Freedom Forum To Cut Jobs

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(AP) Stock market losses amounting to about 30% of its $1 billion endowment have forced the Freedom Forum to close four international offices — a move that will hinder the foundation’s efforts to encourage world press freedoms.

Four overseas offices — in London, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, and Johannesburg — will be closed, according to a statement released Friday. The foundation’s First Amendment Center in New York will also close, but operations will be shifted to the Washington headquarters.

The Freedom Forum focuses on four main areas: the Newseum (an interactive journalism museum), First Amendment issues, newsroom diversity, and press freedom around the world. Chairman and chief executive Charles Overby said its efforts to promote world press freedom would suffer most from the cutbacks.

The Freedom Forum was established in 1991, succeeding the Gannett Foundation, established by Frank E. Gannett in 1935. The Freedom Forum is not affiliated with the Gannett Co. which owns USA Today.

In the last two years, the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to freedom of the press and freedom of speech, has lost $300 million in assets.

Overby said the organization’s emphasis during the next several years will be moving the Freedom Forum from its current location in Arlington, Va., to a spot on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol.

Last year, the foundation paid the District of Columbia government $100 million for the property, which will include offices, a restaurant, retail space, condominiums, and the Newseum, an interactive journalism museum. The Freedom Forum plans to relocate to Washington in 2005.

Overby blamed the staff reductions and office closings on the downturn in the stock market. Representatives from other organizations have recently expressed similar concerns, as most foundations invest in the stock market and depend on its earnings for much of their operating funds.

Over the last two years, the Freedom Forum had amassed a $1 billion portfolio of 200 stocks.

The statement didn’t disclose how many of the foundation’s 285 workers would be affected. Full-time employees are being offered voluntary buyouts, but layoffs will follow if not enough people opt for the packages, Overby said.

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