Business of News

Pay cuts have provided a temporary fix, but the pandemic persists

July 29, 2020

Though the journalism industry continues to report a staggering number of layoffs, pay cuts have allowed many outlets to retain staff and continue their work while cutting back spending—a momentary fix that cannot last forever. The Tow Center’s reporting on newsroom cutbacks found more than a hundred instances of reported pay cuts in newsrooms since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic. As with any of the cutbacks newsrooms implement during a moment of financial hardship, the indefinite magnitude of the crisis looms—how long will newsrooms continue to tighten their belts, and how long can they manage to do so? 

In many of the cases that Tow recorded, top executives took larger pay cuts than salaried staff—in at least six cases, temporarily forgoing executive salaries altogether, for varying periods of time. Ben Lerer, the chief executive at Group Nine media—which publishes NowThis and The Dodo—pledged to forgo his salary for six months, The New York Times reported. And according to the Daily Beast, Jonah Peretti, CEO at BuzzFeed, announced that he would not take a salary “for the duration of the crisis,” a declaration that begs the question—how are the beginnings and endings of a crisis measured and defined? 

Pay cuts often accompany other newsroom changes—part and parcel of a broad strategy to address withering budgets—and they are, by nature, intended to be a temporary solution. In March, the Cleveland Scene announced layoffs in addition to pay cuts and role-sharing, “for the time being.” In April, Canadian company Glacier Media announced reduced wages and furloughs, saying, “We hope to return those laid off to work as quickly as possible, and to return wages and work weeks back to normal as quickly as possible.” That month, Glacier halted production of the Vancouver Courier, a community newspaper that has not published since. 

Before the pandemic arrived and sabotaged newsroom revenue streams, the journalism industry already struggled, in many cases, to pay its employees a competitive wage. In 2015, Alex Williams reported for Poynter that journalists earned significantly less than the median salary in twenty-three US states, particularly in the Northwest and Midwest. In 2018, Pew Research Center reported that newsroom employees in the United States, while reporting higher median salaries than workers with no college degrees, earn less than their college-educated peers. 

In the current economic crisis facing the journalism industry, some cases of temporary pay cuts have already given way to more furloughs or layoffs. BuzzFeed News, for example, announced tiered pay cuts in mid-March, followed by layoffs in April at its Twitter morning show, and ten additional newsroom layoffs reported last week. 

The pandemic continues, and temporary solutions are wearing thin.

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CONTRIBUTE TO OUR DATABASE: If you’re aware of a newsroom experiencing layoffs, cutbacks, furloughs, print reductions, or any fundamental change as a result of covid-19, let us know by submitting information here. (Personal information will be kept secure by the Tow Center and will not be shared.)

Below, more on recent changes in newsrooms across the world:


