Zell to hack 40-50 from Times newsroom

times.jpgI had lunch today with a couple of old colleagues from the Times, and they were pretty grim-faced about this:

Tribune Co., struggling with declining revenue, today said it would cut staff by 400 to 500 people companywide, or around 2% of the Chicago-based media company’s workforce. At the Los Angeles Times, 100 to 150 jobs will be eliminated, 40 to 50 in the newsroom, through a combination of attrition, voluntary buyouts and, if necessary, layoffs, Publisher David D. Hiller said in an interview this morning.

Like clockwork, management misses the point yet again, and cuts the wrong part of the budget …

If Trib owner Sam Zell follows the usual layoff pattern the Times suffers every … single … time … a new owner starts feeling his oats, it’ll translate to an unhealthy mix of buyouts and layoffs.

They’ll do the requisite clearing of a wee bit of deadwood – those veteran staffers who write maybe two prize-bait stories a year for $100k+ salaries will get proportionately beefy go-away money. They’ll close a few open positions, maybe consolidate a bureau or two and reel in some national correspondents from remote offices. And the rest will be the sort of horrible bloodletting that further dims the paper’s already-fading newsgathering strength.

For all the innovations added (and more supposedly on the way) to LATimes.com (innovations in content and the increased relaxing of anally-retentive comment controls have been encouraging, but too little & too damn late for the GoogleNews / Yahoo / Facebook / Twitter crowd), it usually boils down to bad short-term, please-the-stockholders thinking. This time (thanks, Darleene) it’s just rank short-term bottom-line management.

Does anyone know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars the Times still devotes to imprinting dead trees with what amounts to day-old news every single night – and how many news-staff salaries that could buy if they had made smarter investments in online strategy development 10 years ago? Just saying.

8 Replies to “Zell to hack 40-50 from Times newsroom”

  1. Wait. Is there still a stockholder board to please with Sam Zell as the owner? Just wondering. I thought that was the whole point to the sale to a private owner.

  2. A big part of Zell’s interest in Tribune Corp was their stake in Classified Ventures, which is the parent company of cars.com. apartments.com and homegain.com (plus a few other verticals which I don’t remember). From the newspaper perspective he was the worst possible buyer.

  3. As a thirty-five year Los Angeles Times employee, I have lost track of how many buyouts we have witnessed since the inception of downsizing at the newspaper in 1992. But every buyout at the newspaper brings sad faces among my colleagues and myself, wondering when our pink slips will arrive?

    With the majority of funds being pushed to the online edition of the Times, and very little spent on the hard copy, the quality of not only the writing but the hard copy of the newspaper is ebbing away.

    The time is nearing when our children will think back to the good old days, and reminisce about newspapers.

  4. Hi, Ed:

    I have fond memories of visiting the press room at a couple papers, especially when I had a big front-page story coming out, and I get all misty-eyed, too: The smell of the ink, the roar of the machinery – completely intoxicating to feel I was a small part of the mighty engine of information dissemination.

    But the sad fact is that if the Times – (as with most daily newspapers) expects to even survive, it will have to listen to the markets on which it has traditionally relied.

    The ad market has been yanking and downsizing print-ad spends for years, and is going through a pretty substantial (and I think, long-lasting) online spending boom.

    The gotta-sell-my-crap market, the apply-for-this-job market and the rent-your-next-home market have all been flocking to Craigslist to the death-spiral detriment of classifieds.

    The news-consumer market has been going online increasingly because that’s where the latest news can be found – including the Times’ generally great content.

    If the Times had been thinking about all this intelligently a decade ago, it could have built a much-stronger online community and with it, a revenue stream strong enough to keep the newsprint editions alive longer.

    But I think in the long run you’re looking at the same type of market trend that killed mid-20th-century radio drama. People will flock to TV, the internet, or whatever new mass-medium (Aldous Huxley’s “feelies,” anyone?) puts them most intimately in-touch with the ever-exploding world.

    The flocking-away from print has been underway for decades, and began accelerating more than 15 years ago.

  5. Mack,

    Excellent points, and unfortunately, all correct. One can only hope David Hiller makes the right appointment in an editor, with Russ Stanton, strictly for his online experience.

    As a subscriber to the Los Angeles Times, I will have to admit I have not opened the hard copy for several weeks, because I’m one of the many flocking to the Internet for my news needs. But I continue my subscription to the Times out of loyalty to the newspaper, and there has been a hard copy at every home I have lived in my entire life, due too my grandfather and father working at the paper since 1950.

    With a new online edition of the Times in beta, only accessible to employees at the moment, I can see the day coming where readers will subscribe to an online edition only, just down the road soon.

    Anytime you want to see the presses running again, give me a call; my number is listed on Facebook.

  6. Thanks for the invite, Ed. Might be a bittersweet visit at best.

    I subscribe to the weird Thursday-thru-Sunday package the Times hung on me on a trial basis more than a year ago, and now refuses to cancel despite my having called them several times.

    I kinda like stepping away from the keyboard and reading the paper over lunch, rather than risk reading *at* the keyboard and spilling soup into it.

    OTOH, my growing green-sensitivity is pushing me to make another stab at the stonewalled gulag that is Times circulation to see if I can liberate my subscription from their damn database so I can stop recycling all those papers.

    Now, if only the Weekly would invest in a better listings engine, or maybe a searchable PDA-friendly version, maybe I could ditch that too …

  7. Please oh please let Jonah Goldberg and Joel Stein go. I’ll even deal with the continued presence of Bill Plaschke until he retires and whoever writes that pointless Tell column. Man. I won’t even complain about the lack of Los Angeles coverage, as long at those two go.

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