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News Investment

News Investment

The number of staff members working at news weeklies has been declining for some time. Magazines like Time and Newsweek have cut staff significantly over the past few decades. There have been occasional upward blips — Newsweek, for instance, added four people in 2005 — but the trend has been clearly downward.

The year 2005, however, saw some dramatic drops, suggesting that major changes may be under way and that the pace of decline may quicken. In October, U.S. News and World Report underwent cuts that affected the magazine at the highest levels, including chief political correspondent Roger Simon, and more cuts were rumored to be on the way. The cuts left the title with only about 160 people on its editorial staff.1 That is much lower than Time or Newsweek.

In December, after an extremely lackluster year in ad sales. Time Inc. announced it was laying off 105 people from throughout the organization, from the chief of sales to bureau chiefs in Moscow , Beijing , Seoul and Tokyo . The move was portrayed as cutting fat from a bloated hierarchy, but considering Time’s dislike for such upper-level cuts in the past, it suggests a change in attitude at the company.2

The same week that Time announced its cuts, Business Week let go 60 people in areas from editorial to circulation. Part of the restructuring was the elimination of the magazine’s European and Asian editions.3 Exactly who had been fired and where they worked was not announced, but insiders told the Project that some of the magazine’s most senior correspondents were not immune.

And a month later Time Inc. announced it was planning to lay off another 100 staff members. The biggest hits were at Time and Money, but other titles would be hit as well — even Real Simple, where ad page sales were rising. The cuts were designed to “save as much money as you can now and smartly deploy that money in new launches and an even stronger Web strategy so that you emerge stronger a year or two from now,” said Jim Kelly, Time’s managing editor.4

Those kinds of reductions, spread out over the industry and compounded by bad ad news, may indicate a larger shift. And there don’t appear to be any signs of growing staffs on the horizon. Even among the newer competitors, the future of the news field seems to be one of smaller staffing.

Staffing in News Titles

The Week, which has enjoyed large circulation growth and explosive ad page and revenue increases, employs no writers per se. Rather, it relies on a team of 20 or so editors to parse through the news of the week from various sources and compress them into bite-sized nuggets.5 It is largely parasitic.

How does this effect staffing? If you open a copy of The Week and count everyone in the staff box — from editor in chief through circulation manager and on to UK founding editor — you would come up with a grand total of about 40 people.6 If you count just the people on the editorial side of Time you get about 240, and at Newsweek about 185.7 That difference has potentially enormous implications for the future of news weeklies.

Perhaps because it is a new model, The Week is in some ways designed to thrive in the current media culture. As other titles cut staffs to get costs in line, The Week with its success would seem to be on the road to adding people. The question is, would more staff actually improve the magazine considering how it’s put together or is the magazine’s small staff adequate? Would the quality investment instead be in newsgathering technology, as we see in Google News?

What it comes down to is what each staff provides the reader. There is clearly more original reporting in Time or Newsweek than there is in The Week. The stories in Time and Newsweek are longer and have a lead at the beginning, a nut graph up high and a short kicker at the end. But in terms of providing readers with a summary of the news of the last seven days, The Week arguably offers more. In some ways The Week is a post-Internet print news creation. It operates as something like a weekly print Web log, minus the attitude. It takes advantage of the media that exist and simply serves as a filter for the reader — here’s half a page on the Iraqi Constitution, complete with left and right opinion; here’s a paragraph on the FBI easing drug restrictions on applicants. It is a news source for busy people in a world that’s getting busier, and it can do what it does cheaply.

One large question hangs over the approach of The Week, however. If its staffing model were to become the one that other titles to follow, which organizations would gather the news and provide the original content?

Heading into 2006, at least, most news weeklies continued to report, and largely held the line on staffing and bureaus in 2005. Again, though, that assessment was made before the cuts at Time, which was in the low double digits.

News Magazine Staff Size Over Time
Time and Newsweek select years 1983 – 2005
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism from magazine staff boxes

To get these staff measurements, we take the mastheads the magazines themselves provide.