  • MORE LAYOFFS, CLOSURES: Australian media company Bauer Media closed eight of its magazine titles, including Harper’s BAZAAR, ELLE, InStyle, Men’s Health, and Women’s Health. Canadian news organization Global News has laid off staff in a “significant” restructuring, declining to provide exact numbers, the CBC reported. (“The Global layoffs really drive home how unfortunate we have rebranded cultural reporting into terms like ‘lifestyle’ because I think people truly don’t understand exactly the type of journalism that is at stake,” Melissa Buote tweeted.) BuzzFeed laid off fifty previously furloughed employees, ten of those in the news division, Bloomberg reported last week. The owners of Ebony magazine filed for bankruptcy. And yesterday, Q Magazine, a music publication from the U.K., published its final issue.  
  • THE RISE OF THE NEWSLETTER: For The Washington Post, Jacob Bogage reported on the recent growth of independent newsletters as a career opportunity for journalists—highlighting the frequent imbalance between the benefits a writer is able to provide a publication and the compensation a publication is willing and able to provide in return, particularly during a crisis. Though many publishers backed away from newsletters years ago, preferring to lean into social media platforms instead, Bogage writes, “social media sites are governed by algorithms, which put distance between publishers and readers. Email bridges that gap, experts say, because consumers are willing to pay for quality content from creators they trust and who make them feel part of a community.” For increasing numbers of journalists, independent newsletters offer editorial freedom and a living wage. 
  • LOCAL INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM REQUIRES MONEY: For CJR, Brett Murphy, an investigative reporter at USAToday and cofounder of the Local Matters newsletter, writes about the power of local investigative journalism, and the toll that dwindling economic support for local journalism takes on investigations. “Deep reporting costs time and money,” Murphy writes. “When both are especially tight—as is the case now—reporters often are forced to take on the burden themselves because they believe so strongly in the work.” 
  • SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST RETURNS TO SUBSCRIPTIONS: Though the South China Morning Post took down its paywall when it was acquired by Alibaba four years ago, the publication has reversed that decision, The Drum reports, facing falling revenues as a result of the pandemic, in concert with a number of other obstacles and opportunities. Like many other publications, SCMP has received increased traffic as a result of its reporting on covid-19, and pandemic coverage will remain free, outside the paywall. “Comprehensive reporting is costly and the century-old advertising model is no longer enough to sustain high-quality news,” editor in chief Tammy Tam wrote. “SCMP’s commitment to journalism means that this model must evolve and our business must align with our greatest accountability: to serve our readers with uncompromising truth.” Bloomberg has more on SCMP’s move to subscriptions.  
  • FACEBOOK DEDICATES MORE MONEY TO JOURNALISM: Facebook recently announced its intention to invest an additional $100 million into the news industry—through direct funding and advertising support. “Facebook’s perceived lack of trust might be damaging to news publishers, but the company itself has become ever more interwoven into the fabric of the news business, especially through direct grants to journalism organizations and schemes to help newsrooms develop new products,” Emily Bell wrote for CJR in early July, reporting on the corporate Facebook boycott movement. “You will read a great deal about the Facebook boycott movement in the pages of many news organizations which themselves remain locked into the broader ecosystem that tolerates material their subscribers might find abhorrent.” 
  • SOLIDARITY IN JOURNALISM FUNDING: For the Engaged Journalism Lab on Medium, Anita Varma writes about possibilities for newsrooms to take practical steps to act in solidarity with marginalized communities. As funders play a growing role in supporting newsrooms amid a crisis, Varma offers suggestions for those looking to invest in journalism that moves marginalized communities toward the center of coverage and reports in everyone’s public interest—rather than the interests of a select few. “The point of journalism in this country — and the main reason to preserve and protect it — is to serve the public interest, aligned with the country’s ideal of dignity for all,” Varma writes. 
  • ATTENTION WANES IN THE UNITED KINGDOM: Though the early months of the novel coronavirus drove increased readership across many newsrooms, Sarah Scire noted for NiemanLab—based on a new report from the Reuters Institute—that recent attention to journalism has been flagging in the United Kingdom, particularly among women and younger readers. In mid-March, I reported for CJR that ubiquitous bad news makes information more difficult to process. 
  • EVEN AFTER CUTBACKS, NPR SUFFERS: For the Washington Post, Paul Farhi reported on NPR’s financial struggles amid the covid-19 pandemic. In recent years, NPR has grown increasingly dependent on advertising, and the media organization, like so many others, is now feeling the covid crunch. Even after pay cuts and furloughs, NPR is facing the largest deficit in its fifty year history, Farhi reports. “This raises a definitional question: Can NPR still be called a noncommercial broadcaster?” he asks. “The more immediate question remains how the organization can muddle through the coronavirus crisis.” (ICYMI—Last summer, Gus Bova reported for CJR about the loss of an NPR station in the Rio Grande Valley, and the community’s fight to bring it back.) 
  • NEW SERVICE BUNDLES LOCAL SPORTS NEWS: The Matchup, a new project devised by the Local Media Consortium supported by the Google News Initiative, will promote sports reporting from local outlets by connecting reporting across outlets (readers will see stories from the opposing team’s local media on their own local news site) and aggregating some local news content for subscribers. Mike Orren, a board member for the Local Media Consortium, says the lack of centralization is a primary benefit, “ensuring that all the financial benefit goes back to the hometown publishers. All subscription revenue goes to the local companies, and any profits made off of sponsorships will be shared back as well.”
  • MASSACHUSETTS PAPER FIGHTS TO KEEP PRINTING JOBS LOCAL: The union at The Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts is fighting to stop the outsourcing of print jobs to Gannett, starting a petition and soliciting support from readers, Sarah Robertson reported for The Shoestring. The closure of the local print facility would lay off twenty-nine staff members—nine of those being full time employees. “If Newspapers of New England cannot commit to keeping print jobs local, then union members are hoping for a new arrangement, or perhaps new owners, that will,” Robertson writes. “The union’s campaign can be followed and shared online with the hashtag #KeepTheGazetteAtHome.” 
  • JOURNALISM OF A DIFFERENT SORT: The Press On media collective—dedicated to “movement” journalism—recently compiled responses from a network gathering at last weekend’s Allied Media Conference, in which respondents reimagined journalism’s future. “What liberatory journalism do we need in order to build the world we want to live in?” the prompt asked. Answers included—“Different ways of communicating are held up as assets and not deficits,” “Journalism starts from community’s information needs,” journalism “that recognizes people’s own agency,” and “sustainability, transparency, equitable pay.” 
  • VOGUE PLANS TO LAUNCH IN SCANDINAVIA: Despite the widespread financial setbacks in the magazine industry created by the covid-19 pandemic, Vogue announced plans to launch a print issue in Scandinavia in the spring of 2021. Editor in chief Martina Bonnier says that the Scandinavian fashion and culture make the region a good fit for Vogue, while Kati Chitrakorn reports that “the region is also home to a lucrative audience,” housing many of Europe’s millionaires. Vogue Scandinavia, Chitrakorn says, plans to utilize social media hashtags as engagement tools and to partner with prominent Scandinavian influencers. 

JOURNALISM JOBS AND OPPORTUNITIES: MediaGazer has been maintaining a list of media companies that are currently hiring. You can find it here. The Deez Links newsletter, in partnership with Study Hall, offers media classifieds for both job seekers (at no cost) and job providers. The Ida B. Wells Society announced that its micro-loan program for journalists would no longer require recipients to repay their loans—you can apply here and donate here.

Lauren Harris is a freelance journalist. She writes CJR's weekly newsletter for the Journalism Crisis Project. Follow her on Twitter @LHarrisWrites