Crunch Comes to US Newspapers

Article excerpt

The axe-wielding Mark H Willes has struck fear into the newspaper industry, earning himself a cereal packet-inspired nickname of "Cap'n Crunch" in the process. The recently appointed president and chief executive of Times-Mirror, one of America's largest publishers, has cut a swathe through the company's costs as the industry suffers from overstaffing and soaring newsprint prices.

Newsprint prices have also taken their toll of jobs in the UK. Hundreds of jobs have been lost recently at United Newspapers, Associated Newspapers, and at the Independent.

The cuts at British papers are overshadowed, however, by the storm whipped up in the US by "Cap'n Crunch".

In the last fortnight, Mr Willes has closed New York Newsday, one of the city's four papers, and cut 1,000 jobs at the Los Angeles Times, the flagship title at Times-Mirror, creating general appraisal of the industry's financial prospects.

The Manhattan edition of Newsday - the so-called "tabloid in a tutu" - had lost $100m over 10 years and the shutdown will save Times-Mirror $10m annually with the loss of 800 jobs.

Elsewhere, 1,750 more jobs will be lost. The Los Angeles Times will cut 150 editorial positions and close a daily Washington edition, the loss of which marks the end of plans to rival the Washington Post and the New York Times.

Under pressure from the majority-owning Chandler family and investors, Mr Willes was brought in to improve Times-Mirror's lagging performance.

He was a former governor of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis and also revamped General Mills, which involved the sale of its restaurant division and retail holding. He began at Times-Mirror six weeks ago.

The speed at which the axe came down on Newsday, a Pulitzer Prize-winner with a circulation of 231,000, has created interest in a man with no previous experience in publishing but one with a keen eye on the bottom line of finances.

"You need to be relentless in pursuing change. You can't take small steps; you must take big, discontinuous steps," he said recently. Mr Willes, media analysts point out, has no profile in the industry, which allows him to make drastic changes.

"He's by no means tied to the newspaper culture. I don't think anything is sacred to him," said a person close to the company.

Times-Mirror's stock has long lagged behind that of other media companies, partly because Wall Street has judged the company's costs to be too high. After the cuts, estimated eventually to save the company $50m, shares in Times-Mirror rose 25 cents to a year's high of $27. …