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The Pinch and the Pauper

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When I read an April 22nd blog on The Huffington Post, I got to daydreaming what Mark Twain might write if he were alive today and read what Thomas Edsall wrote:

At a time when New York Times managers are forcing all employees to take a five percent pay cut, and demanding even larger sacrifices from the NYT-owned Boston Globe, top executives of the beleaguered newspaper received substantial bonus and fringe benefit payments over and above their salaries, according to a proxy statement released on March 11.

These bonuses and benefits to top Times company executives have provoked growing resentment among Times staffers, and frank anger from Globe reporters who have been warned by Times executives that their paper will be folded if they do not come up with $20 million in pay cuts and layoffs.

On Tuesday, the Times disclosed a $74 million first quarter loss 221 times larger than the $335,000 loss in the first quarter of 2008.

According to the New York Times proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, corporate president and CEO Janet L. Robinson received a total compensation package valued at $5.58 million in 2008, up well over a million from the $4.14 million she received in 2007, and the $4.4 million she received in 2006.

If Twain were writing today, he might have the publishing prince, Arthur ("Pinch") Sulzberger, in his plush Fifth Avenue apartment late one evening, swizzling his dry martini, and thinking it might be a good idea to know what the little folks are doing and what they are thinking about his publishing kingdom.

Pinch thinks he might call his pal, Steve Rattner, and ask him to dress down with him (take off his yellow suspenders, French blue shirt with a white collar, and John Lobb shoes and put on torn jeans, a dirty sweat shirt, and sneakers) and go bar hopping in Boston. But then he realizes Rattner is busy in Washington being the automobile czar and dealing with tone-deaf automobile CEOs who flew to Washington in private jets but then holding tin cups, begged for Federal bailouts.

Sulzberger, of course, doesn't make the connection about being tone-deaf; he's a prince. So he calls the square-jawed Bill Keller, his editor at the Times, because he knows Keller dresses down well and no one in Boston will recognize him.

In a grubby bar near the Globe in Boston, the two incognito executives, looking seedy and wearing scruffy Red Sox caps, belly up to the bar and order a beer. Keller fakes a Boston accent pretty well and asks a middle-aged man with a stubble who wears a smudged chambray shirt, "How about the Globe? They going to close it down?"

"Who cares," the guy says, "Dan Shaughnessy and Bob Ryan would start a blog and I wouldn't have to put up with all that international crap. I have to scroll down the home page of the website for ten minutes to get to the sports, so I hate the Globe site."

"But doesn't Boston need a newspaper?", Keller asks. Pinch is too dumfounded to talk. He doesn't think common folks have computers or know what a blog is.

"Are you kidding!" the guy responds incredulously. "That piece of crap is owned by the Pink Lady, the frigging New York Times, and that Yankee-loving rag owns a piece of the Red Sox. How do you like the Sox and the Globe owned by those greedy, tone-deaf morons? Do you know that those jerks asked the union and other employees to take a big pay cut when Sulzberger made over $2 million and his CEO, some broad he's probably doing, made over $4 million."

Pinch chokes on his beer and slinks further down on his bar stool.

"Yeah, well," Keller replies somewhat imploringly, "isn't better to have a job, even if it pays less, than no job at all?"

"Are you nuts? Haven't you heard of equity theory or the ultimatum game -- you know, the perception of fairness?", the guy says with mild contempt. "People will act against their own best interests when they think they are being treated unfairly. They may go down, but they're going to take the greedy bastards down with them."

"Oh, OK. You may be right," Keller says, quickly downing his beer. "Nice talking to you. Have a good night."

"Same to you. But you'd better take care of your friend; he looks a little pale."

"He'll be OK when I get him back home to his castle ... er, I mean, home."

When they get back to New York, Keller gingerly asks Sulzberger how he thinks it went.

"Well, he's only a sample of one. No one else feels that way or knows how much money Janet Robinson makes, which is irrelevant. We've got to cut expenses so we can pay back Carlos Slim the $250 million he lent us." As he's talking, Pinch picks up a bottle of gin, looks at it horrified, and says, "My God, we're out of gin!"