Friday, June 27, 2008
The Westport News, owned by Denver-based MediaNews Group Inc., announced in today’s edition that it has closed its Westport office at Sconset Square (above) and moved to 542 Westport Ave., in Norwalk “just over the town line on U.S. Route 1.” The newspaper, part of the Brooks Community Newspapers unit, has had a Westport presence since it began publication more than 40 years ago. The Norwalk office is headquarters for the Brooks Community Newspapers. No reason was given for the move, but the newspaper industry has undergone severe economic turmoil in recent years. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Posted 06/27/08 at 05:53 PM Permalink
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It is not just the Westport News cutting back and reducing costs. Even a real paper like The Hartford Courant is making cuts:
Courant To Cut Newsroom Staff, News Pages
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN
COURANT STAFF WRITER
The Hartford Courant will cut its newsroom staff and the number of news pages by 25 percent as the country’s oldest continuously published newspaper struggles with an industrywide decline in advertising.
Nearly 60 jobs will be eliminated, most by July 31, as The Courant reduces its newsroom staff from 232 to about 175 — the deepest cuts in the news operation since the Internet began challenging newspapers for advertisers.
At the end of September, the newspaper will roll out sweeping changes in design and presentation, including combinations of some sections.
The cuts are part of a decision by The Courant’s parent company, Chicago-based Tribune Co., to “right-size” the newspapers in its publishing division, better balancing expenses and revenue. Tribune said earlier this month that its newspapers — including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times — must deliver to readers and advertisers more of what they want. In the news pages, that means more maps, charts and lists, and shorter stories.
“Our newspaper has a long history and I believe a solid future, but only if we fully grasp that the business has changed fundamentally,” Publisher and Chief Executive Officer Stephen D. Carver said in a memo to the staff. “We’re redesigning the newspaper with the goal of making it sleeker, smarter and more relevant to our readers’ lives. Unfortunately, the redesign will impact news staffing levels in order to reflect our new business model.”
Although the redesign may bring some improvements along with curtailed coverage, it is clear that financial woes — Tribune’s staggering $13 billion debt combined with a sharp decline in ad sales — are forcing the cuts.
Carver said The Courant continues to suffer double-digit declines this year in revenue from large, national advertisers as well as in classified advertising, particularly auto, real estate and help wanted — made worse by the slowing economy. Local advertising is faring better, but is still down in the “low single digits,” Carver said.
“We’ve got to change,” Carver said in an interview. “We’ve got to get the business down to a size that we can support.”
The Courant’s news staffing peaked at just under 400 in 1994 and has declined steadily. Wednesday’s cuts come on top of about a dozen earlier this year. But, Carver said, there has been a significant reduction across other departments, including marketing, circulation and advertising sales since Jan. 1.
The number of pages devoted to news in The Courant will fall to 206 a week, from 273. How that will happen, and how many pages will be devoted to various topics such as sports, arts and Connecticut news, is still being worked out.
“The new paper will be organized differently and have a new look,” Editor Clifford L. Teutsch said. “We are going to reinvent, with one eye on our traditions and another on the future.”
Teutsch said the newspaper will continue to emphasize its investigative reporting, with a particular focus on “digging up threats to health and safety.”
Still, said media industry analyst John Morton of Silver Spring, Maryland, echoing other experts, “When you fool with people’s habits, when it comes to newspapers, you take a risk.”
Journalists at The Courant had been expecting an announcement since Tribune executives said June 5 that staffing and news space must shrink across the company this summer. On Wednesday, reporters and editors, many of whom have covered layoffs at other organizations, faced the reality themselves, starting with buyout offers handed to them by supervisors.
“It’s going to decimate the newsroom,” columnist Stan Simpson said. “And a lot of people are going to wonder what’s going to be left of The Courant when we lose that many talented folks…Anytime you lose that many people, you can’t pretend to be the same kind of paper, you can’t gloss over it.”
The changes will not be sprung on readers all at once, Teutsch said. As a new newspaper is designed, The Courant will keep readers informed, beginning with a column explaining the process Sunday.
“We will be open with readers about our evolving ideas for the paper, and we know people will let us know what they think,” Teutsch said. “Can we keep everything that everyone would like? Of course not. But will we work overtime and weekends to create a sleek, smart, new newspaper that is informative, useful and interesting to read? Count on it.”
Rich Hanley, professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, said The Courant could risk losing the confidence of its readers if the space for advertisements overpowers the news content.
“People could look at it and say, ‘This is nothing but a shopper on steroids,’ ” Hanley said.
Even with the cuts in content, news space would still be significantly larger than advertising space (not including classified sections). And after the staff reductions, The Courant would still be by far the largest news organization covering the state.
In addition to The Courant, another Tribune newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, announced to employees Wednesday it would trim its news staf f by about 20 percent, the head of the journalists’ union said. Cuts also are expected at other Tribune newspapers.
In December, Tribune had a leveraged buyout, as the formerly public stock company was taken private by an employee stock ownership plan, creating the $13 billion in debt.
Tribune is selling businesses, including the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and a 97 percent stake in Newsday on Long Island, to pay back its debt, in addition to cutting costs. On Wednesday, the company also said it might sell Tribune Tower in Chicago and Times Mirror Square in Los Angeles.
Newsroom employees at The Courant were of fered voluntary buyouts, and the company has the option to reject any buyout request. If not enough buyouts occur, layoffs will be used to reach the desired level of employment.
Contact Kenneth R. Gosselin at [email protected]