Mong Hit

I don't know what Dallas Morning News editor Bob Mong's like; never met the man, outside of a couple of phone calls over the last few months to talk Belo buyout. He always picks up his phone or calls back, and he never dodges a question he doesn't like; so far, so good. But in our conversations, he's always toed the company line: The buyouts and cutbacks are good for business, the paper will survive and thrive despite the departure of 111 of its staffers, we're doing what's necessary to succeed in the electronic future, the trains will still run on time. Dunno if that makes a good guy, but it certainly makes for a good company soldier. Maybe one day we'll find out that he vehemently, desperately, angrily disagreed with Belo higher-ups about the buyouts, but today, far as we know he thinks the future's a golden one full of rainbows and unicorns.

God knows he certainly ain't no Dean P. Baquet. Baquet's the editor of The Los Angeles Times, and it's a gig he's had for only a year. And yesterday, his entire newsroom fell in love with him. Because yesterday, Baquet told the paper's corporate parent, the Chicago-based Tribune Company, that he would have no part in gutting his newspaper by laying off some 200 staffers. And he did it in the pages of The Los Angeles Times, which has reported with an uncommon transparency about the Tribune's desire to get rid of folks. And Baquet was joined by the paper's publisher, no less: Jeffrey Johnson said in his own paper, "Newspapers can't cut their way into the future." Their defiance landed them in The New York Times today, which contrasts The Los Angeles Times' predicament with one that hits closer to home:

"Many papers, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as other Tribune properties--among them Newsday, The Sun of Baltimore and The Hartford Courant--have announced buyouts and job cuts over the last year. Newspaper costs, particularly for newsprint and personnel, are outstripping revenues and the Internet is siphoning off readers and advertisers.

The Belo Corporation announced yesterday that 111 newsroom employees at The Dallas Morning News had taken buyout offers, leaving 450 editorial employees to retrench and focus mainly on local news. Last month, David Black, whose Black Press is the new owner of The Akron Beacon Journal, laid off 40 editorial employees, about 25 percent of the newsroom staff.

At The Los Angeles Times, circulation has been falling from its peak of 1.2 million in 1990. For the six months that ended in March, it was 851,500, down 5.4 percent from the period a year ago. It was the biggest drop among the top 10 dailies and more than twice the industry average."

Baquet's comments were sparked by a letter of protest sent Wednesday to the Tribune Company. The missive came from 20 civic leaders--among them former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor chief Maria Elena Durazo and Los Angeles Police Commission Chairman John Mack--begging Trib bosses to "resist economic pressures to make additional cuts which could remove it from the top ranks of American journalism."

Guess that's not how we roll in Dallas. Didn't hear a peep of protest from anyone. Not the mayor, not one city council member, not one county commissioner, not one police official. And certainly not from the editor. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky