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 Continue reading