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Can The Post avoid further staff cuts?

By Andy Alexander

The many changes at The Post in 2009 included further staff reductions through a fourth round of early-retirement buyouts. Is more downsizing in the works for 2010?

In an interview last week for my Sunday column, executive editor Marcus Brauchli said The Post is entering a “somewhat better year financially” and that he is “optimistic” that 2009 cost-reduction measures “contributed to a more stable picture for the paper.”

That said, he left the door open: “I don’t think we would rule out further staff reductions through attrition or other means.”

It’s the “other means” that strikes fear in Post staffers.

The newsroom staff of The Post currently is roughly 650 FTEs (Full Time Equivalent print and online employees), according to deputy managing editor Shirley Carswell, who oversees newsroom administration. That includes about 590 who are full time, and part-timers make up the rest. In addition, The Post employs more than 60 others who are on contract.

Combined, that’s still a very robust staff when compared to most metropolitan newspapers.

But it’s also far fewer than when the decade began. In 2000, when The Post newsroom staff was at its peak, there were more than 900 FTEs at the newspaper. That did not include many others who worked at The Post's Web site, which was then a separate operation.

Can The Post produce a quality product with about 650 FTEs and another 60-plus staffers on contract? Sure. The Post regularly produces magnificent journalism. “Even as we have reduced staff, we have hired some extraordinary talent in the last year,” Brauchli said. “We are continuing to look for the sharpest minds in journalism because we want to draw them into this newsroom.”

Staff quantity isn’t the same as quality. It’s worth noting that at the height of the Watergate scandal in 1974, when President Richard Nixon was forced to resign, The Post staff was roughly half of what it is today.

And when legendary executive editor Benjamin Bradlee took the helm in 1968 and began making The Post into a newspaper of international distinction, he inherited a newsroom staff that he remembers being “something like 160” in size.

“That was woefully inadequate,” he told me. “It had no foreign staff and virtually no national staff. My first priority was to get better people.”

By the time he stepped down in 1991, he had hired some of the nation’s best journalists. Post revenues were steadily growing. Hiring wasn’t an issue.

“You always got what you needed,” Bradlee recalled. “It was automatic. You could always create new positions if there was something interesting and new that you wanted to try. Even if there was just some piece of talent hanging around, we’d get it.”

When the Washington Star folded in 1981 after 130 years of publication, Bradlee said, The Post quickly hired 21 of its best staffers. His biggest regret was not hiring the Star's Maureen Dowd, who went on to become a columnist for The New York Times, where she won a Pulitzer Prize.

But that was then. Today, the Post and other publications are struggling to survive. And as my Sunday column noted, The Post must not only retain its core print readership, but it must simultaneously grow its Web site for the day when it becomes the primary source of its revenues. The Post’s staff during Watergate didn’t need to feed a Web site 24 hours a day.

Financially, The Post’s 2009 losses were less than had been projected. Still, it ended the year solidly in the red by tens of millions of dollars. The Post expects to lose money again in 2010 and become profitable in 2011. But how?

The trend line is positive. But much of the improved financial picture is due to reducing costs, and much of that has been from buyouts. The start of 2010 will be key. If revenues sharply miss projections, staff reductions through “other means” may be inevitable.

By Andy Alexander  | January 4, 2010; 4:34 PM ET
 
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Next: The Post's alliance with Fiscal Times

Comments

Hmm, Mr.Alexander, sure, staff reductions are hard, and result in additional workload for the rest of the team. However, are you really too overstrained to answer important letters?

"Today (Jan. 4) 21 policy experts sent a letter (below) to Washington Post Board Chairman Donald Graham, requesting a meeting. Why? Because we've gotten no response to our protest letter to The Washington Post's ombudsman."
http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010010104/fiscal-times-scandal-20-experts-seek-meeting-wapost-chair-don-graham

Well, giving you only three days for a response, especially directly after the holidays, was a bit impatient, of course. But a short notice that you're investigating the matter shoulod have been possible...

Posted by: Gray62 | January 5, 2010 4:28 AM | Report abuse

As Gray62 says, this scandal has been running for at least a week now, and still not even a whisper. Given the Wapo Salon affair last year, you ought to have worked out some guidelines for selling access to the news pages by now.

In the interests of transparency, maybe WaPo could publish a price list.

Posted by: jquiggin | January 5, 2010 6:09 AM | Report abuse

How many of the FTEs work for Fred Hiatt whose neoconservative underpinnings have gifted us with three columns by John Bolton, two by Sarah Palin, one by Paul Wolfowitz, and regular columns by Krauthammer, Kagan, Diehl, Kristol, Cohen, Gerson, Will, and Hiatt himself, while Eugene Robinson and Steven Pearlstein and Ezra Klein either just win Pulitzers or are just plain smart?

