HOW MUCH IS $7 MILLION? I didn't get a chance to tend to Media Log yesterday - so, naturally, a poster accused me of ignoring the "Boston media story of the year ... $7 million in painful cuts at the Boston Herald." Well, now. Where to begin?
What's going on at the Herald this year may prove to be a huge story. What happened this past Thursday, on the other hand, was pretty minor. As Mark Jurkowitz reported in the Boston Globe yesterday, Herald publisher Pat Purcell met with union heads on Thursday and told them that he needs to find $7 million in savings. There were no details; the parties will meet again on April 4; and the cuts apparently will not be implemented until the end of June.
Late Thursday afternoon I spoke with Lesley Phillips, head of the Newspaper Guild at the Herald. Though she couldn't really say anything beyond the prepared statement that Jurkowitz reported, she did not strike me as ready to go into full panic mode. Going into the meeting, there were all kinds of rumors flying about - that Purcell might announce the sale of the Herald, or that he might start pushing for drastic cutbacks of the sort that would let him fill his pages cheaply with wire-service stories and copy from his Community Newspaper chain. Neither one of those things happened, although it's certainly possible that they could down the road.
Not to sound defensive (who, me?), but I reported the essence of this story (scroll down) on February 25. At that moment the Herald was already in the midst of deep budget cuts, sale rumors, and continuing angst over Boston's Metro, the freebie tabloid in which the New York Times Company - parent company of the Globe - has purchased a 49 percent share. "It's really across the country, and we're looking at all our expenses," Purcell told me at the time.
The most important question is what it will mean to cut $7 million. Although there is no word of layoffs coming out of One Herald Square, it's also true that $7 million would cover the salaries of 140 employees making $50,000 a year. That basic math has not escaped the notice of at least one newsroom source I spoke with. On the other hand, it could very well be that there are other areas where the $7 million can be found. At this point, there's no way of knowing.
THE GLOBE AND THE GLOBE. Foreign editor Jim Smith sent out a memo yesterday at 6:41 p.m. announcing some pretty significant changes in the paper's international coverage. An insider passed along a copy to Media Log. It reads in full:
I am delighted to announce that Colin Nickerson will be the Globe's next European bureau chief, succeeding Charlie Sennott when he comes home this summer. At the same time, Anne Barnard and Thanassis Cambanis will move from Baghdad to Jerusalem, succeeding Charlie Radin when he too returns home. Colin, who is completing a Knight Science Fellowship at MIT, has spent much of his Globe career producing outstanding coverage of world affairs, often from perilous locations. Anne and Thanassis have provided extraordinary coverage of Iraq, during the initial invasion in 2003 and for the past year from their base in Baghdad. In Jerusalem, they will form a two-person bureau responsible for covering the Arab world as well as the Israeli-Palestinian story. From Jerusalem, they will travel to Iraq periodically as well as elsewhere in the region. Please join me in congratulating Colin, Anne and Thanassis and wishing them luck and success in these new assignments.
Sounds like the Baghdad bureau is history. But Iraq isn't necessarily the biggest story taking place in the Middle East right now. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the tension between Lebanon and Syria come to mind as stories that are at least as important. By having two people in Jerusalem instead of one, it sounds like the Globe will be able to deploy people more easily across the region.
No doubt Barnard and Cambanis - who have done a tremendous job of covering the war in Iraq - would rather spend what little down time they have in Jerusalem rather than in Baghdad.
WRONG AGAIN. I'm beginning to think that New York Times columnist David Brooks's greatest shortcoming is that he tries so hard to be reasonable that he fails to appreciate how unreasonable most people really are.
Today he tries to characterize the positions of both sides in the Terri Schiavo debate as principled but incomplete. In so doing, he is way too kind to the religious zealots who have made Schiavo their cause, and he manages to belittle social liberals unfairly as well.
Take this, for instance:
Social conservatives ... say that if we make distinctions about the value of different lives, if we downgrade those who are physically alive but mentally incapacitated, if we say that some people can be more easily moved toward death than others, then the strong will prey upon the helpless, and the dignity of all our lives will be diminished.
The true bright line is not between lives, they say, but between life and death. The proper rule, as Robert P. George of Princeton puts it, should be, "Always to care, never to kill."
Professor George sounds like someone I could have a conversation with. But he's not one of the conservatives who've injected themselves into this. Instead, we're dealing with people like Barbara Weller, Randall Terry, and Dr. William Hammesfahr, whose claims grow more ludicrous by the day. At some point, I fully expect that one of them will tell us Terri asked for a pizza with everything - hold the anchovies - and a cold beer. They know most people don't accept their true position, so they characterize Terri Schiavo's condition in terms that are completely contradicted by all credible evidence.
Here is what Brooks has to say about social liberals:
The central weakness of the liberal case is that it is morally thin. Once you say that it is up to individuals or families to draw their own lines separating life from existence, and reasonable people will differ, then you are taking a fundamental issue out of the realm of morality and into the realm of relativism and mere taste.
You are saying, as liberals do say, that society should be neutral and allow people to make their own choices. You are saying, as liberals do say, that we should be tolerant and nonjudgmental toward people who make different choices.
Well, not this social liberal. I do believe that someone in a persistent vegetative state - or even a minimally conscious state - has a right to die if he or she expressed such a desire when able to do so. We will never know with 100 percent certainty if Terri did indeed tell her husband, Michael, that that's what she would want. But the courts have determined that she did. Moreover, as best as we can tell, Terri Schiavo is very close to being brain-dead, and has been for the past 15 years.
Because of these two factors, I don't think I'm being the least bit of a moral relativist here. Neither those who side with Michael Schiavo in public-opinion polls - many of them evangelical Christians.
Brooks wants to think this is a dispute over two different ways of seeing the world. To honorable people like him and Robert George, it is. Sadly, in the real world, it's a mud wrestling match between truth and falsehood.