Of course, no one inside the paper is expressing glee at the bureaus’ demise; the Post must have protected them from financial pressures as long as they felt they could. In their memo last week announcing the closures, the paper’s top three editors vowed their “commitment to national news of interest to our readers is undiminished, and we will maintain the level and caliber of coverage our readers expect.”
Despite management’s vow that they will fly reporters to the scene to cover big stories, Michael Powell, a former Post New York bureau chief, worries that the paper will exert tight control over travel money. “When I left, they didn’t want to do flights to Buffalo [because of the expense],” he said.
Powell, who joined The New York Times in 2007, said he was pained by the Post’s bureau closures, adding that although he doesn’t know the extent of the financial pressures on management, “there’s just a disorienting lack of confidence that the Post exudes.”
He scoffs at the new “for and about Washington” focus: “The paper was intelligently evolving alongside its readership. Now they pretend that readers just want Washington news?” Powell thought management was adopting a “thoroughly antiquated view of Washington” which assumes everyone there is connected to the federal government. “The city is infinitely more complex and sophisticated now,” he said.
These aren’t the first cuts at the Post, and they won’t be the last. But they are more significant than just the drip, drip, drip of bad news. According to Allan Lengel, a former Post reporter who took a 2008 buyout but works one day a week as the newsroom’s union representative, they mark the first time Post print newsroom employees are being terminated involuntarily simply to cut costs. The roughly 200 others cut from the newsroom over the past several years accepted generous early retirement packages.
Indeed, the Post is the only major newspaper I know of that has avoided outright layoffs. But that era looks like it’s coming to an end, too. According to last week’s memo, the bureau reporters will be offered jobs in Washington, but three bureau news aides will be let go.
Post spokeswoman Kris Coratti cautioned against saying the news aides would be laid off. “Nothing is completed yet, and there may still be roles for them in D.C.,” she said.
I hope she’s right.