By: Joe Strupp
United Press International is cutting 11 positions from its Washington, D.C., bureau, including its lone White House correspondent, Richard Tomkins. The move marks the first time in its history that UPI will have no one on that beat.
“I have been expecting it for some time,” said Tomkins, a seven-year UPI veteran who has covered the White House since 2003. “The company is not doing well. For the first time in UPI history, there is no White House correspondent.” Tomkins, 61, also served as UPI’s lead reporter during the 2003 Iraq invasion. He said he will leave his job July 31.
“I am trying to get back to Iraq,” said Tomkins, who attended Wednesday morning’s re-opening of the White House press briefing room before traveling to New York to begin his job search. “It was a happy occasion, but a sad one for me.”
UPI officials said the cuts were part of a restructuring that will focus more of its reporting on defense intelligence, security threats, and energy conflicts, according to Editor in Chief Michael Marshall.
The change is the latest in a long-running effort to keep the once leading news source profitable and in business since its 2000 takeover by News World Communications, which is owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and also operates The Washington Times.
“We are refocusing our principal products that we are putting out,” said Marshall, who has been with UPI since 2003. He said UPI had been focusing on the areas of health, security, intelligence and international energy for the past year. “The results have not been what we had expected.”
The new approach will target defense intelligence, energy and resource conflicts, and security techniques and strategy, he said. That change will mean 11 positions in the Washington office will be eliminated and the news organization will seek “a network of correspondents around the world” to help with the international coverage.
“We will be looking for people in conflict areas, such as the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa,” Marshall noted. “That is going to be a redeployment of resources. It is redeployment of what will be more successful in the current market.”
Added Marshall, “We will have a small team in the Washington office that will direct and edit and write for this new product, but also manage contributors from around the world.” He declined to reveal how many staffers are in the D.C. bureau. When asked if the White House beat would eventually be staffed again, he said no decisions have been made.
“There will be some redeployment and some positions that are just gone,” Marshall said. The changes will take effect Aug. 1.
For decades, legendary White House reporter Helen Thomas had covered the beat for UPI, earning status as the “dean” of the White House press corps. She chose to leave in 2000 when the news organization was sold and currently writes a column for Hearst Newspapers.
In a release, UPI stated that the change in focus was needed for “increased competitiveness and profitability among consumers of news and analysis in a 21st century media marketplace.”
UPI provides news, video and photo content worldwide in English, Spanish, and Arabic to traditional and online media outlets, governments, businesses, policy groups, and academic institutions, according to company officials.
“UPI is taking initial steps to strengthen our coverage of
international hot spots seeking on-the-ground coverage from our international network of journalists,” Nicholas Chiaia, UPI’s chief operating officer, said in a statement. “We are also exploring various options for training aspiring journalists in international news coverage.”