Here’s a question I can’t seem to find an answer for:

What is the “minimum acceptable” number of editorial employees for a news organization?

Back in the “salad days” (called that in journalistic circles because, as a journalist, you could finally afford a restaurant that serves a salad with your meal) of the 90’s, the unofficial rule of thumb for newspapers was that you should have one editorial employee for every 1,000 circulation. Of course, larger metros and major suburban papers were well above that ratio, but it was a measure that the industry seemed to readily accept.

With the waves of newsroom cuts over the past couple of years, however, I wonder if newspaper executives have given thought to what is an “acceptable” level of editorial staff as they struggle to mainatin financial stability. In other words, do they have an absolute minimum that they feel needs to exist before the product eventually becomes useless to its customers?

Granted, there were a number of jobs that existed in newsrooms over the past decade that could be eliminated without adversely affecting the newspaper’s core mission. And, certainly, there was room for efficiencies in the editorial processes that staff trimmings forced.

But When you look at the numbers (15,333 jobs in 2008, and another 2,486 since January, according to the blog Paper Cuts), and consider that newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune have effective eliminated a third of their newsroom staffs, you have to wonder if there was THAT much inefficiency and redundancy in the newsroom processes, or if we have indeed crossed the threshold into endangering the reason readers still choose a newspaper or news web site.

So the question remains: What is the minimum acceptable number of newsroom employees for a news organization? If someone has an answer, I’d love to know.


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