The Persian Gulf War is taking its toll on the journalistic bottom line.
For newspapers, the extraordinary expense of covering a war -- from keeping correspondents in Saudi Arabia to publishing extra pages -- comes during a recession in which advertising revenue has plunged. The result has been yet another round of cost-cutting, layoffs and skimping on other news coverage.
The Chicago Sun-Times announced last week that its reporters are being placed on a four-day work week and that top editors and corporate officials would forgo as much as one week's salary. The Los Angeles Times dropped its 25,000-copy final edition Friday. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has eliminated 255 jobs, the Miami Herald plans to cut 100 jobs and the Evening Express in Portland, Maine, folded this month.
"There's no question we're taking a financial beating on the coverage," said Jack Nelson, Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times.
Television and radio also are feeling the impact. NBC says war coverage and withdrawal by skittish advertisers have cost the network $35 million. CBS says it loses money each time it airs a news special on the gulf.
CNN has raised advertising rates fivefold to help offset an estimated $6 million a month in war-related costs. National Public Radio says it will cut back gulf coverage unless member stations come up with $750,000.
"We would not be as likely to air prime-time specials on the Persian Gulf given the economic impact," said Peter Lund, executive vice president of CBS Broadcast Group. He said the network loses as much as $1.4 million on an hour-long special.
Newspapers lose money when they print extra pages and boost press runs -- even if circulation rises -- because the newsstand price falls short of covering increased production costs without additional advertising.
"I haven't tried to figure out what else I'm going to stop doing to pay for the newsprint," said Pete Weitzel, managing editor of the Miami Herald. "I might have to borrow from the '92 election space if this goes on much longer."
Still, few news organizations want to skimp on the biggest story in years.
"We're doing what's necessary to cover the war in a first-rate fashion, despite the fact we're in this advertising and revenue downturn," said Leonard Downie Jr., The Washington Post's managing editor. "I'm not going around asking, what does it cost? We're just doing it." The Post has spent about $135,000 in printing costs to publish 50 additional pages on the war in the last month, newspaper officials said.
Shelby Coffey III, editor of the Los Angeles Times, said his paper is printing four to six extra pages daily. "Between the extra space, travel and 14 to 15 people in the gulf region, it's costing us somewhat under $200,000 a week," he said. "However, the phone bills haven't hit yet."
Lou Ureneck, executive editor of the Portland Press-Herald, said he has added two pages of war news a day, despite the Feb. 1 closing of the afternoon edition, the Evening Express, and elimination of 90 company jobs.
"These are the times that newspapers distinguish themselves and make themselves necessary to readers," Ureneck said. But he also said he has halted coverage of some outlying counties.
Sun-Times spokesman Charles Champion said the agreement with the Newspaper Guild on a four-day week would avert planned newsroom layoffs, although more than 110 other jobs will be eliminated. He blamed the economic downturn.
Ron Martin, editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said he did not send a reporter to the recent Sugar Ray Leonard boxing match in New York because it would end too late to make most of the paper's editions.
"Six months ago, we would have staffed that sort of thing," he said. "You can sit here in Atlanta and say there's a great story in Seattle, but it isn't an absolute must."
Robert MacGruder, managing editor of the Detroit Free Press, said his paper has cut travel "to the bone, and now we've got to go deeper." He said coverage of the city's sizable Arab-American population, and reports from the gulf, have been "eating up a lot of space."
The Free Press is one of many newspapers whose advertising base has been eroded by the financial woes of local department stores. The Los Angeles Times has been hurt by last week's bankruptcy-protection filing by Carter Hawley Hale Stores, the West's biggest retailer.
Fourth-quarter profits declined by 49 percent at Times Mirror Co. newspapers, which include the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun; 41 percent at Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal; 32 percent at Knight-Ridder Newspapers, which include the Miami Herald and Detroit Free Press; 18 percent at The Washington Post Co.; and 8 percent at Gannett Co.
The war also has depressed television advertising as sponsors have become wary of pitching products amid pictures of missile attacks and wounded soldiers. "It's frustrating for us," CBS's Lund said. "If we displace an hour of prime-time programming and replace it with a special on war coverage, we're getting about 20 percent of the dollars we would be getting normally."
Each of the major American television networks has been spending an average of $1.5 million weekly on war coverage.
"In the early days of the war, you throw everything you have at it, bodies and money," said Timothy Russert, NBC's Washington bureau chief. "In this down period now, we have curtailed overtime. It's mindless to spend at the same rate when the appetite has decreased. . . . The financial people are combing through trying to find anything, even duplicate subscriptions, to eliminate possible waste."
Media executives say they have scaled back coverage of other news, in part because so many of their troops are deployed on the main story.
"Ninety percent of the network has been war news anyway," said Ed Turner, CNN's executive vice president. "There hasn't been time for much else."