Ripple Effect: Newspaper Cuts Hit AP, Newspaper Guild

by , Nov 23, 2008, 8:41 PM
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The collapse of the newspaper industry is taking a toll on businesses and organizations closely associated with newspapers, including the Associated Press and the Newspaper Guild. Last week, both announced substantial cutbacks in parallel with the struggling medium they serve.

The AP announced that it will cut 10% of its total workforce in the coming year, or about 400 positions out of a total 4,100. Chief executive Tom Curley broke the news in a Webcast with AP offices--in which he said a substantial proportion of the cuts will have to come from the newsroom, since journalists already make up three-quarters of the AP's staff. The reductions, which Curley hopes to achieve through leaving vacant positions unfilled, come in response to deep cuts at most major newspaper publishers--some of which are trying to trim costs in part by canceling their memberships in the AP.

In late October, the beleaguered Tribune Co. said it was dropping its AP membership, and E.W. Scripps is said to be considering the same. Earlier this year, The Columbus Dispatch, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, and several other regional newspapers said they were canceling their memberships. Meanwhile, eight Ohio newspapers formed their own news-sharing service, hinting that they might drop the AP, and Pennsylvania papers are considering a similar move.

Newspapers must give two years' notice before their membership is canceled, so these decisions will not have an immediate financial impact, and the AP could convince them to stay during negotiations. However, newspaper publishers and editors say there is a basic disagreement preventing this: in short, they say the news service is competing with its own member newspapers by focusing more on feature-writing at the expense of breaking news. This forces the newspapers to devote more of their own resources to breaking news, giving the AP even more of a leg up for its feature stories.

Further, they see little point in publishing AP stories on the Web when the same story is available not only from other newspaper Web sites, but online news aggregators like Yahoo and Google--which get news directly from the AP.

Meanwhile, the Newspaper Guild said it has seen membership rolls shrink by about 2,000 over the last year, reflecting the sweeping push by newspaper publishers to reduce their workforces through buyouts, attrition, and layoffs over the last couple of years. That equals about $200,000 of membership dues, according to Forbes.com, which cited an interview with Newspaper Guild President Bernie Lunzer.

Lunzer's comment captured the feeling of the industry as a whole: "Right now, the biggest thing you're fighting is the overall sense of impending doom."

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