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News Investment

News Investment

The magazine industry’s financial woes and the effect they’ve had on staffing are hardly breaking news. The end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006 were marked by staff cuts at well-known titles like U.S. News & World Report, Business Week and Time (see 2006 Report).

The latter months of 2006 had none of the big staff-cut announcements from a year earlier, but smaller hits kept on coming, as when Business Week cut another dozen positions.1

With the arrival of 2007, however, came a bigger blow. On January 18, Time Inc. announced it was going to cut 289 people from the staff of its top magazines — 172 from the editorial side and 117 from business side.2

The cuts announced were to hit Time magazine particularly hard. It was to lose about 50 people in all, a mix of editorial and business jobs. It would close its bureaus in Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta and cut four correspondents from its Washington bureau. (The magazine said it would keep three “laptop” correspondents in L.A. who would work directly with editors in New York.) The latest cuts added to Time Inc.’s two rounds of reductions at the end of 2005 and beginning of 2006.3

Other notable Time Inc. properties were to be hit as well — Sports Illustrated was to lose 30 staff members and People 37 editorial employees — but the cuts at Time had a special significance, coinciding with the magazine’s attempt to redefine itself.4

According to a company statement, the cuts, made as part of the new “multi-platform publisher,” are “ focused on increasing efficiencies and allowing for closer collaboration between our digital and print businesses.”5

What do the cuts mean about the direction of the new Time? It will almost certainly rely less on its own reporting, since it has fewer people in the field. And the closing of bureaus in Chicago and Atlanta (often viewed as the capitals of the Midwest and South) probably means regional coverage will take a hit. Correspondents in such regional bureaus usually exist to be a magazine’s eyes and ears there. One also wonders if the magazine’s voice will grow more coastal as New York and Washington, always a big part of its coverage, hold a larger percentage of its staff.

Tallying up the staff boxes at Time and Newsweek, as we do annually in this report, it’s clear that even the 12 months before the latest cuts were hard. Staffing and bureaus for both magazines were at new lows since we began keeping track of them. Both witnessed the steepest one-year declines in staff on record.

There is little question that cuts in staff and bureaus have an impact on a news organization’s ability to gather, understand and analyze the news. They also make it hard to break news — to do enterprise.

The cuts may mean the two magazines titles will focus more on recapping the news and then interpreting it. The Week, which has growing circulation and ad revenues, puts out a weekly publication effectively without reporters. It employs a group of editors who scrutinize the week’s news and consolidate coverage from various outlets into a single account that tries to not only say what happened but to give a favor of how different outlets covered developments.

That kind of approach at Time and Newsweek, of course, would involve dramatic alterations in format and mission.

Time says it is going to alter its content, and in its print form switch to being less of a breaking-news vehicle and more of a reflective and analytical one. But the magazine has also announced it is going to rely on its Web Site more for providing breaking news.

Such a move, unless it simply involved running wire copy or repurposing stories from other parts of the Time/Warner empire (like CNN.com), might easily require a bigger staff, not a smaller one. (And though it is early and changes are still under way at Time, the Time.com part of the magazine’s staff box actually shrank in 2006 to 7 people from 13 in 2005.)6

The proposed changes mean Time’s staff box in particular bears watching in the next few years. One question, particularly after the most recent round of cuts, is whether the proposed redefinition of mission at Time is an elegant way of dressing up cost-cutting.

Staffing at Time and Newsweek

An examination as of October suggests that 2006 was a tight year in the newsrooms of Time and Newsweek. According to the totals offered by the magazines’ own staff figures, Time had a head count of about 226. Newsweek was at about 165.7

News Magazine Staff Size Over Time
Time and Newsweek select years 1983 – 2006
pie chart sample
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism from magazine staff boxes

Those numbers equal staffing drops between 2005 and 2006 of roughly 38 people at Time and 20 at Newsweek, or 14% and 11% respectively. Those drops, which came long before the January cuts, are steep. For comparison, consider the years from 1983 to 1993., In that 10-year period Newsweek reduced staff by a total of 77 and Time by only 18. As of October 2006, Newsweek’s staff was less than half what it was in 1983.8

On what positions did the axe fall? It is always difficult to tell precisely with a magazine staff box. Titles are not always what they seem — “reporters,” for example, are often actually researchers. But tallying up the numbers in the Time box, some figures stand out. The number of reporters (writer-reporters, senior reporters and regular reporters) dropped to 26 from 29. And as we’ve noted, the number of people working only for Time.com fell to 7 from 13.9

Newsweek’s cuts included four jobs in its art department — photographers and layout people — from 35 people from 39; among senior editors, reduced by three; and editorial assistants, reduced by four.10

Correspondents and Bureaus

Both Time and Newsweek cut the number of their bureaus in 2006 along with the number of people working in them. Again it is unclear whether those moves were part of larger efforts to change their missions or simply ways to save money. Whatever the reason, the net impact was few reporters on the ground.

