‘CS Monitor’ Cuts Staff, Hikes Subscription Rates

By: Joe Strupp

Citing a need to cut $3.3 million in costs and, eventually, end its need for funding from the cash-strapped First Church of Christ, Scientist, The Christian Science Monitor announced today that it had cut staff by 14% since the beginning of the year, closed a New Hampshire printing plant, and hiked subscription rates 10%.

“As we explore new ideas for furthering the mission of the Monitor, we have been receiving suggestions from our readers,” Editor Paul Van Slambrouch and Managing Publisher Steve Gray said in a note published in Friday’s editions. “We are confident that the steps taken will ultimately strengthen the Monitor.”

E&P reported in May about financial troubles at the newspaper’s owner, the First Church of Christ, Scientist. At that time, Monitor (Click for QuikCap) employees expected cuts.

Employees at the mail-delivered daily said church leaders had told them cost-reductions were going to be needed to offset recent church budget problems related to stock market losses going back several years and numerous capital expenses, including a new library and church improvements.

Today’s editor’s note said that the paper had cut 13 editorial positions since the beginning of 2004, along with eight jobs in business and operations. The paper’s Nashua, N.H., facility had stopped printing copies of the daily, with all East Coast printing functions consolidated in the Monitor’s Bellmawr, N.J., location.

The paper also plans to reduce its use of color and institute a new subscription program for heavy users of the Monitor’s Web site.

“The Monitor is entering a time of reassessment,” the note continues. “Honing and streamlining in order to bring expenses in line with revenue.”

The church board recently told all members of the Christian Science Publishing Society, which includes the Monitor and dozens of other church-owned publications, that it wants the publishing group to break even in 2008 and be profitable by 2009.

The 69,200-daily-circulation paper, which does not publish weekends, had 145 employees, including 110 editorial workers, Gray said.

Only 40% of the paper’s $32 million annual budget comes from newspaper revenue, with the remaining 60% from donations, an endowment fund, and the church.

Back in May, some Monitor employees felt the newspaper was unfairly taking hits for the church’s financial plight. Gray had disagreed with that view, pointing out that the Monitor would not exist without the church.

The paper has seen a noticeable circulation drop in recent years, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations FAS-FAX, which reported a decrease from 80,191 in March 2002 to 75,639 in March 2003.The paper did not file information for the most recent FAS-FAX, for the six months ending March 2004.

Church leaders have been hit with severe financial problems unrelated to the Monitor’s economic health, including an $8 million deficit in 2003, according to The Boston Globe, which also reported the church’s endowment fund had dropped 15% to $51 million between 2002 and 2003.

Such negatives forced the church to cut 125 of its 700 non-Monitor jobs earlier this year, according to officials.

The Monitor already saw one effect earlier this year in its size. Prior to February 2004, the weekday paper had published 24 pages twice a week and 20-pages three times per week. Since February, 20 pages has been its standard.

Although there have been no newspaper layoffs since 1989, Gray said the paper’s annual budget has decreased regularly each of the past three years, dropping by about 5% each time. “They were no large cuts or staff cuts,” he stressed. “Just trimming around the edges.”

The last rate hike took the annual price up from $189 to $199 in 2001. Sources said the paper had contemplated doubling the subscription price, but that idea quickly died.

Cost cuts, meanwhile, could hit most any area, workers fear. Known for its strong international coverage, the Monitor has bureaus in eight foreign countries, as well as in eight U.S. cities outside of Boston, including an 11-person Washington bureau. One rumored scenario, which Gray declined to comment on in May, had the paper cutting $5 million from its annual budget.

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