By: Joe Strupp
Several dozen Newsday employees are planning to send a protest letter to Tribune Company Chairman Dennis FitzSimons that blasts the corporate parent for what they see as “throttling Newsday’s individuality” through bureau staff cuts, and seeking instead to “inflate the corporate profit margin.”
A draft of the letter, a copy of which was obtained by E&P, states in part, “In its pursuit of maximum profits, Tribune has cut Newsday’s news staff by 33 percent and slashed our Washington bureau. Amid wars and crises abroad, it has ordered our foreign bureaus closed. It has halved our staffs covering national news, and health and science. It has forced us to curtail coverage even of New York City and Long Island and has made other cuts that fail our readers.”
The letter, which is still being edited by staffers, later notes, “Our reduced staff is spread too thin; we’re missing stories we should have gotten. Too often, when we see news important to our readers, we are told there is no space for it.” (The entire text of the draft letter is included below.)
Dozens of Newsday employees met Thursday at the paper to discuss how best to protest what they see as “Newsday’s dismal decline” and deterioration at the hands of staff and budget cuts in recent years. The letter, expected to be sent in the coming weeks, was one of the major subjects of the meeting.
James Rupert, who is currently reporting from Islamabad for the daily, drafted the initial version of the letter to FitzSimons, which a group of Newsday staffers is continuing to edit and plans to send to the Chicago-based ownership once it is passed among newsroom workers for signatures.
“We’re polishing it,” Rupert said by phone from the Pakistan city where he is reporting. “We are discussing the letter. We had a meeting to polish this in a way that we are sure it gets newsroom consensus.”
The letter would be the latest attack on Tribune, which has come under scrutiny for recent battles over staff cuts at the Los Angeles Times and efforts to sell all or part of its many media holdings. Newsday workers appear to be miffed that cutbacks in recent years, which have included a 2004 buyout, have hurt the paper’s credibility and journalistic efforts.
“We find the recent evolution unacceptable,” Rupert said. “We think it needs to changed.”
Rupert said as many as 55 staffers attended the informal Thursday gathering, calling it “a good first meeting for something like this” and “a significant chunk” of the paper’s personnel. The final letter is expected to be sent out before the end of the year, Rupert said. “It will be a little different to express everyone’s concerns.”
The veteran reporter, who worked at The Washington Post before joining Newsday in 2000, said many of the staffers’ concerns are prompted by what they hear from readers. “People on Long Island have noticed a change in Newsday,” he said. “The paper is thinner and duller. They need to hear from the journalists that we share that regret.”
DRAFT LETTER FROM NEWSDAY’S NEWSROOM TO TRIBUNE CO. ===
Dear Mr. FitzSimons:
In the newsroom and bureaus of Newsday, we watch with growing dismay the Tribune Company’s stewardship of our newspaper. In its six years of ownership, Tribune has significantly damaged Newsday as an instrument of public information and accountability in Long Island and New York City.
In its pursuit of maximum profits, Tribune has cut Newsday’s news staff by 33 percent and slashed our Washington bureau. Amid wars and crises abroad, it has ordered our foreign bureaus closed. It has halved our staffs covering national news, and health and science. It has forced us to curtail coverage even of New York City and Long Island and has made other cuts that fail our readers.
Our reduced staff is spread too thin; we’re missing stories we should have gotten. Too often, when we see news important to our readers, we are told there is no space for it.
Tribune is throttling Newsday’s individuality by forcing us to replace much of our own journalism with wire copy, by dictating the layout of our website and insisting that we promote our local news coverage at the expense of all else. Newsday doesn’t need Tribune to tell us to cover Long Island – local news has always been this paper’s core. But we deplore the parochial idea that readers are interested only in what happens within their zip codes. New Yorkers understand all too well that events in Hamburg, Beijing or Beirut affect us at home.
When permitted, we still do plenty of work that we’re proud of – as local as uncovering the waste of public funds in Long Island firehouses, and as global as reporting from Cuba, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Washington on innocent men imprisoned at Guantanamo.
We know that rising competition from Internet firms makes this a tough time for newspapers. And we know that Newsday worsened its situation with the shameful, illegal and costly inflation of our circulation figures.
But we also know that Tribune’s constant cutting of resources to inflate the corporate profit margin and shore up the stock price is a failure.
Newsday is a profitable business, even more than most newspapers. Our paper has grown handsomely since Alicia Patterson founded it in a garage 66 years ago. But we didn’t do that by cutting corners to guarantee a profit every 90 days. We did it by building a newspaper so complete that Long Islanders didn’t need another one. Newsday invested in the reporters, editors and many others needed to explain complex issues, investigate corruption and dig out whatever news affects our readers. That same investment in creative, original journalism is what will serve our readers and make our company thrive in the Internet era.
If Tribune wants to successfully own large newspapers, it must show more respect for their individualities and communities. It must reduce its demand for short-term profit and commit to building, rather than cutting, newspapers for the future. And it should do so quickly or sell Newsday to an owner who will.