The Washington City Paper didn’t cut any staff positions today. It merely cut the cost of all staff positions: Employees at the region’s alt-weekly will take a 5 percent pay cut.
News of the initiative broke on the paper’s Web site this afternoon. City Paper is owned by the Creative Loafing chain of alt-weeklies; the other properties in the chain — the Chicago Reader and Creative Loafing Atlanta — will sustain “more extensive cuts to staff,” according to the Web site.
Michael Schaffer, the paper’s top editor, said what editors say in such circumstances. “My job is to make a great newspaper and a great Web site. I’m going to keep doing it,” he said. “Our staff has done great work under difficult cirumstances, and they’re going to keep doing it.” That staff is about half the size of the City Paper’s editorial peak of a decade ago. (Disclosure: I formerly served as editor of the paper)
City Paper Publisher Amy Austin says that the cuts will help “stabilize the company.” In addition to the salary cuts, says Austin, the paper’s circulation manager will move from a full-time basis to 30 hours per week. There are currently no plans, says Austin, for future staff reductions.
But what happens if a reporter finds a better job this afternoon? Will the paper recruit a replacement? “There are no guarantees in this business,” says Austin. She could say that again: Dave McKenna, the paper’s legendary sports columnist, announced his departure from the paper in late December, and there has been no attempt to find a full-time replacement.
Alt-weeklies have a strategic advantage when it comes to promulgating across-the-board pay cuts: Five percent of little is very little. “It’s not changing my plans here or my plans for the future, for the moment,” says Staff Writer Lydia DePillis. “To a lot of us who didn’t make a whole lot to begin with, it doesn’t make much difference.”