to the boss, but the arguments are sadly and unfortunately irrelevant. You must take care of you, because nobody will do it for you.