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News Investment

Introduction

By the Project for Excellence in Journalism

After several hard years, 2008 was an even harder one for many news magazine staffs, particularly in news weeklies.

Late in the year, several publications announced substantial layoffs on top of cutbacks in staffing and resources already made earlier in the year. Precise figures were unavailable at the end of 2008, as most publishers were still sorting out who would stay and who would go. But further cuts were looming, and there were fears that more publications would close in 2009.

And this on a base that had already shrunk some in recent years. According to an Advertising Age analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, magazine staffing last took a substantial hit in 2001, as a result of the bursting of the dot.com bubble and the recession. Staffing appeared to level off in the middle of the decade, from 2004 to 2008. But since the decade began the numbers over all were down by 2008. Based on averages from January through July 2008, Ad Age estimated that just under 150,000 people worked in magazines in 2008, down from about 170,000 in 2000.1

“From what I see and hear throughout the media industry generally, the situation is going to get much worse before it gets better,” said David Weir, a media business analyst for BNET.com, a website that provides management information.2

The five biggest magazine publishers in the U.S. announced in late 2008 big staff reductions. They are:

News magazines, whose staffs have been generally trending down since the mid 1980s, certainly felt the knife edge.

Most of the announced cuts at the newsweekly leaders in 2008 were in reporting positions and to some extent senior editors, a further sign of the move toward analysis and commentary.

Time and Newsweek have both instituted two rounds of cuts in the last 18 months, the most recently coming at the end of 2008 and early 2009, with both still in flux.

At U.S. News & Wld Report, which ceased weekly publication in 2008, staffing was basically unchanged compared with 2007. But its staff had already undergone major reductions as the publication shifted to a consumer-information orientation and away from a newsweekly focus, and it already had the smallest staff of the three magazines.

Some industry analysts have suggested the ad-supported economic model at most magazines has become obsolete, with the auto industry downturn in 2008 the final reckoning.

Others contend the ad-based publishing model that has existed in the U.S. more or less since World War II had been able to sustain larger staffs than necessary.

What are we to make of the cuts? Samir Husni, chairman of the Journalism Department at the University of Mississippi and an expert on the magazine business, contends that American magazines historically have been vastly overstaffed compared to their counterparts abroad and that thus the cuts are manageable.

“The Economist’s staff is about 100,” Husni said. “And you can’t say that Newsweek, which has a much bigger staff, is turning out better editorial content from week to week.”

But the two magazines have also been different in mission. The American newsweekly traditionally combined substantial original reporting along with its analysis, often woven together by writers who were not the actual reporters. The European model relied on the news gathered elsewhere during the week, and put more premium on weaving those events into larger context than the American periodicals. Newsweek and Time have also had a wider purview, including culture, the arts, lifestyle and more into the “back of the book,” while the Economist’s expertise is narrower and perhaps deeper.

If Husni is right, it does not mean this would an easy transition. After more than 60 years of approaching things a different way, the cultural shift to the more European model would be for American magazines, at minimum, a tumultuous one internally, and perhaps one that involves a fair amount of trial and error in the content as well.

News Magazine Staff Size Over Time
Time and Newsweek, select years, 1983-2008
Design Your Own Chart

Source: PEJ research, from magazine staff boxes
*Newsweek figure reflects news staffing according to a staff box published in February 2009

Newsweek

The second-biggest news weekly in the U.S. appeared to suffer some of the biggest staff reductions in the industry in 2008. According to company reports, 160 employees in Newsweek’s news and business departments accepted buyouts in 2008.

And likely there are more to come. The bulk of those leaving came in March when 117 people accepted buyouts. In December, the magazine reportedly decided it needed to cut another 75 positions and close bureaus at home and abroad.3 Some 43 of buyouts were competed in 2008, but if the December accounts are correct another 30 or so may still be coming.4

Press reports suggested that about half of those job cuts were to be made in news. Most were expected to be accomplished through voluntary buyouts, although future reductions may not be. Ann McDaniel, vice president at Newsweek’s parent Washington Post Company, reportedly told employees, “If you want out, this is the package to take.”5

In February 2009, Newsweek unveiled for advertisers a new design, a shift in editorial focus and plans for scaling back circulation. It was unclear whether the new concept would involve any additional job cuts not yet announced. A staff box published in the February 16, 2009, issue listed 27 fewer full-time news employees than in a June 2008 staff listing.6

Precise job cut figures are difficult to ascertain for several reasons. The magazine declined to confirm any numbers.7 The last staff box it published in February 2009 did not appear to reflect the full extent of the announced job cuts. Also, the magazine moved several former full-time staff to the lists of contributors, suggesting a continuing association with the magazine but with a designation that makes the nature of the association imprecise.

