More Than 100 Post Journalists Take Buyout

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 2008

More than 100 Washington Post reporters, editors, photographers, artists and other journalists will take early retirement packages offered by the company as a way to cut costs, reducing the newsroom staff by at least 10 percent.

A number of familiar bylines will leave for good or no longer appear regularly in the paper, including those of military affairs reporter Thomas E. Ricks; feature writers Linton Weeks and Peter Carlson; health reporter Laura Sessions Stepp; science reporter Rick Weiss; the husband-and-wife foreign correspondent team of John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore; critics Stephen Hunter, Desson Thomson and Tim Page; Federal Diary columnist Stephen Barr; Weekend writers Richard Harrington and Eve Zibart; and Metro reporters Sue Anne Pressley Montes and Yolanda Woodlee.

Political dean David Broder took the package but will remain on contract; his column will continue to appear in The Post. Sports columnist and ESPN personality Tony Kornheiser also took the offer, but his most recent full-length column in The Post appeared in 2005. Since then, his presence has been largely limited to printed excerpts from his daily Talking Points video, which is planned to continue.

The list includes a number of Pulitzer Prize winners, including Ricks, Broder and Hunter.

"I realized about a year ago I no longer had to be the film critic," said Hunter, a successful novelist who has a book coming out in September and commutes from Baltimore. "Part of it was New York Avenue fatigue, part of it was movie fatigue, part of it was CGI fatigue," he said, referring to digitally rendered movie special effects. "I'm doing what The Post would not do: I'm firing myself for being too old."

In addition, a number of Post editors who are less-known to the outside world will leave, including Deborah Heard, the Style section's top editor, and Michael Keegan, who runs the News Art department. Other key editors leaving are Maralee Schwartz and Tony Reid from the Business section; Home editor Belle Elving; Travel editor K.C. Summers; Book World editor Marie Arana; and from the Style section, editors John Pancake, Peter Kaufman, Lynne Duke and Rose Jacobius, the longtime night editor and legendary headline writer.

Post employees from non-newsroom departments took the packages, as well, though no numbers were given.

The early retirement packages, or buyouts, were offered to staff members who were at least 50 years old and had at least five years of Post experience. Many will leave by the end of the month; some will stay on until the end of the year, including columnist and veteran foreign correspondent Nora Boustany. The deadline for accepting a buyout was May 15; yesterday was the end of the period staffers had to change their minds. More than 200 newsroom employees were eligible.

In exchange for leaving, employees will get a lump-sum payment based on their years of experience. The oldest and longest-serving Post employees can receive the equivalent of two years' salary and begin receiving their pensions immediately.

This is the third round of buyouts The Post has offered in the past five years. The first came in 2003, the second in 2006. Post newsroom employment peaked at 908 in 2003; there are now about 780 full-time-equivalent newsroom workers. After the buyouts, that number will be about 700.

The Post will take the opportunity to restructure its newsroom in ways that may not be apparent to readers.

"There is no plan right now to eliminate sections of the paper" or to reduce the frequency of their publication, Managing Editor Philip Bennett said yesterday. The buyouts will affect "chiefly how we organize our coverage -- more how we do things than what we do," he said. Bennett called the buyouts a "very, very difficult and painful process."

Steadily declining circulation and advertising revenue over the past two decades have led newspapers to reduce staff sizes through buyouts and layoffs, the latter of which The Post has avoided.

In 1999, for instance, the newspaper division of The Post Co. reported $157 million in operating income. By 2007, that number had fallen to $66 million. Daily average circulation of The Post peaked at 832,232 in 1993. It stands at 638,300.

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