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Post Buyouts Come With an Emotional Cost

As for those leaving, Downie says, "We hate to see them go," but they are being provided with "a really good financial situation" in terms of severance, pension and health benefits.

Downie says the reductions are part of a newsroom restructuring that will reduce the layers of editors on each story -- particularly copy editors -- and that the paper will still do a little hiring. Some operations will be merged, such as the Health section and daily health coverage, he says. And selected reporting beats will be eliminated as The Post concentrates on what it does best, including politics and investigative work.

"Some people occupy jobs that are just no longer needed, or will be done a different way in a restructured newsroom," Downie says. The question for each beat, he says: "Is it journalistically important, and is it attracting sufficient readership?"

In a note to the staff, Weymouth, a granddaughter of Katharine Graham, said: "The ways in which we break news and tell stories will continue to evolve and change as technology and readers' habits evolve and change. The challenge is at once daunting and thrilling: reinventing the newspaper -- in some senses, the news itself -- for a new century."

The mission facing The Post is much like that at other papers: give people a compelling reason to buy the product. Newspapers were painfully slow to comprehend that the old regimen of dull, insider stories and mediocre features had to change and be packaged more creatively.

In one sense, the Web is a blessing. Daily circulation for the newsprint Post, now 673,000, may be down from 813,000 in 2000, but we are drawing an eye-opening 9.4 million unique visitors online each month, 85 percent of them from outside the D.C. circulation area. Those readers don't bring in the cash that print subscribers do -- given the gotta-be-free mentality of the Web -- but they do expand our reach.

The ticking time bomb here is the wholesale abandonment of newspapers by younger people who grew up with a point-and-click mentality. When I was speaking at Harvard recently, a smug graduate student said, "I get everything I need from YouTube. What are you going to do about it?"

"What are you going to do about it?" I shot back. If people want to tune out the news, no one can compel them to change their habits. We can be smarter, faster and jazzier in providing information, but we can't force-feed the stuff. If newspapers wither and die, it will be in part because the next generation blew us off in favor of Xbox and Wii and full-length movies on their iPods. Network news faces the same erosion. Maybe, in the end, we get the media we deserve.

The Post has proven to be an awfully resilient place over the years. And if we have to do more with less, well, welcome to the global economy. After pondering the offer, I decided: I'll badly miss the people who are leaving, but I'm staying put.


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