An analysis of the staff boxes nonetheless still offers a glimpse into the shifting priorities and editorial structures of the magazine. Cuts were made in nearly every department.

One trend was fewer top editors. The number of assistant managing editors decreased from five to four, for instance, the senior editors from 16 to 10. Additionally, a dozen former full-time staffers switched to contributor status.

Even the magazine’s website, a singular area of growth for the publication, had two fewer staffers in 2009 than 2008 (to 18 from 20).

The February accounting suggests Newsweek had already also reduced staff in both domestic and foreign bureaus, three from Washington (to 16, from 19 in 2008), one from New York (making it a single-person bureau in 2009). Both Midwest bureaus (single correspondents in Chicago and Detroit) were shuttered. Newsweek also cut one from London (one correspondent remained), and closed another single-person bureau in Mexico City. But by all accounts there were more to come, particularly according to press reports, overseas.

In December, Russell Adams of the Wall Street Journal reported that positions in Baghdad, Cape Town, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Jerusalem, and Paris and at domestic bureaus in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Miami were targeted for buyouts.8

“That many of [the bureaus] are one- or two-person shops—and carry real estate costs—indicates closures are likely,” Adams wrote.9

Time

Despite reports that it is still being profitable, Time was cutting staff as well. A corporate-wide reduction of 6% percent of the workforce of Time Inc. announced in October 2008 was expected to hit the company’s flagship publication in early 2009.

According to a November press account, Time sought 20 news employees for the voluntary buyout. The staff cuts would translate into an about 8% reduction in news staff.10

Even before the cuts took effect, Time was already changing priorities, according to an analysis of the staff boxes published in December 2008 and October 2007.

With roughly the same number of total staff listed (182), the magazine had shed top managers, put more emphasis on news analysis, bolstered its staffing for coverage of Asia and added employees to the website.

Among the most striking changes was that Time thinned the ranks of top editors at the print publication by nearly 40%.

It cut in half the number managing editors, (from 11 to 6) and reduced the number of deputy managing editors (from 3 to 2), and assistant managing editors (from 7 to 3). It also reduced the number of senior editors from 11 to 9.

And in January 2009, Adi Ignatius, a deputy managing editor at Time, announced he was leaving the magazine to become the editor-in-chief of Harvard Business Review, which is published by the Harvard Business School.11

As with Newsweek, the magazine also appeared to be shifting resources away from reporting and somewhat more toward analysis. The number of editorial employees designated as writers increased while the number called reporters decreased.

Time Magazine, Writing and Reporting Staffers
2007 and 2008
Position
2007
2008
Senior Writers
5
10
Staff Writers
9
6
Writer-Reporters
4
6
Senior Reporters
11
10
Reporters
5
3
Senior Correspondents
5
3

Source: PEJ research, from magazine staff boxes

The number of Time domestic and foreign correspondents based outside its New York headquarters was reduced by one, to 31, in 2008, according to the staff-box analysis.

Time, at least as of December, 2008, was more international than Newsweek, with a greater focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. And as of January 2009, there were no reports the magazine was planning to follow the lead of Newsweek and shutter bureaus or significantly reduce staffers in them.

In total, the magazine had eight correspondents working in three bureaus in the United States and 20 in 14 overseas bureaus.

The magazine halved the number of staff in Hong Kong, New Delhi and Baghdad (from six to three total) but added a staffer in Beijing. It also expanded the number of bureaus abroad—adding ones in the Lebanon and Pakistan, while closing the one in Rome.

With a flamboyant and controversial President Nicholas Sarkozy in France, Time also added two correspondents to its Paris bureau in 2008, bringing the number to three.

