Joe Strupp: My Top 10 Newspaper Biz Stories 2009

By: Joe Strupp

Another year of changes for the newspaper industry, not to mention E&P. We saw mobile sprint forward, print decrease, employees give back, and some familiar faces depart. Still, the news is being delivered and the newsrooms continue to hum, in most places, even at reduced volume.

With that, my annual list of the Top 10 Newspaper Industry Stories of The Year:

10. E&P’s SHUTDOWN – Sadly, we are part of the list this year, with E&P shutting down after 125 years. At the moment, talks are continuing to possibly keep us going. But if they do not prove successful, this industry “bible” will cease to exist after more than a century of chronicling everything from newspaper sales to the Pulitzer Prizes. Here’s hoping it has a happy ending.

9. PULITZER PRIZE WEB EXPANSION – This marked the first year the Pulitzers accepted entries from web-only news outlets, drawing 65 entries from 37 Web sites. The Pulitzer board also acknowledged Web winners like never before, giving its national reporting prize to the St. Petersburg Times for its Politifact Web site. Politico, a predominantly Web news outlet, also was given a finalist nod. Just last month, meanwhile, the Pulitzer Board voted to allow even more Web-only entries, changing its rules for 2010 to lift the requirement that they come from sites devoted to original reporting. Bloggers, come on in!

8. EDITORIAL CARTOONIST CUTS – These artists have been losing newspaper jobs for years, but 2009 found some of the biggest cutbacks with at least 30 cartoonists forced out. Among those losing their jobs were: John Branch of the San Antonio (Texas) Express-News; Don Wright of The Palm Beach (Fla.) Post; Jim Borgman of The Cincinnati Enquirer; and Bill Day at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tenn. David Horsey, who won a Pulitzer in 1999 and 2003, lost his job when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went Web-only.

7. BOSTON GUILD SHAKE-UP – The Boston Globe unit of The Newspaper Guild had a bitter contract fight as The New York Times Co., its owner, sought $10 million in concessions. The union rejected one salary reduction proposal, but eventually approved another. Even that didn’t end its troubles as Guild President Dan Totten, criticized by some for poor handling of the talks, was removed from office after he allegedly broke several union policies, including charging personal expenses to a guild credit card.

6. TOP EDITORS LEAVING – A string of top newspaper editors left their jobs, and in most cases the newspaper industry. Departures in 2009 included: Ken Paulson at USA Today; John Mancini at Newsday; Jim Willse at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.; Sandra Mims Rowe at The Oregonian in Portland; Karin Winner of The San Diego Union-Tribune; Ron Royhab of The Blade in Toledo; Janet Coats of The Tampa Tribune; Michael Cooke at the Chicago Sun-Times; Cliff Teutsch of the Hartford Courant; and John Solomon of The Washington Times. Decades of experience and institutional knowledge, right out the door.

5. DETROIT CUTS FREQUENCY – Both the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News dropped a bombshell on the industry in March when they cut back home delivery to three days per week. That meant only the Thursday, Friday and Sunday editions would be dropped on doorsteps. Single-copy sales remained seven-days, but the decision is clearly a move away from print that others are likely to follow.

4. DENVER, SEATTLE BECOME ONE-NEWSPAPER TOWNS – The Rocky Mountain News succumbed to a long-running battle with The Denver Post, while The Seattle Post-Intelligencer gave up its print version to
The Seattle Times. Although a Web version of the P-I continues, its staff is a shadow of what it was. In both cases, the paper in control of the former joint-operating agreement came out ahead. In a related note, The Christian Science Monitor went online-only.

3. BANKRUPTCIES – Journal Register Company and Sun-Times Media Group emerged from bankruptcy, while Freedom Communications and Philadelphia Media Holdings entered that difficult world. The Star-Tribune of Minneapolis, American Community Newspapers, and alternative chain Creative Loafing went in and out of bankruptcy, while Tribune Co. is still there. But, on a good note, newspaper stocks began a comeback after hitting historic lows. Let’s hope that continues.

2. FURLOUGH FANATICS – After cutting jobs for years, newspapers turned to unpaid furloughs more than ever in 2009 as a way to cut costs, but not people. Gannett, MediaGeneral, Advance Publications, and Lee Enterprises were among the chains that forced the no-money vacations, along with several McClatchy and MediaNews Group papers. Even The New York Times instituted them, then later offered buyouts. The furlough craze even prompted the creation of a Web site devoted to connecting furloughed employees who wanted to trade homes during their week off,

1. JOBS, JOBS, JOBS – More than 40,000 newspaper jobs were lost in 2009, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is nearly twice the 21,000 cut in 2008 and more than any single year in the past 10 years. Even with furloughs, salary cuts and numerous retirement fund freezes, publishers lopped off a tragic number of positions, even as they sought to expand online and, of course, increase workloads for those who remain. The count at the end of 2009 is 284,220 jobs. In 1999, that number was at 424,500. If things don’t slow down, any attempt to properly cover news, and write and edit it, will be lost if it hasn’t been already.

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