Washington Times slashes staff; sports section out

Associated Press/January 1, 2010

Washington - The Washington Times slashed its staff by more than 40 percent and will eliminate its sports section and most local coverage in 2010, shifting its focus to politics, business and investigative reporting.

The 27-year-old newspaper announced the latest round of layoffs in its Thursday edition and said the last sports section would appear Friday. Among those let go was the newsroom leader, Managing Editor David Jones. Another round of cuts was made earlier in December, and the newspaper published its last Sunday edition last weekend.

The paper will publish a new weekday print edition starting Monday. It will focus on the newspaper's core strengths, including politics and cultural issues, President and Publisher Jonathan Slevin said Wednesday in a statement.

"Our market-based, forward-looking plan is both a response to the recessionary economy, continued downward financial pressures on the news industry and our transition into a 21st century multimedia enterprise," Slevin said.

The layoffs hit some high-profile beats, including journalists covering the Justice Department, Congress and foreign affairs.

The newspaper announced several management changes, though it's not clear who will oversee the newsroom operation. Christopher Dolan was appointed Wednesday as national politics editor and Brett Decker as editorial page editor. Jeffrey Birnbaum, the managing editor for digital operations, resigned that post but will continue as a columnist.

During his last day at the office, Jones said Thursday that his staff had been working under a cloud of uncertainty for about two months.

"In spite of that, they've been very professional," he said. "They've come in every day and broken big stories. ... They've put out a product that I'm really proud of, and I'm proud of them."

The Times did not break down the cuts, but laid-off staffers described what they learned from colleagues.

Several departments at the newspaper are being all but eliminated, said photographer Allison Shelley. All nine staff photographers were cut, along with the assistant managing editor of photography, she said. Only two photo editors will remain.

The graphics and Web department staffs were cut nearly in half, and nearly all metro reporters were laid off, Shelley said. Only six copy desk editors would remain, she said.

While newsroom cuts had been expected for weeks, the photography layoffs came as a surprise.

"I don't think anyone expected the entire staff of shooters would be laid off," said photographer Katie Falkenberg, who worked at the Times for three years.

In the sports department, the entire staff of about two dozen journalists was cut, staffers said. The revamped publication would include some sports features, though, according to the publisher.

"We worked hard to put out what we thought was a really good section that stood up to (The Washington Post) and anyone else, despite our lack of staff," said Mark Zuckerman, who covered baseball's Washington Nationals for the newspaper. "We were the No. 2 sports section that acted like a No. 1 sports section."

Washington Redskins beat writer Ryan O'Halloran announced the section's fate Wednesday on Twitter.

"Times sports section is kaput," he wrote. "Make sure to call and cancel subscriptions after Friday."

On Thursday, Redskins owner Dan Snyder and General Manager Bruce Allen made a rare appearance in the media room at the team's headquarters to present personalized jerseys to O'Halloran and Times colleague Dave Elfin.

The Times is often viewed as the conservative alternative to the much larger Washington Post. It was founded in 1982 and funded by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, leader of the Unification Church.

The new print edition will be sold at retail outlets and newspaper boxes in the Washington area for $1. The current weekday edition is 50 cents.

Officials said the local print edition will be distributed for free to "targeted audiences," including some federal government offices. At-home and office delivery will be offered at a premium price. The paper dropped its Saturday print edition last year with editors citing low circulation.

The Times has said it would cut staff as it aims to improve its multimedia presence, which includes the paper's high-traffic Web site and its radio program, "America's Morning News."

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