By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 11, 2006
The Washington Post Co. yesterday announced plans to eliminate the equivalent of 80 newsroom positions over the next year by offering an early retirement plan to eligible employees and through attrition of full- and part-time workers. The Post said it has no plans to lay off any of its more than 800 newsroom employees.
Newsroom managers told employees in staff meetings that the cuts were part of an overall effort to reduce costs while at the same time implement editorial changes to improve The Post's ability to reach audiences in multiple media.
"The goal is to bring the overall news costs back to where they were several years ago," said Post publisher and chief executive Boisfeuillet Jones Jr. He said the company planned to offer a similar buyout to the non-newsroom staff but declined to provide a specific target. "I don't have any precise set of staffing numbers, but I do have the goal of seeing overall costs in the newsroom go back to where they were."
Like many newspapers suffering from declining circulation, The Post's revenue has remained flat for several years. The number of paid subscribers has declined 4 percent a year. The Post is trying to extend its reach by adding features to its Web site, such as blogs and podcasts, and with the launch of a Washington Post radio venture later this month.
In meetings yesterday with staff members for each section, Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said The Post is doing better, financially, than many of its competitors. "But it is obvious that a significant change is taking place in our readership, with a sizable portion of it migrating to the Internet," he said.
Other cost-cutting measures include closing several offices that Post foreign correspondents use overseas and eliminating assistant positions in some of those bureaus. With laptop computers and satellite and cellular phones, many correspondents can work out of their homes, Downie said, and the newspaper is pushing correspondents to cover wider areas and become less fixed to offices. He added that The Post does not plan to eliminate any of its 18 foreign bureaus.
"Most things we're doing, we're doing for journalistic reasons, but where we can also save money while we're doing that, it's just a prudent thing to do," Downie said. When pressed about the possibility of layoffs in the future, Downie said: "What will happen in three years from now, I don't know. . . . But this will put us in a good position."
Locally, Downie said, The Post is rethinking its suburban weekly Extra sections in some counties. He said the newspaper is considering merging the Howard and Anne Arundel County Extras and remaking The Post's Metro coverage to include more local stories in the zoned sections daily, instead of weekly.
The Post offered employees an early retirement package two years ago, and more than 100 longtime employees accepted, about half of them from the newsroom. This year's buyout appears to be more targeted than the previous one, said Rick Weiss, co-chairman of The Washington Post unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents 600 editorial employees.
In an e-mail to newsroom staff members yesterday, Jones said the retirement offer would be "voluntary and will be designed to allow employees -- basically those whose functions will not have to be replaced or can be reassigned -- to retire this year with enhanced retirement benefits."
John Morton, a newspaper industry analyst, said The Post's changes are not surprising, given an industry-wide trend of cost pressures. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, Boston Globe, and Tribune newspapers are among the major newspapers to make staff reductions in recent years. Unlike The Post, many of those newspapers said they would resort to layoffs if buyouts and attrition did not sufficiently thin their ranks.
Morton said, however, that the rise of online readership and advertising holds promise for the industry. "It's not as gloomy as it's often portrayed," he said. "It depends on how well newspapers manage this transition."