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Why Are Publishers Cutting Their D.C. Bureaus in an Election Year?

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Both the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal have cut or restructured their Washington, D.C., bureaus recently, decisions that appear counterintuitive given the coming presidential election later this year.

But both sets of cuts share a variety of strategic explanations, particularly a retrenchment to core competencies in order to focus on content that drives subscriptions during testing times for the media industry.

“If you run a publication covering the second-largest city in the U.S., you need to focus on that city,” said A Media Operator founder Jacob Donnelly, referencing the Los Angeles Times. “D.C. outlets like The Washington Post and the behemoth The New York Times will cover that scene better than you can, and you have a finite budget and an audience with more local concerns.”

The Los Angeles Times, which reportedly lost $50 million in 2023, is operating from a position of greater commercial urgency, and it laid off 115 staff members earlier this week. The Dow Jones group—which includes The Wall Street Journal alongside titles like MarketWatch and Barron’s—generated $494 million in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, debt and amortization) last year, according to public filings, and it has trimmed more modestly.

More broadly, as publishers consider more carefully what kinds of reporting generate and retain subscribers, beats beyond their primary zones of coverage come under closer financial scrutiny. 

The shifts also reflect a decades-long decline in the number of D.C. bureaus staffed by reporters from regional outlets, said Donnelly, as more get their news online.

The reductions aim primarily to provide cost savings for the publishers following a challenging year. In recent weeks, titles including Time, Forbes, Business Insider and Sports Illustrated have laid off swaths of their staff to compensate for their lackluster returns in 2023, according to two people familiar with the cuts.

The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times did not return requests for comment.

Retrenching to core competencies and subscriber needs

Publishers have typically enjoyed upticks in subscriptions, advertising revenue and traffic during election years, said media analyst David Cohn.

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