Close readers of The Sun experienced a collective case of whiplash this past fall. The injury was sustained as the region's major daily newspaper pitched and lurched its way through a series of jarring changes, which, taken together, continued to fuel the prevailing notion of an Incredible Shrinking Daily.
This runaway ride included the firing of editorial page editor Dianne Donovan, with editor Tim Franklin assuming her duties; the resignation of longtime editorial writer/reporter/foreign correspondent (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Will Englund following Donovan's dismissal; the tabloidization of the Sports section (excepting, oddly, on Sundays and Ravens "Gameday," which remain broadsheets); the reduction of editorial/op-ed pages from two to one on Saturdays; the slicing of the paper's Sunday books coverage from two pages to one; the plopping of a half-page ad on the front of Sunday's "Ideas" section; and the shuttering of its last three foreign bureaus. (These kinds of changes are, perhaps uncomfortably for Sun staffers and bosses, getting national attention this year, as they are part of the plot of the final season of The Wire, the HBO series created by former Sun reporter David Simon.)
"They are having to make tough, tough choices, both as they deal with the decline of revenues and the need to put more money into their online venture," notes David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio and a former reporter and media critic for The Sun. "It's not only cutting from traditional newsroom budgets for cost reasons; they're also having to divert some money over to this online venture."
Folkenflik has observed the same trend at daily newspapers nationwide. Despite the diminished resources, "Reporters and editors at The Sun are working hard to try to provide the best coverage that they can, and sometimes still do some very impressive work," he adds, specifically citing as examples Jonathan Bor's AIDS/prostitution/drug addiction series from 2007 and June Arney and Fred Schulte's 2006 ground rent stories. "But there [must be] constriction of ambition in a time of such significant cutbacks. You can't do everything."
Making matters worse, The Sun has "lost significant horsepower—in seven years, they've lost over a quarter of their staff," says Folkenflik. "And a lot of the people that they've lost are people with real institutional knowledge—that's got to be a source of concern. There are going to be aspects of the city, the region, the world around them that they've lost."
The new, leaner Sun is "more locally and regionally focused," Folkenflik contends. "That is a franchise that The Sun desperately needs to hold on to. They need to be able to own [the] City Hall [beat]; they need to be able to own Annapolis. It is the challenge of anyone leading a major regional newspaper, but particularly true of one like The Sun that has always tended to play over its weight class."