The other sharp change came at the website, where even some of the departed print executives reappeared. In all, Time.com, the magazine’s website portal, saw its staff increased by 10, to 24 in 2008.12

Previously, the most senior position listed for Time.com was senior editor. By the end of 2008, the site had its own managing editor (Josh Tyrangiel), assistant managing editor (Richard Zoglin) features editor (Daniel Eisenberg) and senior editor (Tony Karon).

The number of new staffers (15) and new position titles (18) indicates a fairly radical reorganization of Time.com following the 2007 redesign. According PEJ’s tally of the 2007 and 2008 staff boxes, just four 2008 Time.com employees were known to be previous Time (print publication) employees. A total of six 2008 staffers remained from 2007.

But, again, these figures were reported prior to the announcement of the corporate-wide job cuts.

Time Inc.

The changes at Time came against a backdrop of a restructuring by Time Inc., the magazine division of Time Warner that operates 24 publications. Time Inc. C.E.O. Anne Moore cited “stunning” declines in advertising revenue for the across-the-board staff reductions.13

While other magazine companies announced the closing of some magazines, Time Inc. appeared, in its October announcement, to focus more on internal reorganization as a way of keeping existing titles viable.

The plan, which the New York Times reported “could radically alter the culture of the company,” called for centralizing authority and functions among its previously independent magazines. It envisioned four business units: news, style, entertainment and lifestyle. Time magazine operates under the news division.

Each group reports to a general manager. The new centralized management structure represented a fundamental change for Time Inc. publications. Previously, each of the company’s titles had semi-autonomous control over business and editorial staff.14

The reorganization included the loss of 600 positions across the editorial and business departments, which translates to about 6% of its worldwide employment of 10,000. Time Inc.’s domestic employees number 7,000.

The reductions were expected to cut into the editorial staff of Time Inc.’s biggest and most recognizable publications. As many as a third of the announced job cuts were to be made at the core of the company’s publications: Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Money. In all, 100 editorial staffers were expected to accept voluntary buyouts by the end of 2008, according to published reports.15

The cutbacks, which Time Inc. had hoped to accomplish through voluntary severance, applied to writers, editors, photographers and researchers at the magazines. It said it would eliminate 92 jobs in consumer marketing by centralizing the marketing departments previously spread among the individual magazines.

The greatest percentage cuts were seen at the editorial group that puts out Sports Illustrated, Sports Illustrated for Kids and Golf magazines. In the initial round of staff cuts, 40 people were expected to voluntarily leave the magazine group, which would translate to a 16% cut from a staff of about 250.

At People, a minimum of 23 staffers—about 12% of the magazine’s editorial staff—were offered buyouts in November, but editors were said to have been encouraging additional staffers to ask for severance or voluntarily reduce their work-weeks from five to four days, so cuts may be more expansive in the latest round of layoffs.

As many as 25 staffers at Entertainment Weekly were slated to be laid off in late 2008. But the cuts were seen as less drastic than shuttering the magazine or folding it into People.16 As part of the reshuffling at Entertainment Weekly, managing editor Rick Tetzeli was replaced with previous People executive editor Jess Cagle. Tetzeli was assigned to Time Inc.’s special projects division.17

Time Inc. also sought to cut 20 over all from its business publications Fortune and Money through voluntary buyouts. Months earlier, the company had cut 14 of 17 staffers from Fortune Small Business and moved the magazine to a custom publishing division that produces publications for paying clients.18

U.S. News & World Report

As the third-largest news magazine transitioned from weekly to monthly frequency, and positioned itself around producing single-topic editions, U.S. News & World Report fundamentally reorganized its editorial staff.

While the total number of employees listed in 2008 was basically unchanged from 2007, the composition of the staff at U.S. News changed to fit with the goal of becoming an “Internet-first” news source.

Heading into 2009, it removed delineations among staff dedicated to the print publication, USNews.com website portals or periodical newsletters that existed in previous years.

Employees listed in 2007 as USNews.com producers, advertising and marketing staffers were integrated into news, operations, art, photography and research departments.

U.S. News editor Brian Kelly told PEJ that as of 2009, it was “out of the news weekly business,” and that all staffers at the publication write across four specific subject areas: health, money and business, education and science, in print and on the Web. Under the new model, breaking news coverage and opinion content is presented on the website and in the U.S. News & World Report Weekly digital magazine.19

Monthly print issues would concern a single subject area, and Kelly said, would “include consumer guides, analysis, and policy” on a given subject from “a 360-degree perspective.”

