The death throes of American journalism quickened this week, with news of two major layoffs in the work, as well as smaller scale cuts either underway or in the works.
And there’s also bad news abroad, but with start with the most serious hemorrhages.
Washington Post prepares to gut newsroom
The paper of record in the nation’s capital is about to lose a big chunk of its reporting staff, in part because the company’s for-profit college business took a big hit after other media began taking a closer look at the way it’s run [previously].
From Andrew Beaujon of Poynter’s Media Wire:
[N]ews of a new buyout offer began circulating in The Washington Post newsroom. This is the paper’s fifth round of buyouts since 2004. Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton tweeted this afternoon that the buyouts would be capped at 48 people or 8 percent of the 600-person newsroom.
The Washington Post Company, which owns the Post, Slate, a community newspaper group, and an educational unit, had a dismal third quarter. Its report from that time period was filed last November (PDF). It said that newspaper revenue was down 9 percent from the same period the year before, advertising revenue shrank 20 percent, online revenue was down 14 percent, and circulation had declined (down 5.4 percent weekdays, 4.4 percent on weekends). The company’s newspaper division lost $9.9 million in the third quarter alone.
The Post Co.’s Kaplan unit saw its revenue fall by 79 percent following an unexpected government interest in the for-profit college sector.
Previous buyouts were financed by the Post’s gilded pension assets. As the company’s 2010 annual report (PDF) stated, “unusually for an S&P 500 company, we continue to have an overfunded pension plan. We haven’t had to contribute to the plan in decades. There’s almost no chance we’ll have to contribute in the near future.”
Nation’s largest publisher warms up the chainsaw
Gannett, which controls the most daily newspaper circulation in the United States of any media chain, has announced it’s slashing hundreds of newspaper staffers, offering buyouts to their most senior and experienced staff.
From Gannett Blog, which is run by former USA Today editor Jim Hopkins, who writes:
Gannett is suddenly dangling buyouts before a pool of nearly 800 qualified U.S. newspaper employees who are 56 years old with at least 20 years’ service — a deal they have 45 days to accept or reject, the company said today in a memo. A maximum of 665 buyouts will actually be granted.
The offer is being made “instead of pursuing other cost management actions but we cannot rule out other actions in the future,” the memo says — leaving open the possibility of layoffs if an insufficient number of people step forward.
Here’s the memo, sent to all 20,00 employees of the Community P:ublishing division:
TO: U.S.C.P. Employees
FR: U.S. Community Publishing President Bob Dickey
RE: Voluntary Early Retirement Opportunity Program
Today we are offering a voluntary Early Retirement Opportunity Program to 665 eligible U.S. Community Publishing employees who are age 56 with at least 20 years of service, as of March 31, 2012, and who are in certain departments and/or job categories. Eligibility by department or job category varies by each operating unit depending on its needs.
This offer was designed to be as attractive as or better than others in the industry. The Early Retirement Opportunity Program also is the first offered by Gannett since 2008. The offer provides for salary continuation of two weeks’ pay for each complete year of service, capped at 52 weeks, and ongoing health, dental and vision coverage during this period.
Employees who are eligible will have 45 days to accept. At the close of the offer period, Gannett will review acceptances and make final decisions based on the terms of the offer.
As mentioned – the program is completely voluntary for these valued, long-term employees. They have helped steer a strong and steady course for the company for many years, including through recent challenging economic times, and their work is deeply appreciated.
It’s worth noting that while 785 employees meet the criteria, the offer is being offered to 665 employees due to ongoing operational needs at the company. The offer is for U.S. Community Publishing employees only.
The Early Retirement Opportunity Program is one part of our ongoing strategy to transform the company with a focus on remaining the top news and information provider in your market. To accomplish this, it entails a ground-up assessment of our overall structure and resources. At this time we are offering this program instead of pursuing other cost management actions but we cannot rule out other actions in the future.
Please look for a separate letter today from your publisher, who will provide more details about this program and your location.
If you have any questions feel free to contact me or your publisher.
Bob Dickey President/U.S. Community Publishing
Age discrimination plagues newspaper layoffs
Gannett is restricting its latest round of buyouts to it’s oldest employees, a perfect example of an issue raised in an email to journalism analyst Jim Romenesko:
From R.G. RATCLIFFE:
Perhaps I’ve missed it, but has anyone done a story on how the newsroom layoffs of the past decade have been one of the greatest exercises in age discrimination in U.S. history?
This doesn’t count me because I quit in disgust after 33 years in the business. But every round of layoffs at every newspaper I’ve been personally familiar with have focused on the oldest of the employees, those between 50 and 65, with just a smattering of young people thrown in. Now, I know the argument is these people are targeted not because of their age but because of their high salaries. However, the result is that thousands of journalists who are beyond prime hiring age are being pushed out onto the streets. Some land well, some don’t. It just strikes me that if this was any business in America other than journalism, there’d be exposes done on it.
