New ‘CSM’ Editor: Coverage Cuts Are Inevitable

By: Joe Strupp

The incoming editor of the financially troubled Christian Science Monitor told staffers that the paper would keep its print version going and wouldn’t reduce its paper size or page count, despite plans for a $1 million cut in the editorial budget and the potential loss of up to 15 newsroom employees.

But Richard Bergenheim, a past editor in chief of the Christian Science Publishing Co. who takes over the editor post on Sunday, hinted that the paper’s Web site could begin charging for content. “Everything is being explored,” he told E&P today, noting that the site has about 200,000 “regular Web readers.” “There is going to be an investigation into that and other areas of increasing revenue into the paper.”

Bergenheim, 56, a former member of the Christian Science Monitor board, stressed that the paper would not be able to undergo the planned cuts and “still do everything the Monitor is accustomed to doing.” But he declined to specify how coverage might change. “We deliberately avoided being specific [about coverage plans] because that is something we will do collectively,” Bergenheim said.

The new editor spoke to E&P a day after addressing the Monitor’s staff in a meeting. Bergenheim was introduced during that meeting as the replacement for Paul Van Slambrouck, who has headed the newsroom for four years and will remain on staff in another capacity. During the same meeting, the paper also announced that Jonathan D. Wells was named managing publisher of the Monitor, effective immediately. Wells had served as director of business development and electronic publishing. He replaces Stephen T. Gray, who served as managing publisher since 1997.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Bergenheim addressed his limited newsroom experience, which consists of writing “a couple of articles” in the late 1960’s as a clerk at the paper. Calling it the “white elephant in the room,” he said his other experience with the Monitor should make up for it.

“What qualities do I have to be editor of the Christian Science Monitor?” he asked staffers. “We all bring different skill sets. I don’t have the normal career trajectory. I readily admit that and I won’t claim to know what I don?t know. But I don?t come without qualifications.”

He then cited his 30 years working with the newspaper and its board, noting “I did grow up with the paper.” He is also the son of a former Monitor reporter, Robert Bergenheim, who covered Boston’s City Hall for the paper in the 1950s, won a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University, and went on to be manager of The Christian Science Publishing Society. Later he became publisher of the Boston Herald and launched the Boston Business Journal.

In the meeting, Bergenheim addressed that fact that the paper had already undergone serious cutbacks in recent years, adding, “you sort of had the death of a thousand cuts.” “You are already stretched so thin,” he stated. “I think we have to take a different approach.” But he declined again to be specific.

In defending the paper’s need to keep its print edition going, Bergenheim said the paper was “in great need of our subscribers, they are our rock base. They have stuck with us. They need the Monitor and we rely on them.”

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