Newspapers Know No End To Turmoil

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 9, 2006

It's no exaggeration to say that bad news comes every day for the embattled newspaper industry.

Yesterday, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer became the second top editor of a major newspaper in two days to leave.

Also yesterday, investors increased pressure on the New York Times Co. to scrap its venerated family-ownership structure, saying it has harmed the company's value and is no longer accountable to public shareholders.

Amanda Bennett, the Inquirer's editor for the past three years, was replaced by National Public Radio ombudsman Bill Marimow, who left as editor of the Baltimore Sun in 2004 after staff cuts there. At the Inquirer, Marimow may have to cut more than one-third of his staff within weeks.

And in Los Angeles, staff members at the Times have had exactly one day to deal with losing editor Dean Baquet -- who was fired Tuesday after refusing to make staff cuts required by the paper's corporate owners -- before new reports emerged that L.A. supermarket magnate Ronald W. Burkle wants to buy their paper and its parent, the Tribune Co.

"I'd say we're slowly recovering here," said Vernon Loeb, the L.A. Times' California investigations editor. "But I wouldn't want to minimize how deeply all of us feel the loss of Dean. He wasn't just admired here. He was beloved."

Facing declining circulation since 1987 and diminished revenue for the past few years, major newspapers and their owners are trying to remake themselves for the digital age. Most papers have moved aggressively into Internet -- and some, mobile -- delivery of their news and ad sales, as they attempt to follow their readers from paper to the Web and beyond.

But the changeover has been costly, and even though online ad revenue has been rising, it is not enough to offset the loss of classified and display advertising in newspapers.

Newspaper companies also are feeling pressure from Wall Street investors, who see an industry that shows little or no growth potential.

In Philadelphia, the Inquirer is one of the old lions of the industry, a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, once home to renowned national and foreign correspondents. But the paper has lost tens of thousands of readers in recent years, more than most of its industry peers. Daily circulation, 500,000 at its peak in the 1980s, is 332,000 today.

Earlier this year, the paper's former owner, Knight Ridder, was bought by the McClatchy Co. chain, which kept Knight Ridder's growing papers and sold poorer performers, such as the Inquirer.

The paper's newsroom had already lost 75 employees to buyouts, taking the staff down to about 410. Now, the new owners are negotiating with the employees' union to cut as many as 150 newsroom jobs.

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