It might seem at first as if Time’s staff took a big drop in 2005, from 290 to 264, but much of that can be attributed to this report’s re-evaluating how it counts the staff in Time’s box. Some of the employees of Time’s side projects like Time for Kids and Time.com were removed from the count to make it more comparable to the way Newsweek counts its staff. By this measure, Time’s staff count is really down 14, with several of the cuts coming in a reorganized photo department.8

Newsweek added four members to its staff — two more reporters each in its London and Jerusalem bureaus. This marks the second consecutive year that Newsweek added staff to its editorial team. This increase, though small, may indicate that the magazine is devoting more resources to reporting rather than just rewriting or offering “takes” on current events.9

Overall, both Time and Newsweek added staff in their various bureaus in 2005 — before the Time cuts. The way they did so, however, suggests different priorities, or at least different ideas of where their needs lie. Even before its December layoffs, Time decreased its foreign bureau staff by two, while increasing its domestic bureau population by three. Newsweek went in the other direction, cutting its domestic bureau staff by one, increasing its foreign bureau numbers by four.

At the same time, both of the biggest news weeklies cut the number of bureaus they have in the field. Time closed its bureaus in Sydney and South Africa , though the South Africa Bureau was arguably redundant given that the magazine had and still has a bureau in Johannesburg. The closures bring the total number of bureaus Time has to 25, from 27.10

Newsweek’s bureau count went from 21 in 2004 to 20 in 2005. The magazine shuttered its bureau in Dallas and its “foreign” bureau in Miami (the magazine also has a domestic bureau in Miami with a different reporter assigned, and that bureau remained open), but opened a bureau in Hong Kong.11

Contributors

As the news magazines have cut staff, they have often added names to the “contributor” category of part-time or regular freelance writers under their mastheads. The use of contributors allows the magazine to hold on to some people who have walked away to pursue different options or those that have been let go as a cost-saving measure. The contributor list can also be a place to highlight the involvement of big-name journalists.

In one of the more interesting notes, the number of contributors at Time fell dramatically in the past year, from 40 to 24, as some of its better-known names left the box, including the former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and the author/essayist Roger Rosenblatt. Some new names were added, though, including those of the New Republic writer Michelle Cottle and the former Time staff writer Joel Stein, both of whom are younger than the people they replaced. Cottle has become a part of the Washington punditocracy. Stein has developed into something of a personality outside of Time and has pursued options elsewhere. Having him as a contributor is a way for the magazine to hold onto him in some way.12

Newsweek’s contributors fell as well, though by just one, from 19 to 18. And there was much less coming and going on the list. Lorraine Ali went from contributing editor to senior writer in the masthead, but otherwise the list was unchanged.13

Conclusion

It may be that the days of big cuts are over at Time and Newsweek, at least for the time being. But the real question that hangs over the news magazine field is what the role of the news titles will be.

Time, Newsweek and the struggling U.S. News have not truly focused on providing a weekly summary of the week’s news for some time. They recap some news, but they concentrate primarily on fresh reporting on topics they elect to cover and a lot of “takes” on current news. Even though the topics they cover have changed — growing lighter in the case of Time and Newsweek — the format has not. And their staffs have been built to suit those goals, with reporters feeding writers who generate copy in each title’s voice.

If The Week continues to be successful with its news summary approach, however, it will likely be copied, and that means staffs could again take a hit. That’s not to say The Week’s approach will come to dominate the field. There are other staffing models available. The Economist, which uses stringers as well as staff, continues to thrive. So does the New Yorker with its contracted writers.

In the past the big news weeklies, particularly Time and Newsweek, have morphed as times have changed, gravitating toward the trends in the magazine business to help stem falling circulation. They have added business coverage, more entertainment news, even more opinion. If they look elsewhere in the news arena for clues about how to remake themselves, they will probably pick a little bit of several approaches. But those approaches, whatever pieces they take, will likely point to smaller staffs.

Footnotes

1. Kurtz, Howard, “U.S. News Gives a Top Political Writer the Pink Slip,” Washington Post, October 5, 2005

2. Smith, Stephanie, “Time Inc. Axes 105 Staffers,” Mediaweek.com, December 13, 2005

3. Klaassen, Abbey, “Looking for a Grinch? Try Media Company CEOs,” Ad Age.com, December 16, 2005

4. Seelye, Katharine, “Time Inc. to Cut 100 More Jobs as It Focuses on Web Business,” New York Times, January 31, 2006

5. PEJ research

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid

8. Time staff box, September 12, 2005

9. Newsweek staff box, July 18, 2005

10. Time staff box, September 12, 2005

11. Newsweek staff box, July 18, 2005

12. Time staff box, September 12, 2005

13. Newsweek staff box, July 18, 2005