In 2009, editorial content in the print publication will complement the consumer rankings and guides for which the magazine has increasing become known since it began publishing rankings reports, starting in 1983 with America’s Best Colleges.

As it moved away from the news weekly model throughout 2008, U.S. News kept staffing levels even compared with the previous year. In 2008, U.S. News listed 124 editorial employees, compared with 123 in 2007.

But a redeployment of positions reflected the new editorial orientation. The magazine cut back the ranks of top general editors in 2008. The magazine reduced the number of managing editors from six in 2007 to four in 2008 and senior editors from five to four. Associate editors were cut to five from nine.

It added five “deputies” —editors managing various content areas including business, nation and world, health and science, education and opinion—increasing to nine in 2008.

The magazine added seven reporters, for a total of 11.

Kelly said he made new hires of employees with skills sets relevant to Web design and production, while letting go of some print designers in 2008.

While the total number of employees listed in 2008 was basically unchanged from 2007, the composition of the staff at U.S. News changed to fit with the goal of becoming an “Internet-first” news source.

Other News Magazines

In general, staffing at the nontraditional news magazines appeared more stable in 2008 than that of Time and Newsweek.

Staffs at magazines including The Economist and The Atlantic are smaller than those at the big three news weeklies, with fewer full-time reporters; much of the editorial content comes from freelance journalists or contributors. Maintaining a lean newsroom made the publications less susceptible to staff reductions in 2008.

But a rough economic year for magazines translated into layoffs even at publishing companies that showed signs of growth in 2008. The Economist Group, which publishes the North American edition of The Economist, laid off as many as 12 employees in November 2008, most from within the Economist Intelligence Unit, the company’s business-to-business publishing operation.20

Less clear was if The New Yorker, which had exhibited revenue growth in 2006 and 2007 but struggled in 2008, absorbed job cuts announced in October 2008 by its corporate parent, Condé Nast. According to press reports, the magazine group intended to cut 5% across business and editorial departments at its two dozen publications.21 The New Yorker declined PEJ’s requests for information on staffing.

Like many foreign news publications, the U.S. edition of The Week, which is owned by the U.K.-based publisher Felix Dennis, is lightly staffed. The Week, a digest of accounts from other news sources, has editors but no reporters. The fledgling magazine’s task is not to gather the news of the week, but to distill “all you need to know about everything that matters.” In 2008, the magazine stayed lean. Its staff was unchanged from 2007 at 20 employees.

Over all, news publications whose staffing was stable in 2008 operated outside of major magazine publishers like Time Inc. and Condé Nast.

Other Non-News Magazines

Meredith, a publisher of the mass-market commercial magazines Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens and Parents, also announced companywide job cuts.

In January 2009, Meredith announced a cut of 250 positions across the company – which also includes television stations, book publishing and websites—and closed County Home Magazine. The magazine division by itself had previously announced 20 layoffs and the intention to leave open other positions.22

Wenner Media, the eighth-biggest publisher in the U.S. and owner of US Weekly, Men’s Health and Rolling Stone, was reported to have laid off seven employees, most in its corporate marketing department, in October 2008. The cuts represented a less than 2% of the company’s 400 full-time magazine staffers.23

Two major publishers of trade publications and industry-specific magazines, Penton (Broadcast Engineering, Outsourced Logistics and National Real Estate Investor) and Reed Business Information (Variety, Publishers Weekly and Broadcasting & Cable), announced layoffs in June 2008.

Penton, which cut 120 jobs as part of a 2007 consolidation, cut 42 positions in mid-2008 in response to what the company’s CEO, John French, characterized as the same economic pressures the magazine industry was facing in 2008.24

Reed Business Information, which is owned by Reed Elsevier Group—the ninth-biggest publisher in the U.S.—cut 41 positions, including several editors, advertising sales representatives and online staffers.25 In 2008, Reed Elsevier tried unsuccessfully to sell Reed Business Information, the publisher’s business-to-business arm.

