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Christian Science Monitor Editor Quits Abruptly : Fanning, 2 Other Executives Protest Plans to Reduce Size of Staff and Paper

November 15, 1988|PAUL RICHTER | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Editor Katherine W. Fanning and two other top-ranking editors of the Christian Science Monitor abruptly resigned Monday to protest a restructuring that will sharply reduce the size and the staff of the respected Boston-based newspaper.

In an emotional staff meeting, Fanning, Managing Editor David Anable and Assistant Managing Editor David Winder denounced cuts that they said may trim more than 80 news jobs and reduce the newspaper from at least 28 pages to 16. They blamed the overhaul on a diversion of church subsidies from the 80-year-old paper to the Christian Science Church's newer media enterprises, which include an evening television news program, a magazine and radio operations.

Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science Church, "founded this newspaper and wanted it to have first priority," said Fanning, one of the most prominent women in American journalism. "I can't in good conscience go along with anything that would change that."

In her letter of resignation, Fanning also cited changes in the paper's chain of command that she said will give the organization's business manager direct control of the paper's editorial content. The diversion of funds, the shrinking of the paper and the new chain of authority together mean "the serious weakening of (the paper's) editorial substance," she said. Staffers said applause greeted her remarks at the early afternoon meeting.

Directors of the church immediately named Richard J. Cattani, editor of the editorial page, to replace Fanning. They named Richard A. Nenneman, general manager of print publishing and formerly a managing editor, as editor-in-chief, responsible for all media operations.

The church has subsidized the newspaper since 1961, but last year, with the deficit from all media operations growing, it decided that cutbacks were necessary. The newspaper and the new cable-TV program, "World Monitor," have each been running deficits at the rate of $20 million a year.

A task force that included Fanning last year began working up a series of proposals that would reduce the newspaper's deficit to $15 million for the fiscal year that will end next April 30 and smaller sums subsequently. A second study group, including Nenneman and a consulting firm, developed recommendations that promised to reduce the newspaper's deficit to $7 million in its first year.

The Nenneman group's proposals include shrinking the paper to 16 pages and, according to staff members, cutting the staff of the main Boston news operations and eliminating many domestic and foreign news bureaus.

John H. Hoagland, manager of the Christian Science Publishing Society, said in an interview that the cuts, as now envisioned, will probably eliminate 20% to 25% of jobs in the 800-person Christian Science Publishing Society, which also includes religious publishing and some administrative positions. The new television operation has been adding staff and is not expected to suffer cuts.

But he said executives have not decided which jobs will be eliminated, nor have they decided that they will definitely adopt the proposed 16-page newspaper format. He called "absurd" the suggestion in Winder's letter of resignation that as many as 400 jobs might be cut.

"What we have now is a truly multimedia organization, and one that is headed for success," Hoagland said. "And that is going to require some adjustments. But there is now no turning back."

Hoagland dismissed the suggestion that a new chain of command will mean any interference with the editorial product. He said he was "deeply disappointed" at the departure of Fanning, "which will be a real loss for us."

'Evolutionary' Changes

Hoagland and the newly named editors broke the news of the Monitor's staff changes at a mid-afternoon staff meeting in Boston. The news was greeted by silence. "I think we're pretty depressed here," one staff member said.

Hoagland described the redesign of the newspaper as "evolutionary, rather than revolutionary." He said he expected it to be completed in February.

Hoagland denied reports that the five-day-a-week paper intends to increase its subscription price, now $144 a year.

The daily news program, "World Monitor," began operations in the second week of September, and features John Hart, a former NBC network newsman. The program is carried by the Discovery cable channel and by others around the country.

Fanning said the show's budget was originally envisioned at about $1 million, but the figure grew steadily as plans became more ambitious. It has received generally positive critical reception.

Won Job in 1983

The publishing organization last October began a color monthly news magazine, also called World Monitor, with an initial subscription base of 260,000. The Monitor also produces radio news programming for U.S. stations, operates international short-wave radio services and owns a Boston television station, WQTV Channel 68.

Fanning became the Monitor's first woman editor in 1983, after 12 years as editor and publisher of the Anchorage, Alaska, Daily News.

The Monitor has gone through several cycles of expansion over the past several decades, in hopes of increasing its editorial reach and reducing the need for the church-provided subsidies. But the expansion cycles have always been followed by contractions.

The newspaper's financial burden has been heavy in part because it carries no ads for liquor, tobacco or medicines--substances that the church disapproves. Since it does not cover Boston metropolitan news, it also has not been able to attract local advertisers, such as grocery and department stores, that provide essential support for most newspapers.

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