Then came a series of managerial fiascoes. Belo Corp., the parent company of the Morning News, invested $37 million in a company that produced a hand-held device called CueCat. To use it, a newspaper reader had to sit at a computer and scan bar codes on the page to visit Web sites for more information. The product proved to be a disaster, and in 2001 Belo was forced to write off its entire investment. Three local cable news partnerships with Time Warner that began in 2000 cost Belo $10 million a year before Belo withdrew in 2004. That same year, Belo revealed that the Morning News had overstated its circulation by at least 2.5 percent daily and 5.7 percent Sunday. The company agreed to reimburse advertisers $23 million, which Robert W. Decherd, Belo’s chairman and chief executive officer, called “an investment in the company’s future.”
Many at the paper began to worry, and their fears were well-founded. On September 29, 2004, the newsroom staff met with Moroney, who had been named publisher in 2001 by Decherd, his second cousin. Moroney had bad news. Revenue had been flat for four years. Newsprint costs had risen. Profit had dropped 35 percent in three years. Less than a month later management axed the sixty-six people; their median age was fifty-five, their median tenure fourteen years. (Eighteen former staffers, all over forty, filed an age-discrimination suit in federal court against the News and Belo in October 2006.)
Some of the laid-off staff members remain angry and hurt. Larry Powell spent twenty-nine years at the paper, including twenty as a columnist, and he still misses the newsroom. “What it felt like to me was the end of a love affair,” says Powell. “You keep thinking, ‘If I say this, maybe she’ll take me back.’ You still have this great love, but it is unrequited.”
But as it turns out, most of the ousted staff people seem fine now. We received responses from thirty of those who were laid off. Only three said they were dissatisfied with their new jobs. Most, in fact, said life after the Morning News was better. Doug Bedell, fifty-five, a former technology columnist, now handles public relations for a Dallas law firm. “This company is lean, has smart people running every department, and is collegial and team-oriented,” he says. “That’s far from the atmosphere of The Dallas Morning News in 2004.”
Scott Farrell, forty, had spent two years helping to develop a high school sports Web site for the Morning News when he was laid off. He was bitter then, but the bitterness is gone. “Losing your job, even a job you love, is not the end of the world,” says Farrell, who covers sports and business for a group of community newspapers. “I recovered.”
A majority of those who were laid off found jobs in journalism. Schulyer Dixon, forty, a former assistant sports editor, is a desk editor for The Associated Press in Dallas. Gary Stratton, fifty-nine, a copy and layout editor for three decades, is news editor at the Longview News-Journal. The former books editor Cheryl Chapman, sixty (who separately sued the newspaper for age and gender discrimination), became a wire editor at the Anchorage Daily News. She feels reinvigorated. “The Anchorage Daily News is a paper run by journalists who care about two things—solid reporting without fear or favor, and memorable writing,” says Chapman. “It’s a great place for a serious journalist.”
It took some journalists a while to find quality journalism work. Gregory Katz, fifty-four, had covered six wars as a Morning News foreign correspondent. It took him fourteen months to land his current job covering the Middle East and Europe for the Houston Chronicle. Ricardo Sandoval, forty-nine, spent four years in the Morning News Mexico City bureau. After eighteen months of freelancing, he became an assistant metro editor at The Sacramento Bee. But Gary West, fifty-four, landed his new journalism job in two hours. West, who covers horse racing, says the Morning News fired him at 8 a.m. By 10, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had offered him the same position.