Nearly Entire ‘Star-Ledger’ Editorial Board Takes Buyout

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By: Joe Strupp

As The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. cuts 40% of its news staff through buyouts, it’s also losing almost its entire editorial board, according to John Farmer, the new editorial page editor.

Farmer, a 26-year veteran of the paper, confirmed that all but one board member had taken the buyout.

Those include: Fran Dauth, former editorial page editor; Josh McMahon, Op-Ed page editor; Debra Jerome Cohen, deputy editorial page editor; board member Paul Wycoff; Joan Whitlow, columnist and board member; and Fran Wood, columnist and board member.

Only Catoonist Drew Sheneman is staying on the board, he said.

“I am going to have to rebuild all of it,” Farmer, 78, said about the editorial board. “I don?t look forward to that. I am losing some really good people.”

Farmer, who has reported in the past on political and Washington news, said he had made one appointment, naming political editor Dan Murphy to the post of deputy editorial page editor.

“I have some others in mind, others we have not talked about,” he said.

The buyouts, which include 151 of the newsroom’s 330 staffers and more than 200 newspaperwide, began last month and are expected to continue through the end of 2008. They are part of a major cost-cutting plan that also included new contracts with the paper’s two biggest unions.

Farmer, who acknowledged the paper’s often left-leaning editorial page, said he is more of an independent and did not believe the paper would be beholden to either party.

“I don’t have a great deal of faith in either of the parties,” he told E&P. “They are too committed to the people who pony up money to support them.”

Farmer noted that he voted for George W. Bush in 2000, but went for John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama this year. “I think he will disappoint a lot of left-wingers in the party,” he said of Obama.

Asked if he planned any major changes to the Op-Ed pages or editorials, Farmer said: “I have no plans to do that, at least at the outset. Ask me in three months. At this point, I am just feeling my way through this.”

As a statewide paper, The Star-Ledger is the place many voters turn to for endorsements on state and local races. Farmer saw no major changes in that approach, adding “Let’s see what happens and see what candidates look like.” He said the paper would likely not dip into city council and township committee races in smaller towns: “When you go down too deep in local races, I don’t think the paper has too much wisdom.”

He also admitted that, in the end, newspaper endorsements don’t mean all that much: “In most cases, I don’t think they have any weight. It has to be a hugely visible race with a significant historical difference. Then maybe an endorsement means something.”

So why endorse at all? “Because, sometimes they do matter.”

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