Time’s bureaus dropped to 20 in 2006 from 25 at the end of 2005 — and, of course, will drop even more next year. The magazine closed its offices in Islamabad, Pakistan; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Seoul, and Toronto. Time also closed its New York bureau, though the effect of that closing is probably relatively small since the magazine’s headquarters are in New York.11

Newsweek cut three bureaus, going from 20 at the end of 2005 to 17 in 2006. Its bureau casualties abroad included offices in Brussels, the home of the European Union, and Cape Town. Within the United States, the magazine also combined its Chicago and Detroit bureaus into a “Midwest” bureau, though it’s not clear exactly what the meaning of the move is; the staff box continued to show a reporter in each city.12

News Magazine Bureaus Over Time
Time and Newsweek select years 1983 – 2006
pie chart sample
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism from magazine staff boxes

And those cuts weren’t just a reshuffling of personnel — pulling back reporters from their far-flung perches and placing them closer to home. They resulted in less overall staff. Time reduced its bureau correspondent staff to 48 from 52 the previous year. Newsweek’s bureau staff was cut to 42 from 49 in 2005.13

Number of Correspondents in Bureaus Over Time
Time and Newsweek select years 1983 – 2006
pie chart sample
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism from magazine staff boxes

Such reductions are important because they go to one of the principle strengths of the weeklies, a big, spread-out newsgathering operation. The bureaus, and the correspondents who staff them, give the magazines listening posts that let them offer comprehensive coverage of the world. When news broke in a remote location, the weeklies would have reporters nearby who had been paying attention to the news form the region and had a feel for the scene. As the outposts and their staffing are reduced, those abilities diminish.

Considering the steady stream of cuts in bureaus and bureau staffing, the question is whether what remains will be enough to cover a complicated world where news from distant outposts has taken on an increasing importance.

Contributors

Newsweek’s list of “Contributing Editors” changed little in the past year, declining to 17 names from 18 the year before. The changes in Time’s “Contributors” list were bigger in terms of size — the list grew to 31 from 24 — and in type.14

Number of Contributors in Staff Boxes Over Time
Time and Newsweek select years 1983 – 2006
pie chart sample
Design Your Own Chart
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism from magazine staff boxes

In the past Time’s contributors list has been a way to highlight particular writers, a collection of distinguished personalities largely known in journalism for their work at other outlets —Michael Kinsley, for example, or the New Republic’s editor, Peter Beinart, or CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. But Time’s list in 2006 was notable for the nature of the additions, mostly staff members cut from the other places in the staff box. Some of the new contributor additions: former Senior Foreign Correspondent Johanna McGeary, former Jerusalem Bureau Chief Matt Rees and former Senior Writers Daniel Kadlec and Michelle Orecklin.

That has long been more of the approach of Newsweek, which has several people on its “Contributing Editors” list who were once full staff members, including Eleanor Clift and Ken Woodward.

That use of the contributors lists may continue to grow as the staffs of the weeklies are cut. Often moves into the contributors list are part of the layoff negotiation that goes on between management and staff. Moving personnel from staff to contributor leaves the titles more flexible. It still gives the magazines access to the people they once had without paying them benefits or big salaries. It is a likely way of the future as the publications face tight economic times.

Summary

Staff reductions seem to go beyond a trend for the big weeklies. If January’s cuts at Time are any indication, such reductions have become a way of life in the past few years and seem likely to remain one in the immediate future. The magazine’s staff boxes grew fat in the good economic years as they moved more and more resources and operations inside their headquarters. But increasingly in their desire to be nimble and cut costs they seem to be adopting a larger trend in American industry as a whole — outsourcing.

Bureau offices are being closed and staffs trimmed as the ability to track news online grows. That doesn’t, however, mean foreign coverage is going to become something done from a computer terminal or strictly by personnel who “parachute” into hot news areas. Stringers, who have always been put to use by the news weeklies when news breaks, are likely to get more work, and former staff people will be called upon in a fee-for-service way to offer expertise.

Where does all that leave the weeklies in the future where staffing is concerned? Leaner and meaner, but ultimately with a product that is less under their control. Smaller bureau staffs and fewer foreign offices mean scoops will inevitably be less common. But that may fit with the weeklies’ new role in the media landscape, particularly with Time’s new approach to coverage, which may be more in line with that of The Economist: part week in review, part opinionated analysis. The one thing that isn’t clear is what it will mean to the Web operations of those publications, which increasingly will be the platform charged with breaking news.