Layoffs Likely to Continue in This ‘Wrenching’ Period for Media Industry

More than 1,000 media jobs will be eliminated this week

There have been widespread layoffs so far this month. Photo Illustration, Amber McAden, Source: Getty Images, brands depicted

It’s been a little over three weeks into the year, and hundreds of journalists are either already without jobs or are on the cusp of losing them.

Verizon Media, formerly known as Oath, will lay off 7 percent, or 800 employees, including HuffPost’s entire opinion section. Gannett made cuts in local newsrooms throughout the country, from The Arizona Republic to The Coloradoan to The Record in New Jersey.

And staffers at BuzzFeed head into next week knowing that 15 percent, or about 220 of them, will be let go.

UPDATE: As of Friday, BuzzFeed began making deep cuts to its newsroom, including eliminating the entire national news desk and shuttering its bureau in Spain. Among those laid off were seasoned reporters who had been there for years, including Michael Rusch, Marisa Carroll and Jessica Testa.

“It has been a tough week and a tough year for the news industry, and I think it’s going to continue be a rocky period for the course of 2019,” said Tim Franklin, former president of The Poynter Institute and senior associate dean at the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing at Northwestern University.

A spokeswoman for Verizon Media said the decision is a “strategic step” as part of the plan for future “growth and innovation.” A spokeswoman for Gannett declined to comment.

In a memo to employees, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said that while the news organization saw double-digit growth, the cuts were necessary to put the company on “a firm foundation.”

“I think we’re in a scary time,” said Joel Kaplan, associate dean for professional graduate studies at the Newhouse School. “We’ll see consolidation and cuts, cuts, cuts, and the next phase will be closures. Disaster is looming; that’s when disaster will hit.”

News organizations are bleeding out, he said, predicting that companies will trim as much as they can before shutting down business and moving on altogether.

Media organizations might also need to re-posture exactly who they claim to reach, said Barry Lowenthal, CEO of The Media Kitchen. For example, there is no Gen Z or baby boomer journalism—there’s good and informative journalism or there’s not.

“People are starting to realize this nursing of millennial journalism is sort of silly,” Lowenthal said. “A lot of media companies came out and said, ‘we have a better way to connect and run with us because we know millennials.’ I wonder if the marketplace is calling bullshit on that one.”

Even so, with so much money going to search and social, he said, “if you’re not a must buy title, then you are in a really compromised position.”

So, in a world in which more news organizations are asking readers to pick up the slack and pay for quality news, the industry might move away from wanting to attract those quick clicks and instead focus on the quality of the content they’re offering readers.

“As we shift strategy, as we try and reinvent the business models for these news organizations, it’s going to be a wrenching period without question,” Franklin said.

Amanda Kingsbury, a senior reporter who was laid off from the IndyStar, a Gannett publication, implored her followers in a post on Facebook to overlook typos and ads that might cut into the reading experience. She asked them instead to think about how journalism can have an impact, like IndyStar’s coverage of the Larry Nassar case, and went on to ask her followers to subscribe to the paper. “Don’t tell me you can’t afford it.”

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.