Soon after taking over as editor of the Sacramento Union in July, Joseph Farah changed a story about the National Organization for Women to identify NOW as a "radical feminist group." He changed another passage to describe former Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. as having "consistently struck down all legal protections of the unborn."

Farah's approach to social-agenda issues -- he has banned use of the word "gays" in favor of "homosexuals" -- has transformed the 139-year-old California paper and prompted an exodus of veteran staffers who complain that conservative bias is distorting the news coverage.

"It's surprising how far down it's gone," says Steve Martarano, a reporter who was laid off last fall after 10 years' service. The news staff was cut after two local developers, Dan Benvenuti Jr. and David Kassis, bought the paper last fall from financier Richard Mellon Scaife. The new management has tried to stem a circulation slide that has seen daily sales dwindle from 108,000 five years ago to just 67,000 today, compared with 263,000 for the rival Sacramento Bee.

Farah, 36, a former top editor at the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, says frankly that the Union is "a pro-life paper." He says the new owners share his vision of "an alternative voice" in the state capital.

"We just thought the way to go was to be unabashedly conservative in our approach," Farah says. He says that "the dominant paper here, the Sacramento Bee, like The Washington Post, has a liberal editorial philosophy which carries over into the news columns."

Farah says his efforts have sparked "resentment on the part of many liberal staffers here. Most of the {negative} comments come from disgruntled former employees."

But others see the issue as one of journalistic fairness. "Joe Farah is giving them the kind of newspaper they wanted," says Jerry Eagan, who resigned as the Union's assistant managing editor for news in June and is now a copy editor at the Bee. "They preach and they advocate with their news columns."

"The feeling is it's not really an objective newspaper anymore," a Union reporter says. "We didn't go into journalism to work for some slanted publication."

Daniel C. Carson, Sacramento bureau chief of the San Diego Union, questioned in a column whether the Sacramento paper's owners have turned it into "a mouthpiece for the fundamentalist Christian right, preoccupied with abortion, homosexuals and creationism."

Farah sees such criticism as "a form of bigotry" because the paper's owners are religious Christians (he says his own religious beliefs are "none of your business"). Such questions would never be raised if the owners of a news organization were Jewish, he says.

Farah has provided his critics with plenty of ammunition. When a job applicant told him in a letter that homosexuals "are an evil influence in our society and need to be opposed," Farah wrote in the margin: "This guy will work cheap." Farah says he regrets the "unfortunate" comment.

After a recent antiabortion demonstration, the paper's banner headline said: "16,600 Stand Proud Against Abortion." Farah says the headline was "not wildly out of line" and that the Bee "buried the story because they're prejudiced against the antiabortion movement."

Bee Managing Editor Peter Bhatia denied Farah's charges of liberal bias, saying: "We have no political ideology in our news columns."

As for his sharp editing pencil, Farah says there was nothing wrong with the changes he made in the NOW story. He defends his decision to ban the use of "gays" because "that's the chosen term of the homosexual activists." Slicing the Staff The long knives are out again at the National Geographic Society, in some cases wielded by management against unwanted staffers, in most cases wielded by employees themselves.

More than 200 middle- and lower-level personnel in the Geographic's ailing book division and at its World and Traveler magazines -- chiefly editors, writers and researchers -- were offered tempting severance packages last month, and society spokesman Dale Petroskey confirmed last week that 39 had accepted thus far.

The separation packages were understood to have included six weeks' severance pay for the first year of service and two weeks' worth for every succeeding year of service -- generous terms by normal business standards.

Petroskey also said eight staffers in those divisions and four in other areas had been fired, then given equivalent severance packages.

The retrenchment does not affect staff members of the flagship National Geographic Magazine or the society's television operations, a favored preserve of Gilbert M. Grosvenor, the chairman and scion of the institution's founding family.

Sources inside the Geographic said the blanket severance offer had been an imprecise instrument, leaving the affected divisions with vacancies they had not expected and staff members they had hoped would leave. The resulting shuffle of responsibilities and titles has forced some remaining staff members to accept demotions, though Petroskey said there would be no pay reductions for the demoted.

The departures, and the certainty of more to come as the bloated Geographic bureaucracy shrinks its ill-advised publishing ventures of the last decade, have done nothing to improve sagging employee morale.

Ever since the society's extravagant centennial celebration two years ago, frantic economizing has been a constant reality at the nonprofit, and suddenly less profitable, institution. The firing of National Geographic Magazine Editor Wilbur Garrett last spring, and the subsequent removal or retirement of many of his lieutenants, capped a year of personnel reductions.

Petroskey said that Grosvenor's five-year plan called for reducing the society's 2,500-person work force by 10 percent during the next five years, most of it through attrition. That would mean an average of 50 firings or resignations or retirements per year, and thus no end soon to the gloom in the ranks.

Fumble Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the National Football League, is undoubtedly a versatile fellow, but some readers of the New York Times may have been surprised last week to see him filing a news story from Germany.

"Berlin Arrests 4, Alleging $328,000 Million Swindles," the headline said, using arithmetic as suspect as the byline: "By Paul Tagliabue."

The paper's Berlin bureau chief is John Tagliabue, the commissioner's younger brother. No penalty has been assessed against the copy editor, undoubtedly an ardent football fan, who made the errant play by adding the commissioner's byline to the story.

Reached in Berlin, John Tagliabue laughed off the error, which was intercepted after one edition, and says he needled his brother about it. "I sent him a copy of the story and scribbled on it, 'Welcome aboard,' " Tagliabue says.