As predicted here a month and a half ago, it looks as though the New York Times newsroom will see its first-ever layoffs soon. Faced with continuing decline in profitability, thanks to both the general decline of the newspaper industry and the inept management of Pinch Sulzberger, the company tried to induce voluntary exits with cash incentives. But it looks like not enough of the newsies took the bait, and now they face the unpleasant prospect of getting the boot.
According to John Kolbin of the New York Observer, the New York Times has circulated a staff memorandum seeking more voluntary departures. But the deadline for accepting buyouts was early last month, so obviously the Times is as feckless, indeed spineless, in enforcing deadlines internally as in the foreign policy choices it recommends for defending our national security.
Note to Pinch and Bill Keller: When your earlier threats and deadlines prove to be empty, few people will regard your threat of layoffs seriously. And if and when you grow a pair, they will react with indignation at what they regard as a betrayal when you finally make good on the threat.
To the staff
About six weeks ago Bill Keller announced that the newsroom would need to reduce its head count by about 100 jobs, as a result of the worsening financial picture facing this newspaper and the rest of our industry. To that end, we put on the table a round of buyouts, and began seeking volunteers among both our Guild and excluded employees.
The window for those voluntary buyouts closes officially next week -- on Monday, April 21, for excluded members of the staff, and on that day and the next (Tuesday, April 22), for Guild applicants.
While we will not know the hard count until that time, every effort to handicap the outcome suggests that we are almost certain to fall short of the number of volunteers we will need. If that is indeed the case, as we expect it will be, we will -- regrettably -- be forced resort to some limited number of layoffs within the core newsroom.
While layoffs have become all too common across our industry, this is the first time the newsroom as a whole has confronted that blunt reality, and we approach it with a heavy heart. Even as people and jobs go away, the reductions will have a continuing impact across the newsroom, as we regroup and reorganize departments and even juggle some assignments to ensure we are able to continue to produce the kind of quality journalism that is our hallmark.
I wish I could offer some clearer sense of scale. An effort by the Guild to predict the outcome a few weeks back, based on what they knew from the people who had asked to get a buyout package, concluded it was too soon to tell if there would be enough volunteers, across the staff. Their own estimate, at that time, fell short of the mark, and the basic calculus has not changed.
Because the voluntary buyout window is still open for a few more days, and because we know many of you might still be contemplating what to do, we urge you to give the offer serious consideration, if you believe there is some financial advantage in it for you and your family. Each buyout we record before next Tuesday reduces the number of layoffs we will have to seek.
If any of you have any questions, or seek further information in the coming days, please do not hesitate to reach out to me.
Hat tip: Rick Moran