Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dead Tree Dinosaur Death Watch, Part II

The layoffs and cutbacks that have hit the New York Times, the Spokesman-Review, and the Seattle Times have now hit the Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

The Trib likely alienated many readers by having two very left-wing editorialists churning out columns daily. The Daily News, as I have repeatedly pointed out, allows for anonymous and unmoderated venomous comments on its online edition.

The City of Pullman's contract with the Daily News requires that they maintain a Pullman office. Now that that is gone, will they continue the contract? What will happen to the coverage of Pullman and WSU issues? God knows the Evergreen gave up on covering Pullman about a year ago.

UDPATE: From today's Daily News:
"We will continue to have an office in Pullman," Alford said. "Pullman and greater Whitman County are an essential part of our readership area. It will remain an essential part of our focus and a top priority for news coverage.
From today's Lewiston Tribune:
Tribune, Daily News announce cost-cutting measures

Drop in ad revenue, rise in cost of materials create financial strain; Trib
editorial writer Tom Henderson is leaving

The Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News are losing five positions as the newspapers face softening advertising revenue and increases in the cost of materials.

Changes that will be most visible involve the reduction of the Tribune's editorial writing staff from two to one with the loss of Tom Henderson and also the closure of the Daily News office in Pullman. Henderson will be moving to Oregon.

Other jobs being cut include the Tribune's newsroom librarian, a position in production at the Tribune, a clerical position at the Pullman office of the Daily News and a customer service and circulation position at the Daily News, said Wayne Hollingshead, chief operating officer of Tribune Publishing Company Holdings, which operates the two newspapers.

Management tried to choose reductions that would have the least impact on the papers' ability to gather news and sell its product, Hollingshead said.

But A.L. Alford Jr., editor and publisher of the Lewiston Tribune, said the choice to reduce staffing for the editorial page, which has had two full-time editorial writers since the 1970s, was "the most difficult" and fell short of the goal of not affecting the news product.

The Tribune is one of the few and possibly the only newspaper of its size in the country that has two full-time editorial writers, Hollingshead said.

Some of the cuts were made through early retirements and not filling positions that were vacant, Hollingshead said. The five positions represent a fraction of the 139 full-time and 59 part-time employees at the two newspapers.

One position that is not affected is that of the Tribune's political reporter. Dean Ferguson is leaving the Tribune to work as communications director for Larry LaRocco.

LaRocco is running for the U.S. Senate seat that is now held by Larry Craig, who is retiring. Ferguson's position will be filled later in the year.

The challenges that prompted the changes reflect the national downturn in the economy, Alford said.

The weakness didn't hit the Tribune and Daily News as early as the Spokane and Seattle areas, Alford said.

The Seattle Times announced it was cutting 200 jobs on Monday.

"Fortunately our nonmetropolitan newspapers have a more favorable situation and outlook than the metropolitan media," Alford said.

Radio and television are working through the same kinds of issues, Hollingshead said. "The first thing to cut is advertising. They cut that and then they start worrying about where is my business."

The cost for the paper that the newspaper is printed on, postage and mileage are all increasing, Hollingshead said. "Anything that we buy that is petroleum-based has just gone through the roof."

Those costs are rising at a time when the papers are paying for a new press and are in the final year of repaying a loan that helped buy the papers back from Kearns-Tribune Corp. in 1998.

"The one-time expenses here are not the issue," Hollingshead said. "It's really the ongoing things that caught us by surprise."

The decision to invest $12 million in a new production center was made in December 2006 and the newspapers wouldn't "be brave enough to proceed" with the plan if it were made today, Alford said.

The newspapers still stand to gain from the new press, which will be operational in June, Alford and Hollingshead said.

One of its advantages is that it will bring "terrific reproduction," Alford said.

The newspapers also expect it will help the bottom line by reducing waste and creating a new stream of revenue by printing specialty publications, Hollingshead said.

Downturns in the economy such as this are ones the papers have weathered about six times since 1968 when Alford became editor and publisher, with the most recent being in 2002, he said. "I have optimism about our region's middle and long-term economy."

The Tribune and Daily News are going to be fine, Hollingshead said. "We're going to do everything we can to continue to produce great newspapers."


Scott M. said...

That says something about the LMT when their political reporter goes to work for a Democrat.

Tom, you treat the DN with kid gloves. You know they are biased. In any stories about Wal-Mart they never mention you, BREO or any other Wal-Mart supporter. They are PARD all the time. And with Lupke, Pezsheki(?), and Streamas having columns, too many liberals for most people.

Jim H said...

I own a few rentals and when it comes time to advertise a apartment for rent I used to turn to the Daily News, the Evergreen and more recently Craigslist. Every year I ask everyone that contacts me which ad they are responding to. 5 years ago most everyone's answer the Daily News. This past year one, one person for a $69.35 2 week ad. You can guess that I will not be advertising in the Daily News next year. I wonder if other advertisers are noticing the same thing and simply choosing not to advertise with the Dnews.

April E. Coggins said...

It amazes me that the Daily News thinks they can run stories like "architorture" and that it won't affect the advertisers buying decisions. They ran a front page story insulting every business on Bishop Blvd. Who buys ads? Certainly not WSU professors.

Tom Forbes said...

"Kid gloves?" Hardly. I have dueled publicly and privately with publisher Nathan Alford over the anonymous comments feature on Dnews.com.

I also bashed reporter Hillary Hamm over her Wal-Mart "sweatshop" tour article last year. And I do think it was a poor decision to allow Hamm's story on the "architorture" protest to be published, especially since the editorial board regarded it as a "faux- protest."

Barenjager said...

Question: Why does a newspaper need an editorial writer?

I must be old fashioned but I thought the primary function of a newspaper was to gather and report facts.

Observation: The death of traditional news outlets is not being driven by the internet or other forces beyond the control of the publisher/producer. It is being driven by their self induced transformation from information sources to entertainment and propaganda organs.

Tom Forbes said...

Agreed Barenjager. However, editorializing is present in "news" articles as well.

It is also present in the stories the paper decides not to cover.

Trust me, there has been MUCH on the pro-Wal-Mart front that the Daily News has ignored. It's basically pointless to send them any press releases to that effect.

Tom Forbes said...

Ditto with the Trib. They basically ignore Pullman until something involving PARD or Moscow happens. If you have access to the Trib website, do a search of the archives for BREO. You'll not find a single mention.

April E. Coggins said...

Regarding the update, are they saying that they, the newspapers, got the story wrong about themselves? Or did they change their minds and now they won't be making any cutbacks at the Daily News, so never mind?

Tom Forbes said...

Yes, the three clerical position layoffs are still happening. Here's what was stated in the article:

Alford said the company has set a tentative date of May 9 to vacate its current downtown Pullman office located on Main Street. The Daily News plans to relocate to a smaller location as a cost-cutting measure.

I'm not sure how they could have a smaller office than they do now, but I guess they don't want to lose that lucrative city contract.

The Trib article failed to mention the Pullman office would be relocating.

April E. Coggins said...

There are lots of vacant phone booths, perhaps they are planning to rent one of those.

Scott M. said...

Has anyone given serious thought to creating a free online Pullman newspaper?

Tom Forbes said...

It wouldn't be that hard to do, as Pullman is a small town. One full time person and several volunteer writers/reporters could do it, I think. You could sell ad space to local merchants (or national ones too I suppose), and as overhead would be negligible (no paper, ink, transporttation costs, etc.) it could probably even make a little money.