Tough Times in Newsrooms

The latest figures on buyouts, layoffs, and pay cuts

The struggle to keep up with rising costs, changes in technology, and dwindling profits is taking a toll on industries across the country, and journalists themselves are among the hardest hit in this wave of change.

Based on our estimates, at least 12,000 journalists have been laid off or bought out since January 2007. The most recent cuts come from both large and small dailies, including The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Herald, the Albany Times-Union, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. (See our recent round-up of buyout packages being offered by newsrooms around the country.)

At the Herald, roughly 6 percent of the workforce was cut after buyouts were offered late last month. The cuts—twelve in total—were achieved through layoffs, and one newsroom buyout, from a photographer.

Cuts at the San Francisco Chronicle were more expansive. To date, 120 staffers accepted buyout offers. The Chronicle aimed to cut 150 positions after Hearst Corporation announced in February that $1-million-a-week in losses in the past year could result in a sale or closing of the publication. Employees of the Chronicle are expecting layoffs in April to meet Hearst’s goal.

The Washington Post is offering another round of buyouts in response to “the economic challenges facing our industry,” said Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli in a memo to employees. The Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program is available to staff members at least 50 years old, with five years at the publication in production, circulation, the newsroom, and advertising.

In addition to buyouts and layoffs, many publications are enacting pay cuts and furloughs to reduce costs. For example, The Spokesman-Review’s newsroom agreed to accept 7 to 10 percent pay cuts over the next year.

Amidst these widespread cuts, the future of many publications is uncertain. For example, the fate of The Florida Times-Union , and several other Florida dailies, is unknown as the publisher, the Morris Publishing Group, may declare bankruptcy early next week.

Similarly, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News are under pressure to earn a significantly higher profit each fiscal year after Philadelphia Newspapers, the publisher, declared bankruptcy in late February.

This downward trend does not appear to be letting up anytime soon. But, as media mogul Rupert Murdoch suggested at an industry conference this week, “People reading news for free on the Web, that’s got to change.”

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Megan McGinley is an intern at CJR.