The good 'Times' are over
Barbara Ferguson | Arab News
WASHINGTON: It's not a particularly happy New Year in the nation's capital, where The Washington Times is in big trouble. We were aware that last month it laid off a large proportion of its newsroom staff, even eliminated its popular Sports Page. But today — no copy of the newspaper was delivered to our doorstep.
The official explanation was worse than feared. There would be no more home deliveries of the newspaper, we were told. Distribution would now only be at limited locations so — the only option was to subscribe online to the newspaper.
What? This newspaper is mouthpiece of the Washington conservatives! And, whether you loved the newspaper or hated it, it gave the conservative perspective to issues in our nation's capital which was essential for balance when it comes to understanding, or trying to understand, the thorny issues that drive national politics.
The Washington Times, launched in 1982 by Sun Myung Moon, was one of the more recent additions to the American newspaper industry.
While it mainly relied on subsidies from Moon, which invariably affected its credibility, the paper had come under increasing financial pressure as advertisers move dollars from print to digital media.
What is regrettable is that the problems come not from a bad news reporting, but from the paper's bad management. Now, the continued operation of the newspaper, which is owned by Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, seems to be in serious doubt.
Sources at the Times said they fear major changes and that the Moon family feud that's driving the paper's turmoil could lead to the Times shutting down in the coming months — with some suggesting that Preston Moon, the reverend's son who serves as chairman of News World Communications, the parent company of the Washington Times, may have already made that decision.
But recent cuts — part of a strategic repositioning of the newspaper — fell especially hard as the layoffs claimed Managing Editor David Jones, and Executive Editor John Solomon resigned last month, meaning the newspaper's editorial team is effectively decapitated.
With about 60 percent of its editorial staff gone — not the 40 percent cut initially announced — it would be hard to describe the revamped Times as anything other than a bare-bones publication.
The popular metro and sports sections are gone — and their writers fired. Much of the inside of the news section is filled with wire stories. The conservative commentary section has little staff-written material beyond the editorials. Instead, it features the thoughts outside conservative contributors.
Even by the standards of a struggling newspaper industry, the shrinkage is severe.
The Times has recently run some solid staff-written pieces, but it's clear that the Web is the company's priority, not the free, limited-distribution, Monday-to-Friday print edition.
Some observers here believe the paper, with its relatively modest circulation, may now opt to pursue an online-only strategy to harness its growth in that area, and continue developing the new Washington Times radio network.
The web site, meanwhile, has had its own cutbacks, with the company killing a companion opinion page, theconservatives.com, which observers say: "never really got off the ground."
Morale at the Times has been devastated, with many staffers questioning the paper's survival strategy. Some top correspondents have quit for other jobs, including three who covered the White House for them.
As for us, those who read the paper daily, current subscribers will only be offered subscriptions to The Washington Times digital edition and The Washington Times Weekly. Washington will miss the daily edition of the Washington Times. It is another sad day for the newspaper industry.