Cosmic Justice: Thousands of Media Workers Responsible for Pushing the Info-Demic Are Losing Their Jobs
Sometimes you reap what you sow
The news media business was shaky before the coronavirus started spreading across the country last month. Since then, the economic downturn that put nearly 17 million Americans out of work has led to pay cuts, layoffs and shutdowns at many news outlets, including weeklies like Seven Days in Burlington, Vt., and Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain.
Finding a sizable audience has not been a problem for publishers. Hunger for news in a time of crisis has sent droves of readers to many publications.
But with businesses paused or closed — and no longer willing or able to pay for advertisements — a crucial part of the industry’s support system has cracked.
“The traffic numbers are still way up,” said David Chavern, the president and chief executive of the News Media Alliance, a trade association representing newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. “The digital subscriptions are hanging in there.”
He added, “The ad contraction is brutal and continuing.”
Hard data on job losses is not yet available, but Jed Kolko, the chief economist at Indeed.com, said new listings for jobs in the media and communications sector had fallen 35 percent in the 60 days before April 3, compared with the same period last year. The decline in postings for all jobs was less drastic, at 24 percent, suggesting that the pandemic has had a greater effect on the news media industry than on other businesses, Mr. Kolko added.
The New York Times has gauged the pandemic’s effects on newspapers, magazines and digital media companies through interviews with executives, newsroom employees and union leaders across the country. All told, an estimated 28,000 employees of news media companies in the United States have been laid off, furloughed or had their pay reduced since the arrival of the coronavirus.
Taking a Hit: Layoffs and Pay Cuts
Schneps Media, a local news publisher that recently acquired the free newspapers amNewYork and Metro New York, has laid off or furloughed about 30 employees at its roughly 50 community publications in New York City, according to Joshua Schneps, the chief executive. The cuts affected 20 percent of its work force.
BuzzFeed was headed toward profitability this year. Not anymore, said the chief executive Jonah Peretti in a March 25 staff memo. The news and lifestyle site has cut salaries in April and May for all U.S. employees making more than $40,000. Top executives will have a reduction of 25 percent, and Mr. Peretti will forgo his salary until the crisis has passed. BuzzFeed is also seeking partners for its operations in Brazil and Germany, and will close those offices if it cannot find takers, a spokesman said.
The Denver Post
The Post laid off 13 employees, including four journalists, on April 3, according to a member of a NewsGuild bargaining committee. The paper also asked all remaining employees to take three weeks of unpaid time off from April to July. The Post, which did not reply to a request for comment, is owned by MediaNews Group, a company controlled by the hedge fund Alden Global Capital.
Euclid Media Group
The owner of weeklies in cities like Cincinnati, Detroit and San Antonio laid off roughly 50 employees and furloughed 7, about 70 to 80 percent of its staff, in mid-March. “We will do whatever we do, one day at a time and scrap our way through this,” said Michael Wagner, the chief operating officer. Euclid’s revenue had sunk quickly because of pandemic-related drops in advertising and the company’s events business.
Gannett, the publisher of USA Today, The Detroit Free Press and more than 250 other daily newspapers, has ordered the majority of its 24,000 employees to take five days off per month without pay in April, May and June, staff memos revealed, and executives will take a 25 percent pay cut. Paul Bascobert, the chief executive, said he would not take his salary until the crisis was over. The NewsGuild, which represents journalists at several Gannett papers, criticized the plan. “Our nation simply cannot afford to furlough or lay off journalists and other news industry employees in this time of crisis,” said the union’s president, Jon Schleuss.
The owner of Gizmodo, Jezebel, The Onion and Deadspin laid off 14 people, or less than 5 percent of its employees, its chief executive, Jim Spanfeller, announced on April 3.
Group Nine Media
The publisher of The Dodo and NowThis laid off roughly 50 people, or 7 percent of its work force, on April 7, a spokeswoman said. Earlier, Group Nine had suspended 401(k) matches, put raises on hold, instituted a hiring freeze and cut executive pay 25 percent. Ben Lerer, the chief executive, will forgo his salary for six months.
A magazine genre caught between the stalled airlines industry and the troubled media business is in jeopardy. Sky magazine, which had been stuffed into seat backs of Delta jets for a decade, is no more, said Deb Hopp, a spokeswoman for the publishing company MSP-C. Its 16 staff members were laid off. In addition, Alaska Airlines has canceled the April and May issues of Alaska Beyond Magazine.
With more than 70 papers, including The Buffalo News and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, this national chain has instituted pay cuts and furloughs for its employees, according to a staff memo from Kevin Mowbray, the chief executive. Executives have taken a 20 percent pay cut. Lee Enterprises got bigger in January, when it bought 31 newspapers for $140 million from Berkshire Hathaway, whose chief executive, Warren Buffett, called the newspaper business “toast” last year.
In February, before coronavirus cases rose sharply in the United States, McClatchy, whose dailies include The Kansas City Star, The Miami Herald and The Sacramento Bee, filed for bankruptcy. On Thursday, the chief executive Craig Forman said the decline in ads required a “leave of absence” for about 120 non-newsroom employees — or less than five percent of the work force, according to a spokeswoman. In addition, the company laid off four executives, and Mr. Forman will take a 50 percent pay cut.
Bustle Digital Group folded The Outline, a news site for millennials, and laid off its 24-person staff on April 3. The company also cut pay for most employees at its other publications, including Bustle, Nylon and Romper. The Outline was vulnerable because it included material “that might not be so palatable to mainstream advertisers,” said Leah Finnegan, its former executive editor. She added, “It’s sad that a pandemic had to come between us.”