Hiatt defines the Post in a way he should not. You've lost my subscription by his selection of op-ed columnnists and guest submissions. Journalists should define the newspaper and not combat keyboardists whose self-infatuation brings nothing to the table. The necon era is over, but Mr. Hiatt does not seem to understand that. Meanwhile the Post closes bureaus and lets good people go while clinging to op-ed columnists who are predictable, often quite wrong, untraveled, and who have few primary sources among them. They just make things up with a minimum of research. This is not fair to real journalists who do what good journalists do -- the Dana Priests, Karen DeYoungs, the likes of Walter Pincus, and some good economic and political reporting from Anne Kornblut, Perry Bacon, Chris Cillizza, Michelle Singletary, Michael Fletcher, and, once upon a time, Dan Froomkin.

Mr. Hiatt plays off comments like mine by saying that his "liberal" columnists bring him as much criticism as the ones I've mentioned above. I cannot believe that, but as the Post is riding the downward curve of print media, it's probably time to review his choices and spend money on solid reporting that once made the Post a great paper.

Posted by: harper-d | January 5, 2010 6:47 AM | Report abuse

The downsizing of The Washington Post staff has also been met with a downsizing of The Washington Post's credibility and integrity. The Washington Post editorial board has sacrificed competency of intellect and trust to its readers with connection to power and access to money. Publisher Katharine Weymouth has shown a lack of respect for the people of the District of Columbia by refusing to meet with "ordinary" local citizens and local neighborhood organizations. Ms. Weymouth, The Washington Post editorial board, and some reporters are guilty of status bigotry.

Robert Vinson Brannum
rbrannum@robertbrannum.com

Posted by: robert158 | January 5, 2010 6:52 AM | Report abuse

So still no comment from Alexander on the fiscaltimes?

Posted by: edlharris | January 5, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

@ed harris Apparently not. I guess they think they can ride this one out.

Posted by: jquiggin | January 5, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

IF THE NEWS MEDIA WERE TO PRINT ALL OF THE NEWS INSTEAD OF THE POLITICAL LIBERAL NEWS YOU MIGHT HAVE ENOUGH BUSINESS TO NOT HAVE TO LAY OFF EMPLOYEES. LIKE THIS INSTANCE:

ISN'T IT REMARKABLE THAT THE PRESS CAN FIND EVERY WOMAN TIGER WOODS HAS HAD AN AFFAIR WITH IN THE LAST FIVE YEARS, YEARS, INCLUDING PHOTOS, TEXT MESSAGES, RECORDED PHONE CALLS, ETC., ETC???

THEY NOT ONLY KNOW THE CAUSE OF THE FAMILY FIGHT, BUT EVEN KNOW IT WAS A WEDGE FROM HIS GOLF BAG THAT HIS WIFE USED TO BREAK OUT THE WINDOWS OF HIS ESCALADE.

THIS IS THE SAME PRESS WHO CANNOT LOCATE OBAMA'S BIRTH CERTIFICATE, ANY OF HIS PAPERS WHILE IN COLLEGE, OR ANY ONE WHO REMEMBERS HIM ATTENDING CLASSES. TRULY REMARKABLE!!!


Posted by: Brushstomper | January 6, 2010 2:36 PM | Report abuse

You guys need more staff cutbacks. Start with Hiatt and move on to Gerson, Krauthammer, Kristol, the Kagan boys, and anyone else that enabled the pretender, G. W. Bush. They're all war criminals and belong in the pen. I'd even subscribe to the print version if you smartened up and fired these idiots.

Posted by: jkarlinsky | January 6, 2010 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Gray62..I agree and hope for developments on this matter.

Tracy, Status Now

Posted by: Statusnow9 | January 6, 2010 7:57 PM | Report abuse

Just saw an article by someone named Lane. How many guys like him can you afford. Will, Gerson,Krauthammer, Lane, Hiat,Krystal, Kagan, Wolfowitz is like herpes. They all say the same things over and over, and 9 times out of ten, they are just right wing talking points. How about some new blood. No I am not suggesting Rush Limbaugh. He alraedy gets 15 hours national air time. Why did you cut somebody real informative like Froomkin, and keep these right wing jokers?? I think I know. Unless you get rid of them you will continue to have financial ruin. I will tell my congressmen no bailouts for your right wing rag. How about more news and less Bush speech writers?

