Less than two months after protracted contract negotiations came to a close between the New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) and the Newspaper Guild, the nation’s newspaper of record is looking to make some difficult cuts.
Jill Abramson, executive editor of the Times, sent a letter to the paper’s staff requesting buyouts from 30 non-union newsroom managers, according to Christina Haughney, who posted the news Monday on the Times’ Media Decoder blog. Abramson stressed that the Times’ efforts so far to reduce newsroom expenses were not enough at a time when print advertising revenues continue to dry up at a troubling pace.
Should 30 employees not volunteer, the Times will enact layoffs. Guild members are also being offered the chance to volunteer for the buyouts, but they will not be forced to take them.
“There is no getting around the hard news that the size of the newsroom staff must be reduced,” Abramson wrote. “I hope the needed savings can be achieved through voluntary buyouts, but if not, I will be forced to go to layoffs among the excluded staff.”
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The economic downturn coupled with the migration of readers from print to the Internet has been devastating for the Times Co., which also owns the Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune. The paywall enacted on NYTimes.com in 2011 has been, by most measures, a success. Defying predictions by naysayers who said the paper risked eroding its audience and walling itself into irrelevance, the Times Co. publications have managed to rack up some 566,000 paying digital subscribers since the paywall went up. For the last quarter, paid subscriptions helped the company make $234.9 million in circulation revenue, up 7 percent from $218.6 million.
However, that boost was not enough to offset the continuing freefall of print advertising revenue, which declined 10.9 percent for the last quarter following an 8 percent decline for the quarter before.
In a memo to staffers, posted Monday on the Observer, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said other options had been exhausted and staff reductions are necessary if the Times wants to continue its role as a global leader of news and information. “These are financially challenging times,” he wrote. “While our digital subscription plan has been highly successful, the advertising climate remains volatile and we don’t see this changing in the near future.”
The Times, like all newspaper companies, is still adjusting to a new reality in which large newsrooms and costly reporting simply cannot be supported by digital revenues alone. According to figures from the U.S. Labor Department, newspaper industry employment has declined by 40 percent in the last decade. In April, research firm IBISWorld ranked newspaper publishing No. 5 on the list of the country’s fastest-dying industries.
The Times has struggled to defy that trend, beefing up its digital staff in recent years in an effort to remain competitive in the frenzied world of online news. According to Abramson, the Times has a newsroom of about 1,150 employees, roughly the same as what it had in 2003. Now 30 of those employees will face the choice of either accepting a buyout or being laid off.
The Times Co. has trimmed its newsroom no fewer than four times in the last five years. The largest came in 2008 and 2009, when the company announced it would have to lay off 100 newsroom employees each time.
The latest round of layoffs follows 21 months of precarious labor negotiations between the Times management and the Newspaper Guild, which represents union members of the newsroom. On Nov. 13, guild members overwhelmingly approved a new labor contract in a vote of 521 to 64.