NEW YORK -- The McClatchy newspaper chain will shutter its remaining four foreign bureaus as its Washington bureau reorganizes to focus on regional stories and political coverage, the company announced Monday.
The Huffington Post reported Friday that McClatchy was planning to close its bureaus in Beijing, Mexico City, Istanbul and Berlin. The company will also discontinue the work of a stringer who had been reporting regularly from Irbil, Iraq.
"Today, we’re announcing an important shift in the mission of the Washington bureau to focus above all on regional and political coverage, as well as national stories of particular impact in our communities," Anders Gyllenhaal, McClatchy's Washington editor and vice president for news, wrote in a memo. "These changes better align the bureau with McClatchy’s overall news strategy and more directly support our newsrooms with the kind of high quality journalism McClatchy stands for."
Rather than being laid off, the company's full-time foreign correspondents will return to the U.S., according to the memo. In the past, McClatchy has operated bureaus in major cities such as Moscow, Kabul and Baghdad.
McClatchy -- which operates more than 30 newspapers nationwide, including The Miami Herald, Kansas City Star, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sacramento Bee and Charlotte Observer -- faces the same challenges that other newspaper companies do, including steep drops in demand for ads and shifts in the way people consume news. The company bought the larger Knight Ridder chain for $4.5 billion in 2006, and has been increasingly investing in digital and video initiatives. For instance, it plans to add two dozen staffers to its video team in Washington. Other planned additions are a "strike force" to pursue enterprise and developing stories, as well as a database team.
But the reallocation of resources to regional stories and political news has prompted concerns that McClatchy will no longer compete on some critical beats, such as national security, for which the company has gained national distinction. A McClatchy reporting team has long been heralded for producing the most skeptical coverage of the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq.
National security reporter Jonathan Landay, who was part of that team, announced last week that he was leaving the company after 16 years. He told HuffPost on Friday that closing the foreign bureaus means "shutting off an important source of news and analysis at a time when we need to be paying more attention because our mission is to inform and educate."
McClatchy won a Polk Award in 2012 for its coverage of the war in Syria and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in April of this year for its reporting on the Senate Intelligence Committee's CIA torture report.
John Walcott, who served as Washington bureau chief from 2002 to 2010 and oversaw the pre-Iraq coverage, expressed concerns on Friday about the company's direction.
“The Knight Ridder and McClatchy bureaus were sadly unique in the value they placed on cultivating the working-level sources closest to the action and the resistance they maintained to the lure of trading independence and critical thinking for access to the political, military and economic establishments," Walcott wrote in an email.
Shortly after the changes were officially announced on Monday, a former staffer told HuffPost that "the leaders of McClatchy are assuming their readers are as provincial about their news consumption as they are."
In the memo, first published by Poynter, Gyllenhaal wrote that McClatchy will "continue to undertake international projects on in-depth stories, working with individual McClatchy newsrooms and with partners around the world." He pointed out in an interview with HuffPost that McClatchy papers will still be able to publish dispatches from the foreign bureaus of the The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Associated Press, through the company's syndication deals with those publications.
Gyllenhaal acknowledged the importance of international news, but stressed that the company needed to reallocate resources going forward.
"We have been working with four bureaus and we’ve been proud of the work we’ve been able to do," he said. "But to own those stories is a stretch. Our folks have done extraordinary work from Syria to Ukraine to China, but you have to ask the question, 'What can we do with the resources we have?'''
Gyllenhaal said the bureau will still cover beats like national security and expects to replace Landay.
"Our job is to maintain the DNA, which stretches back for many years, and to do the kind of work we’ve always done -- and to do it in some new places," he said.
Today, we’re announcing an important shift in the mission of the Washington bureau to focus above all on regional and political coverage, as well as national stories of particular impact in our communities. These changes better align the bureau with McClatchy’s overall news strategy and more directly support our newsrooms with the kind of high quality journalism McClatchy stands for. We’re talking about this in staff meetings at the bureau this morning. We also wanted to explain the thinking to editors and publishers and to our newsrooms.
As we all know, we’re in the midst of enormous change in journalism. In the past year, McClatchy has been reshaping digital publishing plans, redesigning all our platforms and revamping how newsrooms operate. Editors in DC and across the country have also been working on how the bureau should evolve.
Our Washington operation will reorganize to place most of its emphasis on regional stories and political coverage. A significant amount of our reporting resources will be devoted to these beats and assignments, including a “strike force’’ team to pursue enterprise and developing stories and a database team to work with newsrooms on data-driven coverage.
With this shift, the handling of international coverage will change. Our foreign correspondents, many of our most veteran reporters, will return to the U.S. to play prominent roles at home. We’ll continue to undertake international projects on in-depth stories, working with individual McClatchy newsrooms and with partners around the world, as we’ve been doing this past year on topics ranging from the Nicaraguan canal to the pipeline of synthetic drugs coming into the U.S. from China. The coverage of Latin America and the Caribbean by The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald, a brand of regional coverage for the readers of both papers, will not change.
The bureau will maintain its national beats, which are key to both covering the capital and developing a strong regional report. With the election ahead, we will place increasing focus on political news. To make the most of this coverage, our DC website, McClatchyDC.com, will be built around our political reporting, supplemented by the wider coverage from the bureau and our newsrooms. We’re developing ambitious plans for the elections, where the combination of our national and regional expertise is at its best. Coverage plans will highlight our veteran reporters and analysts, our partnership with the Marist Polling, political reporters in almost all the key states and our expanded video operations in DC.
While this plan is a departure from the past, it positions the bureau to apply the McClatchy brand of aggressive, independent journalism in ways we believe will serve our readers well. As a company, we can be very proud of the work our staffs have done over the past decade in all parts of the world. But in an era of specialization in journalism, we think this is the right time to take a new approach.
The bureau will complete its reorganization over the next several weeks. We’ll keep you informed on the next steps and look forward to working with you as these changes go into place.
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