Journalists at Sports Illustrated were among the 31 people laid off on March 30 by Maven, a digital platform and publisher in Seattle. Executives at Maven also took a 30 percent pay cut, James Heckman, the chief executive, said in a staff memo. The company bought Sports Illustrated in October and laid off employees at the storied publication shortly after the purchase.
The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate
Georges Media, the owner of several Louisiana newspapers including The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate, furloughed 10 percent of its 120 newsroom employees in March. Other employees were shifted to four-day workweeks. “I forecast the revenue, and it wasn’t a pretty picture,” said Judi Terzotis, the publisher. “I felt like I needed to get ahead of the curve.”
The digital outlet and TV studio instituted four-day workweeks for staff members who earn more than $100,000 for a 90-day period starting in April, said Jesse Angelo, a company vice president, on a March 30 call. Those earning more than $125,000 will have their pay reduced by 20 percent. Employees making between $100,000 and $125,000 will take a 10-percent cut. Nancy Dubuc, the chief executive, will reduce her salary 50 percent.
Future Media Group, the publisher of the fashion magazine W, as well as Surface and Watch Journal, has suspended print operations and furloughed 30 staff members at least until the end of the crisis, the chief executive Marc Lotenberg said.
The publicly traded company behind The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun and The New York Daily News said on Thursday that it would permanently cut the salaries of those making more than $67,000 by 2 percent to 10 percent. The company will also offer an undisclosed number of buyouts, and employees have until April 17 to decide. The Tribune Publishing chief executive Terry Jimenez said he would not take his salary for two weeks. Other executives will also take pay cuts. Tribune Publishing, whose largest stakeholder is Alden Global Capital, did not reply to a request for comment.
Controlled by the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, the publisher of The National Enquirer, In Touch and Us Weekly said on March 28 that it had cut the pay of all employees by 23 percent.
This disrupter of traditional sports sections, founded in 2016, has cut its executives’ salaries, a spokeswoman said. With no games to cover (and no travel expenses filed by its roughly 300 editorial employees), this subscription site is looking to preserve the $50 million it brought in during a recent fund-raising round.
Raises have been put on hold at the publisher of Vogue, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. A hiring slowdown has also gone into effect. And Condé Nast leaders are considering layoffs for staff members and pay cuts for executives, according to two people with knowledge of discussions. In a March 27 staff memo, Roger J. Lynch, the chief executive, acknowledged the difficulties for a company dependent on luxury industry: “Overall, we’re seeing many advertisers shift their investments with us to the second half of the year,” he wrote. “Others are decreasing or pausing their spend.”
The Dallas Morning News
With a paid Sunday circulation of 143,000, the paper has cut the pay of newsroom employees between 3 percent and 17 percent, its parent company, A.H. Belo, said in a public filing on April 6, and executive compensation has gone down as much as 27 percent.
San Francisco Media Company
The publisher of The San Francisco Examiner and SF Weekly has cut hours and pay for many employees and temporarily halted the weekly’s print edition. Deborah Petersen, the editor in chief, described the situation as a “cruel irony,” given that, one recent day, The Examiner website had 6,000 times its usual traffic.
The publisher of Vox, SB Nation, Eater and The Verge — and, since September, New York Magazine and its online offshoots — has not laid anyone off, but Jim Bankoff, its chief executive, said in an April 8 internal memo that measures could be in the offing “within the next week or so.” The company has largely frozen hiring, pledged to cut expenses and started accepting donations.
Print in Peril
The Austin Chronicle
The Forum, a locally owned daily paper in Fargo, N.D., announced that it had ceased publishing its Monday and Friday print editions.
This 50-year-old newspaper serving the Indian-American community has eliminated its print edition, said Suresh Venkatachari, the publisher of this New York publication, in a note to readers. Pandemic-related ad cancellations factored into the decision.
The Newtown Bee
This Connecticut weekly is ending its print edition, said the publisher, whose family has owned the paper since 1879; its online edition survives. The publication serves the community that was devastated by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
The Plain Dealer
The near-collapse of this venerable Cleveland daily, owned by Advance Publications, coincided with the economic downturn. The company laid off 22 of 36 newsroom employees on April 3, a move that benefited the Advance-owned cleveland.com, a news site whose articles have appeared in The Plain Dealer’s pages. Unlike The Plain Dealer, cleveland.com is not a union shop. After the layoffs, Advance reassigned most of the 14 remaining Plain Dealer journalists to cover areas outside Cleveland. On Friday, 10 of the reassigned reporters lost their jobs after they asked to be laid off, the Plain Dealer editor said. The Plain Dealer News Guild said that Advance had “put dedicated journalists in an impossible situation.”
San Diego Magazine
This city magazine, founded in the 1940s, has laid off 37 employees — everyone but the bookkeeper — while it waits out the pandemic, said Jim Fitzpatrick, the chief executive and publisher. The May issue is “in the can,” he added, but he is not sure when it will come out.
The free weekly in Burlington, Vt., whose circulation dwarfs that of the daily Burlington Free Press, laid off seven employees, said Paula Routly, the editor and publisher. She hopes to rehire them after the crisis.
Founded at the peak of grunge in 1991, the alt-weekly temporarily laid off 18 employees, citing what its print editor, Christopher Frizzelle, called a “hellscape of unforeseen economic events.”
Tampa Bay Times
Owned by The Poynter Institute, a nonprofit, this Florida daily has limited its print editions to two days a week — Wednesdays and Sundays — and issued eight-week furloughs “for some staffers whose work has been impacted by the virus’ effect on the economy,” a spokeswoman said. The furloughs do not apply to newsroom employees. Last month, in a move unrelated to the pandemic, the paper announced 11 layoffs and a 10 percent pay cut for full-time staff members.
Source: The New York Times