By: Joe Strupp
In a cost-cutting move, The Tribune Co. will consolidate the Washington, D.C., bureaus of its daily newspapers into one new location in early 2006, according to Tribune Publishing president Jack Fuller.
Tribune officials issued a statement from Fuller about the move Monday. “The purpose of the restructuring is to minimize repetition in editorial coverage, increase the communication and cooperation among our newspapers, and reduce expenses,” the statement said.
It also hinted at job cuts, adding, “As part of that process, each of our newspapers is reviewing how best to staff the bureau to meet the needs of readers in the local communities we serve.”
The plan was first reported Monday in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined to comment further on the plans or how much the consolidation might save. “It is still very much an evolving process,” he told E&P. “It is still coming together.”
The plan drew mixed reactions from some veteran Tribune D.C. staffers, many of whom declined to speak on the record. Among those who commented, worries about the quality and quantity of news coverage were the major concerns.
“It adds an air of uncertainty to our work at the moment,” said Maura Reynolds, a reporter at the Los Angeles Times Washington bureau for more than two years. “We don’t know what our responsibilities will be. We are in a wait-and-see mode.”
Reynolds added that the Times, which had built back its national reputation in recent years after the embarrassing Staples Center scandal and won a near-record five Pulitzer Prizes this year, could suffer if it is forced to cut back its Washington coverage and share content. “We have worked hard to make the paper a newspaper of national stature, a paper that is respected by other papers of national stature,” she said
Paul West, Washington bureau chief for The Sun of Baltimore — one of eight Tribune papers with D.C. bureaus — also offered uncertainty. “I hope it helps,” he said. “But it is still a work in progress.”
Jack Germond, a former Washington-based columnist for The Sun, said cutting back each paper’s capital presence can hurt their impact. “It reduces the identity of the paper in Washington,” he said. “If you are covering the White House for all Tribune papers, it is different than covering it for Newsday. You build sources on a personal basis.”
But others, such as Orlando Sentinel Washington Bureau Chief Tammy Lytle, believe the consolidation will help reporting. Lytle, a 15-year Washington veteran, said her two-person bureau already shares space with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, the Chicago Tribune, The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., The Hartford Courant, and the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., as well as Tribune Broadcasting.
“I think there are lots of benefits,” said Lytle. “You are a sponge for information, so when you have colleagues from other papers they can be passing along information to you. You can also keep an eye on things with the television people.”
Courant Editor Brian Toolan also saw the move as a positive. “Our folks found it better to be in a group,” he said, adding that the Courant’s five-person Washington staff moved out of its own location and into the shared digs in 2001.
Still, the consolidation is just another sign of tough times for Tribune, which is already reeling from circulation scandals at Newsday of Melville, N.Y., and Hoy, its Spanish-language daily. In addition, both the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune saw circulation declines in the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX report, for the six months ending in September.
“I suppose this is a great thing for the bottom line,” Germond added. “It is down to whether you are talking about [what is best for] readers or for stockholders.”