Web challenge forces Florida paper job losses

Around 24 staff of the Orlando Sentinel will lose their jobs as the Florida newspaper looks to refocus its newsroom strategy on online journalism.

Editor Charlotte Hall broke the news to staff this week in a memo in which she stressed newspapers need “bold and sometimes painful action to survive and prosper” through the most difficult period in their history. Some of the job losses will be voluntary.

“We would restructure our newsroom even if did not have to reduce our staff,” Ms Hall said. “Why? Because we need to change the way we think and act so we can succeed in the new world, both in print and online. We are facing a watershed in the way readers and advertisers use media.

“Our winning edge in the battle for audience will be our superiority in gathering local news for different platforms. This means our priority will be keeping ‘feet on the street’ – reporters and photographers. It also means we will flatten the management structure.”

The changes are indicative of broader industry concerns around the world, and particularly in the US, where newspapers are facing a dramatic drop in popularity, reporting a 2.1 per cent circulation drop in the last six months ending 31 March.

The daily Sentinel last week reported a 1.1 per cent drop for the same period, clocking 226,854 copies and joining all other Florida titles on the slide except the St. Petersburg Times, which held its circulation steady. Meanwhile, Sentinel’s Tribune Co. parent is in the process of being bought out in a deal expected to lumber it with $8 billion in debt.

Amongst a raft of changes to be introduced on 4 June because “we need to think of ourselves as a continuous news and information engine, not a ‘newspaper'”, Ms Hall said the title must become a 24/7 operation, would divide the newsroom into newsgathering and production teams and would create a new team to create web databases. One editor is leaving after 20 years.

Publisher Kathleen Waltz told the Sentinel: “We are working on moving our business model to the net. This is not the end of change for us. We are going to have to get used to change.”