Call it part of the implosion of the American newspaper industry. A 126-year-old, Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper will lay off its entire staff as it changes ownership. It is one of a series of papers that have recently fired all their workers or laid off a large portion of them.
The Bend Bulletin in Oregon is the only daily in the center of the state, geographically. The paper filed for Chapter 11 in early January. Owned by Western Communications, it owed creditors $2 million, and it owed $1 million in overdue property taxes. At the time, Western Communications president John Costa said, “I can only assure people that we’re working as hard as we can and in good faith to make sure that that the Bulletin goes forward.”
The paper found a buyer in Rhode Island Suburban Newspapers. A filing in the bankruptcy court that handled the sale read, “Effective as of the end of business on the day immediately prior to the Closing Date, Seller shall terminate all Business Employees.” The stipulation was that the decision is actually in effect on the say of the closing of the sale. Some employees might be rehired, but there is no guarantee they will be.
The news comes less than two weeks after the closure of the Vindicator, the daily in Youngtown, Ohio. It had been in business for 150 years. Two weeks before the Vindicator announcement, the daily in Reading Pennsylvania, the Reading Eagle, let go 81 of its approximately 240 workers. MediaNews Group, a company well known for chopping newspaper costs, bought it for $5 million. Earlier this year, MediaNews tried to take over Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, without success.
Even the nation’s largest newspaper groups, most of which make profits, have needed to cut staff to maintain positive bottom lines. McClatchy, one of the country’s big chains, offered 450 workers buyouts earlier this year. Other chains have been laying off people more quietly.
The destruction of the newspaper industry is based on several trends. The first is the shrinking number of subscribers to physical versions of the newspaper. Another is that ad revenue runs in physical newspapers have dropped precipitously. Digital advertising has offset some of this, but in most cases, not enough to drive newspaper top lines higher. Most papers have had little success selling large numbers of digital subscriptions. Exceptions to this trend include large dailies, primarily The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Several papers have been fortunate enough to be bought by rich owners or are owned by well-financed nonprofits. They include the dailies in Minneapolis, Boston, Philadelphia, Salt Lake and Las Vegas. However, even many of these have been downsized by their owners.
The future of the newspaper industry remains grim. A recent study indicated just how desperate the situation is. Employment at newspaper newsrooms has been cut by nearly half, according to a recently released headcount analysis.