Dozens Fired at CQ Roll Call, a Publication Known for Reporting Inside Washington

It’s the latest in a series of layoffs afflicting the media industry this month

FiscalNote and CQ Roll Call logos
CQ Roll Call laid off 30 staffers today. 20-30 staffers were fired at CQ Roll Call on Thursday.
Fiscal Note, CQ Roll Call

Key insights:

FiscalNote, a Washington, D.C.-based tech firm, laid off 30 staffers today at CQ Roll Call, a news organization that has long been a staple of reporting in the nation’s capital.

Three staffers with knowledge of the layoffs told Adweek the layoffs came mostly from the editorial department. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional retribution.

FiscalNote acquired CQ Roll Call from The Economist Group for $180 million in 2018. At the time of its acquisition, CQ Roll Call was profitable but had also seen a string of high-profile firings under The Economist Group’s ownership.

As Washington Business Journal recently reported, the company has struggled financially since early last year. FiscalNote CEO Tim Hwang told WBJ at the time that “the company is on track to bring in $100 million in 2020 revenue and turn a profit,” but would not respond to the publication’s repeated questions about whether the company was planning layoffs.

“It is FiscalNote policy to not comment on individual employments,” FiscalNote spokesperson Lindsay Hand told Adweek on Friday.

At the time of publication, Roll Call’s website listed 141 staffers, 55 of whom work in the news division while others are spread out in units dedicated to investigative reporting, legislative analysis, multimedia and data, regulatory and legal products, news production, advertising and CQ’s print magazine. Later on Thursday, the online masthead was updated with the names of 16 editorial staffers removed. The three-person investigative staff was eliminated as well as the  print magazine staff (with an exception being that one staffer was moved to a different division). 

Staffers said that layoffs targeted the multimedia, data and investigative teams along with the print magazine. “I think the investigative team is completely gone [and the magazine] team has only one person left,” one source said.

Several of the fired employees announced the news on Twitter. “I was cut today from @cq @rollcall @FiscalNote along with more than a dozen others today,” said Randy Leonard, a data and graphics editor. “Terrible times. Hire me.” Podcast producer Micaela J. Rodríguez, investigative reporter Joshua Eaton, data reporter Sara Wise, multimedia reporter Nathan Ouellette and magazine deputy editor Jonathan Miller also tweeted that they were laid off. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the economy in recent weeks and media companies have announced layoffs and across-the-board pay cuts, it seems FiscalNote’s woes preceded the coronavirus-related downturn. Sources said that publisher Joshua Resnik told staffers in a meeting in early March that he could not promise there would not be “head count reductions.”

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, staffers at CQ Roll Call are working remotely and managers broke the news to fired employees over videoconference, sources said. Employees were locked out of the company Slack right after they were fired. Sources noted that fired employees are awaiting severance information, but strongly suspected that it would be attached to a confidentiality agreement.

On Twitter, there was an outpouring of condolences. Earlier this week, Gary Harki, an investigative reporter for the Virginian-Pilot, summed up the media environment bluntly in a tweet: “Journalism is now sitting in your house working feverishly on the bleakest of stories while waiting to see if you’re laid off or furloughed.” 

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with information about masthead changes, a statement from FiscalNote and to include details from the email Hwang sent staff at the company Thursday afternoon. The full text of the email appears below.

All,

As many of you know, we have been carefully reviewing and reconciling all expenses at FiscalNote over the last several months while more recently monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on employees and clients. Earlier today, we finalized the worst part of this process by eliminating 30 roles in the company — roughly 6.3% of our global workforce of 475 — to ensure we have the right roles and skills to meet the changing demands of our clients. We are making these changes today to ensure a more durable organization by defending against stronger macroeconomic winds that may prevail in light of the coronavirus and by pulling back in non-core and duplicate areas that don’t support the changing needs of our clients.

The first part of this email provides transparency as to how we came to this decision, and the second part will update you to the state of the business in this unprecedented environment and how it impacts you.

Eliminating roles is a particularly difficult decision to make in normal times, but this one became increasingly painful as the COVID-19 pandemic hurtled toward our communities. Our leadership team closely evaluated all vendor and ancillary costs, while also rethinking and retooling hiring plans. We grew headcount by more than 30% in the past year — more in some areas than is now sustainable under the new economic conditions. Not only did we cancel a number of openings and eliminate certain backfills, but we also hired internally to fill any gaps when and where it made sense.

Our goal was to minimize the scope of employee impact as much as feasibly possible and use elminations as a last resort. We did this not only as stewards of a business and its workforce, but also as people who worry deeply about the impact of this crisis across the world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. And each day we delayed taking this painful action was another day in which we failed to best position FiscalNote to ensure our own durability through this evolving health and macroeconomic crisis.

Before I go into more detail, I want to make two things very clear:

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