Anyway, just a thought.
Formerly of Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Florida Times-Union, and Beaumont Enterprise
But the deeper issue for us is the loss of institutional memory and the knowledge of community history lost when layoffs are confined to those with the most experience. Without people to remember how things were, it’s very difficult to provide meaningful context, especially in an age when remaining stories are forced to turn out more stories faster than ever, without the time to do backgrounding that could once have been done by asking the older reporter sitting next to you.
A Bay Area merger promises more layoffs
This time, it’s non-profit journalism that will be the focus of job losses as two major organizations merge.
From The Bay Citizen, which publishes regularly in the New York Times:
The Bay Citizen and the Center for Investigative Reporting have signed a formal letter of intent to merge the two award-winning Bay Area nonprofit news organizations, the directors of both companies announced Tuesday afternoon.
Under terms of a memorandum of understanding approved by both boards, management of The Bay Citizen will be handed over to the existing leadership of the Berkeley-based CIR within 30 days. Phil Bronstein, the chairman of CIR’s board of directors, will become the executive chairman of the combined companies.
Bronstein said in a statement, “I’ve been a journalist in the Bay Area my entire adult life and have deep roots and affection for the extraordinary and unique culture here. There is more innovation, activism, and civic involvement in this region than anywhere in the country. This is the basis for engaging people where we all live.”
Robert Rosenthal, CIR’s executive director, will retain that title with the combined organization. In a press release, the boards said that Rosenthal will be in charge of the combined editorial teams and will be responsible for day-to-day operations.
There’s more at California Watch.
SF Weekly’s Erin Sherbert reports that the merger will include layoffs:
Needless to say, sources inside the newsroom tell us that the imminent change and “shit communication” between higher-ups and the staff has them feeling a bit “freaked out” by what’s coming down the pike.
“People are generally just unsettled by this, I mean it seems like there will be job losses, so that is always a big deal,” our source, who asked not to be named, told us.
Indeed, layoffs are to come, so it seems. Together, the two nonprofits have more than 70 employees, and “economies of at least $1 million in operational expenses and $900,000 in duplicative personnel,” Phil Bronstein, who will become the new executive editor after the merger, said in a presentation to the Bay Citizen board earlier this year.
According to a Bay Citizen story, neither side is ready to talk about the timing or extent of any post-merger layoffs.
MediaNews lays off in Boulder
Though none of those downsized are journalists, they’re still in the business, and MediaNews is also California’s largest newspaper publisher as well and owns most of the newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area, including the Oakland Tribune and San Jose Mercury News.
From Beth Potter of Boulder County Business Report:
The Boulder-based publisher of the Daily Camera will lay off 17 advertising design and production employees in an outsourcing move, the newspaper reported Wednesday, Jan. 8.
Most of the layoffs are expected in Prairie Mountain Publishing Co.’s advertising design department, Camera publisher Al Manzi said in the Daily Camera report. Prairie Mountain Publishing has 12 publications on the Colorado Front Range, including the Camera, the Longmont Times-Call and the Colorado Daily.
Fifteen jobs will be eliminated as part of an initiative by Prairie Mountain’s parent company Digital First Media to outsource print and digital advertising design operations to Illinois-based Affinity Express, according to the report. Digital First Media is a joint partnership operated by Denver-based MediaNews Group and New York-based Journal Register Co.
MediaNews Group’s flagship paper is the Denver Post. Affinity Express is an advertising production firm that also has offices in India and Indonesia.
Two employees in Prairie Mountain’s production department also will be laid off, the Daily Camera reported.
Layoffs to come for Spanish reporters
And some of them could come in the U.S., including California.
From the News Media Guild:
The EFE News Service on Tuesday proposed a five percent wage cut for some employees and told the News Media Guild that a restructuring of its U.S. operations could result in five to 10 job eliminations or transfers. The news was a surprise to the union, because the company late last year indicated that it was aware of no plans for U.S. staff reductions.
EFE, the world’s largest Spanish-language news agency, is a taxpayer-supported state enterprise based in Madrid. The Guild represents U.S editorial and administrative employees in California, Florida, New York, and Washington.
The Guild pressed EFE for more information about possible staff reductions, saying its entire proposal may change as a result. EFE said it would respond as quickly as it could, but U.S. representatives said they had little information. The new Spanish government, elected in October, is dealing with a debt crisis.
Greek reporters going without pay
While the American journalism picture is unquestionably bleak, the ink-stained wretches of the U.S. have it easy complared to their colleagues in Greece.
From Greek Reporter’s Emmanouela Seiradaki:
The next time a scandal about Greece’s financial woes is broken by the country’s domestic press, spare a thought for the reporter who wrote it.
