The Dallas Morning News announced late Thursday that it would outsource the design of its print newspaper and cut 25 newsroom jobs. Newspaper chain GateHouse Media, which has a design center in Austin, will produce the Dallas Morning News.
The changes are part of an effort to reorient the newspaper’s design staff around digital. Of the 50 positions on The Morning News’ print design team, 30 will become multi-platform editor jobs. Another five newsroom employees are losing their jobs early next month, two are support staff and three are journalists.
"We think that for the long term, we need our journalists to be able to produce for digital publications," said Editor Mike Wilson. "This is a first step toward a day some years off where that will be our main or maybe even our only publication platform."
Wilson doesn’t envision ending the print newspaper entirely, he said. The Sunday edition is deeply ingrained in the community and connects readers with advertisers, he said. But he can imagine a much smaller print operation and a much bigger paying digital audience.
The last few years have brought big changes to the Morning News, beginning with rethinking everything. In 2015, 167 people were offered buyouts and 34 accepted. Everyone had to reapply for their jobs. Last January, the Morning News shut down the Neighborsgo section and FD magazines, laying off another 19.
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This year, Wilson said, the Morning News is focusing on digital metrics to build subscriptions. Phasing out print layout and design allows the newsroom to keep reporters on the streets, he said.
News organizations have not yet found a way to completely replace the money print editions bring in with revenue from digital initiatives. But the Minneapolis Star Tribune did see modest revenue growth last year by taking a number of approaches, including shoring up digital subscriptions and printing other publications.
Rick Edmonds, Poynter's media business analyst, has seen a version of what's happening in Dallas at many places, where newsrooms cut some functions in order to keep reporters. GateHouse designs more than 200 newspapers, Gannett has design hubs and the Associated Press has regional editing centers.
"Very few have done it and then pulled it back in, so to that extent, it works pretty well," Edmonds said. "Certainly there's some loss of control and some loss of jobs, but it's very much a trend."
What's unusual in Dallas, he said, is that it isn't part of a chain working in-house. The Morning News is owned by A.H. Belo Corporation.
"I don't know too many papers the size of the Dallas Morning News that have taken that step, but others may," Edmonds said.
Early last year, journalists at the Morning News mostly seemed optimistic about the changes happening there. The loss of 25 journalists will shrink the current newsroom headcount from 260 to 235, Wilson said.
That's tough for everyone, he said.
"Everyone knows this is an industry in transition and the transition is sometimes painful," he said. "So they're feeling that."