- The Washington Times - Friday, February 15, 2008

The Gray Lady is downsizing. The New York Times announced yesterday it will eliminate 100 employees — primarily journalists — from its crowded newsroom. The population there had swelled to 1,332 persons, the largest in the paper’s history.

Management remained transparent about the decision: Executive Editor William Keller broke the news to employees, saying the cuts would come in the next year “by not filling jobs that go vacant, by offering buyouts, and if necessary by layoffs.”

Mr. Keller described classic belt-tightening.

“To meet our budget goals, we will have to do a little less, and every time we do less, we cede a bit of advantage,” he said. “Our challenge will be to set our priorities in such a way that we do less in the areas that damage our competitiveness least.”

The New York Times Co. has also made recent cuts at other properties, including 100 jobs at the Boston Globe; the overall employee roster has shrunk by 4 percent in the past year. The company is “under increased pressure from shareholders … to do something dramatic to improve its bottom line,” according to an account in the newspaper yesterday.

The company is not exactly in the poorhouse, though. The Times newsroom budget is $200 million; last year’s total revenue topped $3 billion. Still, the fact that the venerable publication was affected by the bottom line attracted swift international coverage from Editor & Publisher, Associated Press, Conde Nast’s Portfolio, the New York Observer and others — while inspiring schadenfreude among critics.

“It seems as if the Sulzbergers have finally taken their heads out of the sand and recognized that the Times — oh, their vaunted Times — is just like everyone else: Badly run, top heavy, unfocused and behind the 8-ball when it comes to figuring out how to stay relevant to readers who can easily catch up on the news with a few clicks of the mouse,” noted one message at the Observer’s Web site yesterday.

“This type of thing is happening everywhere. Layoffs are not specific to the New York Times alone. It’s an industrywide phenomenon,” said John Koblin, who covers press issues for the Observer.

Indeed, the dreaded “L-word” has haunted the media landscape. On Tuesday, the Chicago-based Tribune Co. announced it would trim up to 500 jobs across a half-dozen properties — the Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Newsday, Orlando Sentinel and Hartford Courant. Since December, the San Diego Union-Tribune has laid off or bought out more than 100 employees, with management blaming the situation on “difficult times.”

Overall, newspaper ad revenue has declined 7 percent industrywide. Still, some see salvation online.

Average monthly audience figures for newspaper Web sites grew 6 percent in 2007, a record year for the industry, according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA). Monthly visitors to newspaper Web sites averaged 63 million in last year’s fourth quarter alone — a 9 percent increase over the same period a year ago.

“Newspapers continue to successfully transform themselves into multimedia companies, offering unparalleled content that reaches an audience growing in both size and sophistication,” said NAA President John Sturm. “As our industry’s transition accelerates, it’s clear consumers recognize newspapers as their trusted source of information in an increasingly digital environment.”

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