Greece’s once proliferating media sector has been hobbled by the ongoing financial crisis. Where new publications were often debuting, today the industry is grappling with layoffs, dwindling circulation and viewership, and sharp pay cuts. In a country of just 11 million people, Greeks until recently enjoyed a plethora of outlets, with about 10 news channels, more than 15 newspapers and even more monthly magazines. The number of unemployed journalists and reporters increase by the day.
One is Dimitris Perakis, the foreign news editor at ALTER Channel, a small private television station in Athens. He’s 37 and has worked at the station for 15 years — his entire career in journalism.
“I feel like this is a second home,” Perakis says, “because I’ve spent most hours of the day here.”
Perakis loved his job and often worked 12-hour days. But a year ago, ALTER TV fell behind on paying salaries. The company said advertising revenues were down and the owner could no longer manage the station’s massive debt.
So the station just stopped paying. It owes more than $14 million to 650 people.
More Murdoch journalists busted in Britain
This time is over allegations they bribed cops and civil servants to land those tawdry celebrity and crime scoops.
From the BBC:
Five Sun employees are among eight people arrested over alleged corrupt payments to police and public servants.
A Surrey Police officer, a member of the armed forces and a Ministry of Defence employee were also arrested.
The BBC understands picture editor John Edwards, chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker, reporter John Sturgis and associate editor Geoff Webster were arrested.
The arrests are part of the Operation Elveden probe into payments to police.
But the latest arrests mark a widening out of the operation to include the investigation of evidence in relation to suspected corruption involving public officials who are not police officers.
The Guardian’s Dan Sabbagh adds:
It is not an exaggeration to say that the sheer number of arrests, and their seniority, means that the paper has been plunged into its most serious crisis since Rupert Murdoch relaunched the title in 1969. Details as to why the journalists have been arrested remain sketchy for the moment but what is clear is that the Operation Elveden investigation into allegations of corrupt payments made by journalists to police officers has been widened to encompass other public officials at the armed forces and presumably elsewhere.
The mood amongst reporters is, in the words of one, “stunned” – which is probably an understatement – coupled with a worry as to where this will end. Could a tip-fee paid five years ago now be considered a bribe? There is no shortage of anger, too. Some of it is directed at the Guardian, stemming from the newspaper’s earlier exposé of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, although much is aimed at the company’s Management and Standards Committee that has been providing information to the police which led the Elveden squad to make all its arrests.
It did not take long, either, for speculation to surface from outside Wapping that the Sun could close. At lunchtime, the beleaguered Dominic Mohan issued a rare public statement to shore up the situation, making it clear that he would stay on, “determined to lead the Sun through these difficult times” and that “our focus is on putting out Monday’s newspaper”.
The message was clear: there would be no resignations, and above all, no immediate closure of the newspaper that is dear to Rupert Murdoch’s heart.
Sometimes blood on the newsroom floor is just that
From Kieran Nicholson of the Denver Post:
Denver TV anchor Kyle Dyer underwent reconstructive surgery today to repair injuries to her lip after being bitten by a dog during a live segment on the 9News morning show.
She was in fair condition and visiting with her family at Denver Health Medical Center, according to a hospital media release.
The dog was in the custody of Denver animal control.
The dog, an Argentine Dogo named “Gladiator Maximus,” or Max for short, was rescued from a Lakewood reservoir Tuesday after he fell through ice into frigid water.
Tyler Sugaski, the West Metro Fire Protection District firefighter who pulled the dog from the water, was at the 9News studio in Denver along with Max’s owner, Michael Robinson, of Lakewood, this morning when the dog bite happened.
For our closer, bleak Times in the Big Apple
A reminder of what this all means, from Kenneth Rapoza, writing at In These Times:
The nation’s most powerful newspaper, The New York Times, faces a sixth straight year of profit loss. The unions are forced to save editorial jobs by taking salary cuts. How does one make a living in print journalism anymore?
As Mike Elk reported last month on this website, in an effort to trim its overhead costs, in December the company froze the pensions of its foreign citizen employees and threatened to cut their health insurance benefits. A frozen pension means the company will no longer be contributing to that employee’s retirement account. The company is trying to cut pensions across the board, for both union and foreign nonunion employees, from The International Herald Tribune in Paris to foreign citizen Times staffers posted worldwide. (Contract talks with the Newspaper Guild union continue.)
For those who care about good reporting, high-quality journalism at the Times–the kind that lets Apple CEO Tim Cook know someone is watching how his company treats suicidal Taiwanese factory workers–is not disappearing. There will just be less of it. And the people who report it will earn less. In some places, like The Huffington Post, curious news junkie freelancers might even do it for free. At this point in the history of American journalism, it’s all just a matter of numbers and time.