The Washington Times for Sale After Losing Much of Church Subsidy
FOR SALE: The Washington Times, a conservative countervoice to what conservatives consider the quintessential “liberal media” symbol, the Washington Post. OWER: Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, founded by a man what non-conservatives and career journalists didn’t consider the epitome of a politically hands-off newspaper publisher.
It’s rival, the Washington Post, has a story that gives all of the details about the intra-family warring that has led to the paper’s $35 million subsidy being cut off and the move now to put it on a very depressed newspaper market.
Washington Times executives are negotiating to sell the newspaper, after the Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s family cut off most of the annual subsidy of about $35 million that has kept the Unification Church-backed paper afloat, company officials said.
Nicholas Chiaia, a member of the paper’s two-man board of directors and president of the church-supported United Press International wire service, confirmed that the paper is actively on the market: “We recently entered into discussions with a number of parties interested in either purchasing or partnering with the Washington Times,” he said in a statement to The Washington Post.
To the unitiated, once upon a time UPI was considered a wire service powerhouse that was a precise match to the AP in terms of journalistic talent, content offered to newspapers and prestige and was the AP’s formidable rival. MORE:
Current and former Times officials said one suitor has been the paper’s former executive editor, John Solomon, who resigned in November 2009. Soon thereafter, they said, Solomon organized a group of investors to purchase the Times or launch a new multimedia outlet called The Washington Guardian. Times company officials said they are also in discussions with other potential investors.
Solomon, a former Washington Post reporter, declined to comment.
The negotiations follow months of turmoil at both the 28-year-old conservative daily and the business empire founded by Moon, 90, whose children are jostling for control over the church’s myriad enterprises, which range from fisheries to arms manufacturing.
One of Moon’s children, Justin Moon, who was chosen by his father to run many of the church’s Asian businesses, has slashed the newspaper’s annual subsidy, forcing the paper’s executives, led by Moon’s eldest son, Preston Moon, to search for deep pockets elsewhere. Meanwhile, the newspaper has hacked its newsroom staff by more than half, from 225 in 2002 down to about 70 people, raised the paper’s price and deliberately shrunk its circulation to cut costs, shed its metro and sports sections, and fired or pushed out several top executives, including its publisher earlier this week. Several reporters said most of the staffers are seeking to leave.
When newspapers do this it’s clear they’re on life support: if they start to reduce the content to save costs, then readers have less reason to buy the newspaper. And if readers have less reason to buy the newspaper, then advertisers have less reason to advertise, particularly during tough economic times. Moreover, the reduction of content makes newspapers even more irrelevant to many younger people who — at most — will only look at a newspaper too see a movie schedule. And even then they’re likely to use their cell phones.
According to the Washington Post, the Times is way behind on its bills and can’t even take care of some basic things such as mice and snakes in the building.
Times officials have said that one possible candidate for the paper’s ownership is its former Executive Editor John Solomon, the Post said.
Solomon resigned in November 2009 following which he assembled a group of investors to buy the Washington Times or launch a new multimedia outlet called ‘The Washington Guardian’, it added.
The decision to sell out comes in the wake of months of financial turbulence at both the 28-year-old conservative daily and the business empire founded by Moon, 90, the Post said.
According to the paper, Moon’s business empire contains an exhaustive gamut of enterprises including fisheries and arms manufacturing.
Squabbling amongst Moon’s children triggered off financial problems in the paper, with Preston Moon, Sun Myung’s son and legatee of the paper, and his younger brother Sean Moon issuing memos claiming power over various portions of their father’s global business empire, it said.
This irked his brother Justin Moon who was chosen by his father to run their various Asian concerns, that led him to order the subsidy slash in retaliation.
In late March there were rumors published on the web that the paper was up for sale, but bigwigs at the company denied them.
Some thoughts from someone who worked in the media overseas and on two chain newspapers?
1. To those not old enough to remember, when the paper was launched in 1982 there was enormous skepticism and even some concern. Part of the Wikipedia entry covers this quite well:
The Washington Times was founded in 1982 by Unification Church leader Sun Myung Moon, who has said that he is the Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ and is fulfilling Jesus’ unfinished mission. Bo Hi Pak, Moon’s chief aide, was the founding president and the founding chairman of the board. In 1996 Moon discussed his reasons for founding the Times in an address to a Unification Church leadership conference, saying “That is why Father has been combining and organizing scholars from all over the world, and also newspaper organizations, in order to make propaganda.” In 2002 Moon said: “The Washington Times is responsible to let the American people know about God” and “The Washington Times will become the instrument in spreading the truth about God to the world.”
At the time of the Times’ founding Washington had only one major newspaper, the Washington Post. Massimo Introvigne, in his 2000 book The Unification Church, said that the Post had been “the most anti-Unificationist paper in the United States.” Former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and neo-conservative journalist David Frum, in his 2000 book How We Got Here: The ’70s, wrote that Moon had granted the Times editorial independence.
In 1998 Scott McLemee commented: “During the ’70s, media coverage of the Moonies aroused tremendous public anxiety. Then they launched the Washington Times, a conservative newspaper that pretty much printed Reagan administration press releases under a reporter’s byline. Suddenly you didn’t hear very much about the sinister Unification Church anymore. Good business practices—like buying Utah real estate when it was cheap, or giving the Republicans a newspaper of their own—can bring a cult into the mainstream with alacrity.”
2. I had a personal reason to be skeptical of the Times that had nothing to do with journalism or religion. I lived and reported overseas for nearly 7 years. In one country an American “stringer” who did paid-per-piece proforma reporting from abroad asked a local businessman who met him through me know to lend him a large amount of money. This person never repaid the businessman the money and the businessman was extremely upset. In the 80s I learned that this person had been hired by the Times (he apparently didn’t stay long on the paper, making me wonder if he had borrowed money and not paid it back to the Reverend, too).
3. The Times’ reporting was often solid — many of its original staffers came from the respected Washington Examiner, which had folded a year before the Times was launched — but it never was considered by most working journalists to be in the exactly the same class as the Post, New York Times or most other newspapers due to its huge church subsidy. To be sure, the Christian Science Monitor also gets subsidies from its church, but that’s apples and oranges: the Monitor’s mission is to try and provide more objective, “healing” looks at issues and it has done so for decades — not to try and promote an ideological viewpoint. Plus, the Monitor’s church is considered by many to be more mainstream than the Unification Church. So the image was never the same and there really was no parallel.
4. The Times did overcome some of critics’ skepticism by offering some good reporting on issues. It has become political junkies’ must reading, has had some excellent articles on defense and affairs and lively editorials. For a while, in the days before Internet, I subscribed to the daily edition and later got a weekly edition.
5. The Times has been considered by many conservatives a needed counterweight to the Post and some analysts have contended that its existence actually drove the Post more to the right.
Once the Times has been sold, some of the eyebrows that have been raised about the paper for years due to its church ownership will lower.
And then comes the real task: keeping a paper alive in an era when many newspapers seem to be on life support.
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