Posted by: waawaazaire | January 6, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

The Washington Post gives us an impression of a Capital city filled with semi-educated, hateful, selfish reactionaries. The offensive and racist diatribes in your reader comments are never moderated or removed, leaving many of us wondering if the Civil War really was won.

Surely I'm not the only one out here in flyover land that wonders why the Post has taken such a destructive tone toward our own country's huge economic problems, by trumpeting criticisms over every single thing our President does, including blaming him for the dysfunction in the Senate and the lobbyist-financied obstructionism.

The Post has a job to do for this constitutional republic, yet it persists in doing a proagandist's job, that of disseminating viewpoints that are neither healthy for our country, nor for our collective dialogue.

I don't know Fred Hiatt, nor do I know the heirs of Katherine Graham, but I do think they are betraying the public with their relentless neocon drivel and outright attacks on President Obama and the difficult future we will have if this bloodsport does not end.

I sense you do not even see the problem.

Posted by: rowens1 | January 7, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

You'd save a lot off your bottom line by getting rid of most of those overpaid and senescent "famous" op-ed writers.

I'm talking about guys like Krauthammer, who actually wrote recently that he's only ever been able to manage one op-ed per week. Pathetic, though fortunate. George Will's stuff has been lame and purposeless -- if not outright incomprehensible -- lately. Kristol? Gerson? Kagan? C'mon, whaddaya guys running here, a newspaper or an assisted-care facility? Yet you hound a Froomkin out the door.

That's my suggestion for reducing expenses. As far as increasing revenue, you might start by trying to dispel the increasing suspicion that not everything billed as "news articles" is truly impartial and objective in nature. See the earlier comments re the fiscaltimes article. I could also cite the paper's bias towards Michelle Rhee, who seems to be able to influence WaPo editorials; I won't belabor the hiring of her husband.

You'll have a hard time getting new readers if the paper loses its journalistic credibility.

Lastly, get rid of the sex worker ("massage parlor") ads in the sports section. The ad revenue isn't worth the moral cost of aiding and abetting pimpery.

Posted by: laboo | January 7, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The Ombudsman at the NYT said the front page of the Editorial Staff were 3/4 Gay. It said to me there is a culture here that will destroy that newspaper. When I read the Post and its Editorials and bias in its articles to this minority of citizens at the Expense of 98% of it’s the citizens its going to also go down in flames. It seems that men are woman and women are men at the Post and its content using major media. The Washington Post constantly cheerleads for this sect at the expense not only of the majority but civilization. Our civilization in America was built on the family. The Post is ripping it apart.

You want to have a strong newspaper then represent the 98% of people in this country and not the 2%.
Once you re-establish your credibility you’ll stop laying off people and we can get on with living rather being told how to line like a minority.

Posted by: conrad031 | January 8, 2010 7:04 AM | Report abuse

The paucity of comments on this item tells all one needs to know about the Post employees crying their beers. In short, who cares?

Posted by: JohnRDC | January 8, 2010 9:10 AM | Report abuse

Have you people lost your minds? JZanuary 1 you write a le3tter to Mr Alexander and then send a letter on Monday 'cause you didn't get a response? Perhaps you should consider giving a timeout! Could we save the time of the Post's excellent staff and their Chairman for a reasoned, timely discussion of real issues, rather than your self entitled sense of importance?

Posted by: meberg | January 8, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Can we stop beating the long dead horse that Ben Bradlee claims as a legacy. It is a PR stunt. The ascendancy of the Post went into an (apparently) irreversible and dramatic decline the moment Bradlee took his focus off what was on his desk and became sotted by what was going on beneath it. What exactly is Bradlee saying here? Who or what is he rambling about? Very telling if you read between the lines.

“You always got what you needed,” Bradlee recalled. “It was automatic. You could always create new positions if there was something interesting and new that you wanted to try. Even if there was just some piece of talent hanging around, we’d get it.”

Posted by: SoCali | January 9, 2010 11:07 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Alexander, your Jan 10 article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/08/AR2010010803589.html) is a shame.

"Since the new year, The Post's integrity has come under withering assault from those claiming it took special-interest "propaganda" and passed it off as a news story. That's false" No it is not false and Mr. Alexander's own statements clearly support the allegation that propaganda was passed off as a news story. The only defense Mr. Alexander cites is a letter from billionaire Petersen asserting that he doesn't interfere with the "Fiscal Times", the special interest propaganda mouthpiece that he is funding. Seriously, how stupid do you think your readers are?

Posted by: carbonneutral | January 10, 2010 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to Dean Baker: http://www.prospect.org/csnc/blogs/beat_the_press_archive?month=01&year=2010&base_name=look_for_news_articles_from_th

Posted by: carbonneutral | January 10, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

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