Reporter Ed Fletcher covers Sacramento County government for the Bee. He’s worked at the paper for eight years. Fletcher says this latest round of cost-cutting has hit the newsroom hard.
"We’re all in a state of shock. We found out about the same time the public found out."
Fletcher got an email about the buyouts just as the news was posted on the Bee’s website. He says it was pretty plain in the email…if there aren’t enough buyouts, there will be layoffs.
"So we’re all doing the personal math to figure out ‘well, could I afford to move on’. So it’s a tough time."
Ad revenue at The Bee is down more than 22% this year. As for how the downsizing will impact the paper’s coverage, Sacramento Bee publisher Cheryl Dell tells KXJZ News: “we have established priorities for coverage and remain committed to those, even as our workforce changes.”
But the quality of the Bee’s journalism can’t help but suffer, according to UC Davis Marketing Professor Prasad Naik. He says the decision to cut the newsroom staff because of shrinking profits will trigger what he calls a “suicide spiral.”
"As quality goes down, circulations go down and circulations go down means advertisers don’t really care much about that newspaper anymore and so advertising revenue goes down even more."
One media business analyst says downsizing doesn’t necessarily mean the Bee’s journalistic quality will suffer. Rick Edmonds is with the Poynter Institute – a journalism think-tank.
"Handled well, keeping the best stuff and peeling away some of what’s really less essential to people, you could end up with a pretty good paper."
Still, cutting back on reporters doesn’t bode well for the paper’s role as a local journalistic watchdog. Even the Bee’s competitors say the staff cuts are bad news. Melinda Welsh is interim editor at the weekly Sacramento News and Review.
"We have our spats with the Bee but we sure want them to continue to do what they do. It’s no good for our community if we’re looking at having no daily or less daily. It’s a little frightening."
Buyouts are being offered to 55% of the Sacramento Bee’s full-time employees and a smaller number of part-timers, including most editorial employees. Bee officials suggest more layoffs are still possible.