Major U.S. Newspapers Announce Staff Cuts
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The American newspaper industry has been undermined by slumping circulation and tepid advertising revenues. Now there's fresh evidence of its troubles. The New York Times and The Boston Globe announced staff reductions of 4 percent yesterday. Cuts in the newsroom at the storied Philadelphia Inquirer will be even larger. NPR's David Folkenflik describes the calculus behind those cuts and the sharp dissent from some former editors.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:
Walter Lundy was the top editor of several Knight Ridder newspapers in Tallahassee, St. Paul and then, for 17 months, at the Philadelphia Inquirer. He still won't say exactly why he left two summers ago, but he does say this.
Mr. WALKER LUNDY (Former Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer): There's an old expression that I think fits this situation. I think newspaper companies are eating their seed corn. I fear for their future because you just can't save your way and the profit increases every year. If you're running a steakhouse, you still gotta serve 'em steak.
FOLKENFLIK: Lundy says editors are confronting constant pressure from corporate owners to serve up a less meaty newspaper. Even as they've built up their Web sites, they've been forced to slash costs for travel, pages devoted to news and the size of their staffs. Knight Ridder, like many of its competitors, is publicly traded, so it also seeks to satisfy investors and the stock analysts who advise them. They way to drive up the price of the stock is to make sure profits grow each year.
Newspapers as a whole are quite profitable. In Philadelphia, the Inquirer has profit margins in the midteens, but that's considered relatively low inside Knight Ridder. Yesterday the Inquirer announced it would cut its news staff by 15 percent. Its sister paper, the Philadelphia Daily News, will lose 19 percent. Inquirer editor Amanda Bennett told her employees she threw up when she realized how big the cuts would have to be.
Ms. AMANDA BENNETT (Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer): But in some ways, the size of the number is a gift to us because a smaller number we could have met by stretching and just pulling people out and doing everything just a little worse. This size number, we can't do that. We're going to have to reinvent ourselves.
FOLKENFLIK: The once robust profit margins of newspapers are now being whittled away. Consolidation among department stores and airlines means fewer advertisers. Costs are rising, and newspapers say their readers are being diverted by television, satellite radio, Internet sites and apathy. The publisher of the two Philadelphia papers is Joe Natoli. Natoli says they will still offer far deeper news coverage than any other source in the region.
Mr. JOE NATOLI (Publisher, Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News): The real question is: Can we put out newspapers that are interesting and compelling and that do watchdog journalism and the things that really make us special? And I believe with the commitment of more than 500 journalists that we can do that.
FOLKENFLIK: Polk Laffoon is Knight Ridder's vice president for corporate relations. He says quality journalism relies on dedicated reporters and editors, not the size of a newsroom budget. But some journalists suggest the rhetoric of news executives is often contradicted by their actions. John Carroll stepped down last month as the top editor at the Los Angeles Times. He says his decision was influenced by relentless pressure to cut costs from the paper's owner, the Tribune Company. Carroll also took note of the recent profit-driven move by Knight Ridder to swap newspapers in Detroit and elsewhere with a key competitor.
Mr. JOHN CARROLL (Former Editor, Los Angeles Times): I worked for Knight Ridder for 18 years, and I know that the Detroit Free Press was part of the lore, part of the company's pride back in the old days. Now it seems, viewed from the outside, that these papers are like cards in a deck; you shuffle them, you deal them, you fold them. And the meaning of them as an institution in the community seems to have been lost.
FOLKENFLIK: Across the country, newspaper editors can earn big bonuses for meeting goals set by corporate owners. But Barry Hartmann, the former editor of the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, says those bonuses can come at a cost.
Mr. BARRY HARTMANN (Former Editor, Daily Camera): When I joined Knight Ridder in 1983, mostly all my goals were based on improving the product, serving the community, turning out a newspaper that did something. And as time went on, the objectives became more oriented toward the bottom line of the newspaper.
FOLKENFLIK: Knight Ridder's Polk Laffoon says there's a good reason for that.
Mr. POLK LAFFOON (Vice President for Corporate Relations, Knight Ridder): The goals and priorities of a company as a whole need to be understood and, I would say, adhered to by all of the people who have a determining role in how the company will do each year.
FOLKENFLIK: In Philadelphia, the two newspapers are offering buyouts, but layoffs seem likely. And former Philadelphia Daily News editor Zach Stalberg says the cuts may haunt those who remain.
Mr. ZACH STALBERG (Former Editor, Philadelphia Daily News): The youngest people in particular are thinking whether the newspaper industry is the right place for them for the future.
FOLKENFLIK: At the end of trading today, Knight Ridder's stock price was hovering around its 52-week low. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.