The Slow Bleed of the Washington Post
This morning, reporters and editors at the Washington Post will convene for a huge meeting. They'll talk about the shooting death of reporter Salih Saif Aldin. They'll discuss their various journalistic victories of recent months. And then they'll get down to the question that's preoccupying the Post newsroom: How many of them will be left next year at this time?
Perhaps it's the time of year (fourth quarter) or the fact that it's been ages since good news about the news business has come over the wires. But Posties are busy exchanging gossip about just how the paper will continue trimming its roughly 800-strong workforce. Rumors center on the possibility of a third round of early-retirement offers. In 2003 and 2006, aging staffers were offered some lucrative enticements to head out the door and take with them their salaries, benefits, and expense accounts.
Word is circulating, however, that those buyouts haven't shaved enough from the paper's budget. Take it from Rick Weiss, the national reporter who serves as co-chair of the Post's unit of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild:
"I’ve certainly heard for many months now that the last round of buyouts didn’t achieve the cost savings that they hoped for, and I've heard more recently that the most recent economic numbers here cannot support the current staffing levels here."
Weiss' impressions aren't altogether inconsistent with the message from the paper's executive suite. When asked about the anticipation circling his newsroom, Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. writes via email that "Attrition has been continuing when possible."
Among the topics for the meeting is the "continuing restructuring of the newsroom for our multi-platform mission and expense control," writes Downie.
The Post's top dog will no doubt field some pointed questions on that last front. According to Weiss, after all, Posties are going to get stiffed next year on health-care costs. Not only are premiums escalating, but reporters will have to cover a greater percentage of those premiums than in previous years, pretty much wiping out their already frugal annual raises.
"The Washington Post is still a great newspaper — the best product in America that 35 cents can buy. And those of us who are still here pour our hearts into keeping it that way every day," writes Weiss.