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Pounding the pavement.

The pleasant voice on the Los Angeles Times' employment phone line sums it up fairly well: "We have no positions available at this time," for professionals, managers, sales or technical personnel. "Thank you for calling."

It's not a pretty picture out there. Advertising revenue is down virtually everywhere. Expansion is a thing of the past. Hiring freezes are the rule at newspapers around the country. Layoffs are common at both big and small papers. Employee buyouts and early retirements are being encouraged, and freelance and stringer budgets have been slashed.

In short, it's a tough time to find a job as a journalist.

"I've been in this business 24 years and this is the worst I've ever seen it," says Arlene Morgan, senior editor for recruiting and staff development at the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Never in my life have I seen the kind of layoffs we're seeing now in this business."

While the Inquirer does not foresee layoffs, they're not hiring. Morgan says. In fact, in an effort to cut costs, the paper is encouraging its staff members to take a year off, with fully paid health benefits. "We're trying to get people off the rolls, not on."

Papers in the East seem to have been hit the hardest of all, reflecting the faltering economy in that region.

"We've been in the economic pits for about two and a half years, and it's not improving," says William B. Ketter, editor of the Quincy Patriot Ledger in suburban Boston.

In 1990, advertising revenue was down 20 percent from 1989, and two months into 1991 it fell another 5 percent, Ketter says. As a result, 25 editorial jobs were eliminated, 13 through attrition and 12 through layoffs. Another 28 people were laid off from other departments at the newspaper.

"It's the toughest economic downturn I've ever faced," says Ketter, who has been in the business 30 years. "We went through a tough time in the early '80s and in the '70s as well, but none were as deep or as long as this one."

The Atlanta Journal and Constitution may have faced the worst employee cuts in the industry with 255 positions eliminated, 122 by attrition and 133 through layoffs throughout the paper.

"It's been tough times for Atlanta, and we've felt the impact of the economy for the past two and a half years," says Jay Smith, publisher of the newspapers. While refusing to disclose the exact percentages, he says the company has faced substantial declines in both retail and classified advertising since 1988.

With so many newspapers in dire straits, the placement market for journalists also hit rock bottom. Debra Nussbaum, former director of Job Bank, a job placement agency for journalists, saw jobs drying up in the late 1980s.

"We were constantly running into job freezes," she says. The shrinking job market and editors' reluctance to pay a competitive fee resulted in the shutdown of the business.

Most of the big newspapers have their own recruiters now, eliminating the need for a placement agency like Job Bank. More importantly, there are no jobs to fill.

"It wouldn't surprise me if there were an effort to gradually reduce the head count here," says Jeanne Fox-Alston, director of newsroom recruiting at The Washington Post. While she says the Post did have to hire two new specialty writers this fall, a fashion writer and a theater critic, most opening are being filled with existing staff members or left vacant.

"We had a very conservative budget this year," Fox-Alston says. "And then wheb the war started (in the Persian Gulf), things got even worse than expected."

The newspaper had to spend more money to cover the war, while facing further losses of revenue because of it. "Airlines were doing little or no advertising because people weren't flying; retailers weren't advertising because people were doing little or no shopping, especially in the very beginning of the war."

The result was an effort throughout the paper to save as much as possible, Fox-Alston says.

Suburban expansion, a hallmark of the '80s at metropolitan newspapers and a good source of new jobs, has stalled. Jim White, a hiring editor at the Los Angeles Times, says the paper was considering additional expansion in Northern California, as well as other new sections for the paper, but all have been put on hold.

"We still do have a number of plans we would like to carry out," White says, but they have been deferred because of the recession.

Surprisingly, the market is not any better for minority journalists, according to Tom Morgan, president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

"We don't see a lot of people being hired," says Morgan, who works at The New York Times. "It is a real concern and it's been true for most of the fall and through the winter.

"Our concern is that the recession is an excuse not to move toward racial diversity in the newsroom," he says. In the past, minority hires often had been seen as "extra hires" to fill a quota, he says. But now that budgets are spare, all the extras are being cut.

Newspapers in the Midwest appear to be faring a bit better than those in the East. Eugene Pulliam, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and News, says the ad lineage is down less than 10 percent overall at the seven newspaper owned by the Central Newspapers group, of which his papers are members.

"From the reports I've read, we were not hit as hard as the East," says Pulliam. "I think the economy in the Midwest has held up better." Nonetheless, the newspapers have instituted hiring freeze and are trying to cut costs wherever possible.

But Pulliam, who has been in the business for more than 50 years, does not seem overly concerned. "We've been through these things before," he says, adding that improvement is expected in the summer or the fall.

Others aren't quite as hopeful.

"I think we've been spoiled for the last eight or nine years," says Morgan at the Inquirer. "We were moving at a pretty fast clip, sometimes opening two and three bureaus at a time. I think when this whole thing shakes out we are going to see a whole downturn in how newspapers are going to continue to do business. My worst fear is that we are not going to get the advertising back."

Maureen Fitzgerald is a Philadelphia area-based freelance writer.
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Title Annotation:Special Report: Journalism vs. the Economy; journalists' employment
Author:Fitzgerald, Maureen
Publication:The Quill
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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