Friday, January 14, 2005

WHAT DID THE TIMES COMPANY KNOW? Nothing, probably. The issue isn't why Alex Beam didn't write about racist remarks by top officials at Metro International. There are a million reasons why stories don't always make their way into print, and Beam's explanation in today's Globe seems perfectly reasonable. It's difficult to get past on-the-record denials when you have no personal knowledge as to whether the charges are true.

The issue, rather, is whether Beam might have gossiped about the allegations, and if that gossip might have wafted over to the corporate office before the Globe's owner, the New York Times Company, decided to buy 49 percent of Boston's Metro. On that, Beam is definitive: "I never wrote a word about this story, and before now I never discussed it with an editor or colleague."

Absent any proof, there is no reason to think that Times Company chair Arthur Sulzberger Jr. or Globe publisher Richard Gilman knew about Metro officials' yukking it up over racist jokes before Rory O'Connor broke the story on this past Monday.

Meanwhile, Herald publisher Pat Purcell is pushing his antitrust case, arguing that combining the Metro - a free weekday tab - with the Globe amounts to a violation of the federal Clayton Act, which prohibits certain types of anticompetitive deals. The Times Company had announced last week that it was buying nearly half of the local Metro for $16.5 million. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

Media Log keeps getting asked why Purcell - whose Community Newspaper Company subsidiary owns about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts - can credibly accuse the Times Company of forming an illegal monopoly. It's really pretty simple: there are things that a distant number-two can do under the law that the number-one player can't. For instance, Apple can integrate hardware, operating-system software, and application software in such a way that would land Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in prison if he tried to do the same thing. That's because Apple doesn't come close to controlling the market for personal computers. So it is with the Times Company and Purcell's Herald Media, Inc.

On the other hand, it looks like Purcell is going to have to disavow his own media guide, from which the Globe quotes today: "Herald Media provides advertisers with the greatest reach of any print medium in the Greater Boston area." Whoops! (Note: I'm not quite sure what the Globe is quoting. I can't find that exact phrase in Herald Media's online media kit, a PDF of which is available here. However, the kit is filled with similar triumphalism.)

I still think the easiest solution for the Times Company would simply be to buy the remaining 51 percent of the local Metro. The resignation of Metro USA president Steve Nylund, the prime offender on the N-word matter, is completely phony, since he's remaining in a top position with Metro International. Since Purcell is challenging the deal on antitrust grounds anyway, the Times Company might as well go the whole hog and push its dubious new business partners out of the way.

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