The New York Times Co. announced Wednesday that it would cut 100 newsroom positions, bowing to the financial pressure from declining print revenue that continues to plague papers across the United States.
“So, regrettably, we are going to have to reduce costs in the newsroom,” Executive Editor Dean Baquet wrote in a note to staff.
Baquet said he hoped the reductions could be achieved through voluntary buyouts but warned that “if we don’t get there we will be forced to do layoffs.”
Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and chief executive Mark Thompson sent their own company-wide email, saying they are “reducing the cost base of the company to safeguard the long-term profitability of The Times, not because of any short-term business difficulties.”
But the executives also said that advertising revenue was flat in the most recent quarter and, according to Baquet, “our new products are not achieving the business success we expected, even though they are journalistic sensations.”
The company announced that it would end its NYT Opinion mobile app, which aggregated editorials from around the world. It also said its NYT Now app, aimed at younger readers, worked in attracting a loyal following but was less successful in marketing a lower-price subscription model.
The prospect of newsroom reductions is a familiar one at The New York Times — as it is at most print publications. Times staffers have been through several rounds of buyouts before, although the paper has also added positions and new features in recent years. Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said there are currently 1,330 full-time employees in the newsroom, the highest staffing level the paper has seen in five years.
It was widely known within the newsroom that cuts were forthcoming, as the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, mentioned in a recent column.
Baquet told staffers that he would use this round of cuts “as an opportunity to seriously reconsider some of what we do — from the number of sections we produce to the amount we spend on freelance content.” Baquet also wrote that he would reserve the right to reject buyout requests from employees whose “jobs and talents are critical to our mission.”
Staffers covered by the Newspaper Guild will be offered three weeks of salary for every year of service at the paper, up to two years’ pay. Exempt employees — generally managers — will be offered two weeks of salary for every year they have worked at the Times, totaling no more than one year’s pay. The company further sweetened the deal by offering staffers who have been with the paper at least 20 years a cash payout equal to 35 percent of their total severance, a sign executives are particularly hopeful that older employees will be enticed to take the buyout.
The package is lavish compared with recent severance offers at other papers. The Tampa Bay Times, for example, recently told staffers that their salaries would be cut by 5 percent and that their severance would be capped at eight weeks’ pay unless they resigned by Oct. 1, in which case they would get a maximum of 13 weeks.
“I have two reactions,” said Grant Glickson, a Guild representative and staff assistant at The New York Times. “At some point you feel like, ‘Why not train the people that are already here to do the digital end of things?’
“On the other side, how upset can you be when they’re offering as generous a package as they are? They do seem to want to do this in a humane way.”
One staffer who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the issue, said: “It’s always nerve-racking when something like this happens — the idea that 100 people who are there today are not going to be there in six months. But at the same time this is a good deal, especially for people who are thinking about retiring.”
And, the staffer added, “I don’t pick up an atmosphere of despair.”
For the second quarter of 2014, the most recent to be reported by the publicly traded company, The New York Times’ advertising revenue declined by 4.1 percent while its operating costs increased by 5.2 percent.
Times executives said they would continue to invest in new products and digital innovations, even as the cuts are executed.
“This is a transitional period for The Times,” Baquet wrote. “We are accelerating our efforts to build a powerful digital news operation while producing the premier print newspaper that our readers continue to embrace.”
The cuts also mark the continuation of a tumultuous year at the Times. In May, Jill Abramson was abruptly fired as executive editor and replaced by Baquet, who had been serving as managing editor. Abramson had been the first woman ever to run the storied paper and Baquet is the first African American to have his name at the top of the Times’ masthead.
“There is no magic bullet for the current financial plight of the news business,” Baquet wrote in his memo to the staff. “Many of the big successes of past generations . . . were pushed by a newsroom willing to change and adapt. We are in that kind of moment again.”
© 2014, The Washington Post