U.S.A

Time runs out for ‘The Star’

W.L. August 3 1981
U.S.A

Time runs out for ‘The Star’

W.L. August 3 1981

Time runs out for ‘The Star’

U.S.A

The rumors had been swirling for months, but Time Inc.’s decision last week to close its 128-year-old evening newspaper subsidiary, the Washington Star, still came as a shock to its 1,427 employees, as well as to onlookers who have watched uneasily the steady shrinkage in the numbers of North American daily newspapers. The paper is destined to shut on Aug. 7 unless a rescue is attempted, an unlikely event by most reckoning, leaving the U.S. capital with the unenviable distinction of being the country’s largest city with only one daily. As for the overall decline, the American Newspaper Publishers Association said last week that there were now only 55 cities with competing dailies, compared with 283 in 1930.

The Time Inc. announcement caught everyone off guard. Most employees

learned of the closure on early morning newscasts, and the first edition of the paper itself carried no statement. The news was given by President and Chief Executive J. Richard Munro, flanked by board chairmen Ralph P. Davidson, Time Inc., and James T. Shepley, The Star, who told a news conference: “This is a sad day for all of us who had tried our damndest to make The Star successful.” But there were diverging views about whether Time Inc. had lived up to its pledge, on taking over the paper more than three years ago. Some staffers recalled that Time Inc. had guaranteed to keep The Star going for five years, while Munro—who claimed that in the past 41 months the paper had lost $36 million (U.S.) after taxes— maintained that the commitment had been to spend $60 million over five years. “We have spent $95 million and we think we’ve kept our pledge,” he said.

Hopes of saving The Star now rest on the last-minute appearance of a savior. Speculation last week centred on Australian tycoon Rupert Murdoch, who earlier this year stepped in to save The

Times of London, in that role. But Murdoch, who owns the national tabloid weekly Star and the New York Post, was known to have concluded, like the Washington Star’s morning rival, the Post, that the capital lacks sufficient transit outlets to ensure a commuters’ paper success. Also, as Washington newspaper analyst John Morton noted in an interview: in no case has a rescue attempt succeeded when a morning paper has achieved domination over an afternoon rival. In the case of the Post and Star the weekly figures were 584,500 and 323,000 respectively, and 820,000 to 294,000 on Sundays.

At week’s end empty champagne bottles littered the filing cabinets and the bulletin board was covered with job offers from other publications. The problem was that many Star employees were veterans and faced serious pension transfer difficulties. As White House correspondent Jeremiah O’Leary, 44 years with the paper, put it: “When I came in that morning I saw the TV cameras and thought someone had been hurt. Now I know that many have been.” W.L.