If history is just one damn thing after another, then we are living in undeniably historic times. The federal government has injected billions of dollars into the banking system to keep lenders solvent while the nation waits, waving empty cups, until the bankers are ready to return the favor and open up their vaults. The odd couple of American capitalism (big business married to big labor) represented in Detroit is trying to get its act together to qualify for a customized Washington bailout. And working stiffs, many of whom once fecklessly voted to put the Republicans in part responsible for the current fiasco into power, are losing their homes and jobs in record numbers.
This is the backdrop against which the city, and New England, views the possibility that the Boston Globe will close if its corporate master, the New York Times Company, does not receive $20 million worth of savings from the paper's unions to offset the $85 million shortfall it is facing this year.
As games of hardball between management and labor go, this is a contest of major-league proportions. According to the rules, the side that blinks first usually loses. The rules, however, do not apply under current circumstances. There will be no winners. Things are too far gone.
The cold force of arithmetic ensures that, one way or another, the Times Co. will get its savings. But even when it does, there will be more painful days of reckoning with which to contend. The remaining $65 million in projected losses must somehow be digested. Should a white knight "rescue" the Globe, that party would still have to pillage the paper to make ends meet.
All of this infused last week's "Save the Globe" rally outside Faneuil Hall with an air of the surreal. An institution that, when able to muster its talents in sync with its heart, can alter, if not change, the local landscape now finds that it is powerless to help itself. Battalions of know-nothings may howl with glee, but many more Bostonians share the heartbreak.
This is the regional downside of the global economy. Like so many other major local businesses, the Globe is controlled by relatively faceless number crunchers from afar. The Times Co.'s stewardship of the Globe has not been heartless exactly. But at the end of the day, it is engaged in a struggle for its own survival. Any pretence of delicacy is now out the window.
The irony, of course, is that paying the interest on the $1.1 billion the Times Co. borrowed to buy the Globe 16 years ago is a huge part of its larger financial distress, as are the hundreds of millions it spent acquiring the International Herald Tribune, building an undeniably handsome new Manhattan tower, and buying back its devalued shares to discourage corporate raiders. Neo-liberal capitalism morphs into old-fashioned decline.
The Globe will likely eventually be sold. It may be temporarily shut down. It may go into bankruptcy. But the Globe as we know it will cease to exist. That this is a shame — and truly, it is hard to communicate the larger loss this suggests — does not make it any less likely.
That leaves Boston with the Metro — another irony, since 49 percent of it is owned by the Times Co. — and the Herald.
The Metro is a robo-paper, a soulless shell that treats news as a commodity.
The Herald is a different sort of faux newspaper. It is perfectly postmodern. It defines itself not by what it is (which is too often too hysterical, too hateful, too disreputable), but by what it is not (the Globe).
The Herald is not incapable of good journalism. Reporter Jay Fitzgerald's coverage of some aspects of the Globe crisis has been superior.
But the paper's gleefully malicious tone when covering the plight of its competitor is no exception to its norm. It is an unremittingly nasty piece of work: vile to the Globe, vile toward so many.
One of the joys of living in Boston is out-thinking the city's signature institutions: telling Harvard how to be smarter, out-strategizing Red Sox management. If the inconceivable were ever to happen, and the Globe were to disappear, who would news junkies pit their wits against? The Metro? The Herald? Get serious.