"For us to be alive today and to have published a paper today is the miracle of the publishing industry," said a man who still considers himself a newcomer to Washington's newspaper business. "I think that's the story."
Controversy apparently will not shake Joe L. Allbritton's faith in The Washington Star. Star editor James G. Bellows resigned this week. Morale at the newspaper was further troubled by an announcement that staff cutbacks are planned. Allbritton's optimism, however, seemed not to have been dampened.
"I simply believe the Star is going to make it and that's the miracle of the thing," the Star's chairman said in an interview at his Northwest Washington home yesterday afternoon.
In the news business, it is axiomatic that there is more than one side to every story. Allbritton, who stepped in to take over the Star in 1974, described several sides to the current Star picture, including some certain to be viewed with many dismay by numerous Star employees.
He confirmed earlier reports that a reduction of about 10 per cent in the number of Star employees would be carried out early next year - a cut of about 140 in the newspapers current 1,400-employee payroll.
He acknowledged that the Star's circulation had dropped below 375,000, though he did not disclose the new figure. He said that the newspaper incurred an operating loss of $1,289,000 in its latest fiscal year, though he described the deficit as considerably smaller than anticipated.
Yet many of Allbritton's assertions appeared encouraging to the newspaper's admirers.
He predicted that the Star would show a "tiny" operating profit in the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1. He said the newspaper had obtained a "solid circulation base" and described its advertising revenues as on target. He noted that the newspaper would soon embark on new promotional campaigns and increased "zoning" - publication of special sections aimed at different geographical parts of the Washington area.
He asserted, moreover, that, despite Bellows' resignation and the controversy it caused, the format and quality of the Star would not be significantly altered. "That's just silly," Allbritton said. "Of course, I'm going to preserve the quality of it." He said the only likely shift in news coverage would be increased local coverage because of plans for more "zoned" editions.
Bellows' departure was followed yesterday by the resignation of one other Star editor. Bellows has been named editor of the financially shaken Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Yesterday, Mary Anne Dolan, editor of the Star's Portfolio section, announced she had quit.
Dolan's planned departure apparently did not catch the Star chairman by surprise. "Miss Dolan's resignation today came as no surprise to me or anybody else," Allbritton said. He added that he expects several others, who consider themselves part of the Bellows' team at the Star, to quit also. "It is natural in any place," he said.
A Star staff writer and the president of the Washington-Baltimore Phil Kadis, Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom and other employees, described the Stars proposed cutbacks as "a disaster" and said the the union would "fight them."
Asked about the planned payroll reductions, Allbritton said. "All of this will be done within the framework of our unions and our contract."
The newsroom staff, he said, is expected to be trimmed by slightly more than 222 employees "on a voluntary basis" through early retirements and normal attrition. The first four newsroom cuts, he noted, have already taken place - by the resignations of Bellows, Dolan and their secretaries.
Allbritton said he did not know whether reductions in other parts of the newspaper's staff would be accomplished through similar voluntary departures or through layoffs.
The planned cutbacks, Allbritton said, should not be viewed as an unexpected development. "We have had a constant, ongoing expense-review program," he noted. "We didn't bring all the labor costs down suddenly. We've done it gradually."
The payroll reductions, he said, are part of a continuing cost-cutting plan intended to permit the newspaper to show a small profit this year. He intends to make the Star a profitable venture in the long run, despite its huge deficits in recent years. Failure to show a profit, Allbritton added, would seem "immoral" and would make employees feel "parasitic" - living off the profits of some other business enterprise owned by Washington Star Communications, Inc., the newspaper's parent company.
To underscore the Star's apparent financial upswing. Allbritton noted that the newspaper had lost $12 million in its 1976 fiscal year - a dramatic contrast with its much smaller operating loss of almost $1.3 million in the 1977 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
Allbritton described Bellows as a "superb" editor and a man who likes challenges, much as Allbritton said he does himself. He said he would be willing to rehire Bellows, if his former editor changes his mind. Asked why Bellows had resigned, Allbritton asserted, "I think it was reasonably well documented that he felt he had accomplished his job - and indeed he had." Then he added, "He was looking for a way to move on."
Despite Allbritton's optimism, some Star employees were dismayed yesterday, apparently uncertain of what their future held. "You can't live in a state of shock," one reporter remarked. "I kind of get tired of worrying about it."
To Allbritton however, the news business is one of constant crisis - a form of turmoil that subsides once it is put in perspective. "It'll be all right." Allbritton remarked. "I have no doubt about it.