Reed announced had plans in February 2008 to sell the business information group, citing “a desire to exit the print-reliant industry.” Lack of financing for potential buyers was given as the reason Reed took the group off the market in December 2008, the result of ever-tightening global credit markets.26

McGraw-Hill, the fifth-largest publisher in the U.S. and the owner of BusinessWeek and Aviation Week, along with other media properties, cut 210 positions in 2008 within its media and information division, which publishes magazines. In addition to magazine publishing, the division includes four ABC-affiliated local television stations, the consumer marketing information firm J.D. Power and Associates and Platts, an energy and metal information company.

Reader’s Digest Association, the sixth-largest publisher in the U.S., announced in January 2009 that it would lay off as many as 300 people, equivalent to 8% of its workforce. In addition to the layoffs, the publisher stated that it would put staffers on unpaid furloughs and halt contributions to retirement accounts.27

The company, which publishes the flagship Reader’s Digest, Every Day With Rachael Ray and Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Connection, is owned by Ripplewood Holdings, a private equity firm. Ripplewood bought the company in 2007, in a deal that, according to the New York Times, greatly increased its debt burden.28

Footnotes

1. “The World is Flat,” Advertising Age, Magazine 300, October 6, 2008. Online at: http://adage.com/images/random/datacenter/2008/magtrend.pdf.

2. David Weir, e-mail interview with PEJ, January 12, 2009

3. Russell Adams, “Newsweek Tells Staff of Job Cuts,” Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2008. According to the article, 65 would receive a buyout offer and 10 more jobs would be eliminated.

4. “The Washington Post Company Reports 2008 and Fourth Quarter Earnings,” February 15, 2009. Online at: http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=62487&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1259886&highlight=

5. Russell Adams, “Newsweek Job Cuts Target Bureaus,” Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2008

6. A staff box published in June 2007 listed 168 news employees; a June 2008 staff box listed 192 news employees.

7. The June 2008 staff box, which was published after 117 Newsweek employees accepted buyouts, listed 24 more employees than in a June 2007, raising questions about the reliability of using the published staff lists as a barometer of staffing at the magazine.

8. Russell Adams, “Newsweek Job Cuts Target Bureaus,” Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2008

9. Russell Adams, “Newsweek Job Cuts Target Bureaus,” Wall Street Journal, December 12, 2008

10. Richard Perez-Peña, “Time Inc. Seeks Volunteers for Job Cuts at Magazines,” New York Times, November 11, 2008

11. Chris Reidy, “Harvard Business Review taps Ignatius as editor,” Boston Globe, January 6, 2009. Online at: http://www.boston.com/business/ticker/2009/01/harvard_busines_4.html.

12. Six of the 18 new jobs were multimedia producer positions. Time.com also added three topical positions including features editor, health/science editor and politics producer. The website also bolstered video production, design and photography staffs by adding new positions in 2008.

13. Vanessa Voltolina, “ Time Inc. CEO on Restructuring: ‘It Was Looking Like 1931,’ ” Folio, October 30, 2008. Online at: http://www.foliomag.com/2008/time-inc-ceo-restructuring-it-was-looking-1931.

14. Keith J. Kelly, “Ann’s Time for Change,” New York Post, October 29, 2008

15. Richard Perez-Peña, Richard, “Time Inc. Seeks Volunteers for Job Cuts at Magazines, New York Times, November 11, 2008

16. John Koblin, “Layoffs Begin at Entertainment Weekly, And They’re Not Taking Volunteers,” New York Observer, November 13, 2008. Online: http://www.observer.com/2008/media/layoffs-begin-entertainment-weekly.

17. Keith J. Kelly, “EW Loses Its Top Editor,” New York Post, January 7, 2009

18. Keith J. Kelly, “Losing a Small Fortune,” New York Post, July 30, 2008

19. Jeff Bercovici, “ ‘ U.S. News’ Launching Digital Newsweekly,” Portfolio.com Media Blog, January 23, 2009. Online at: http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/mixed-media/2009/01/23/us-news-launching-digital-newsweekly.

20. Jason Fell and Dylan Stableford, “Layoffs at National Geographic, EW, Economist, Doubledown Group,” Folio, November 14, 2008

21. Dylan Stableford, “Panic: When Will the Layoffs End?” Folio, November 6, 2008

22. Joanna Pettas, “Meredith Cuts 60 Jobs,” Folio, June 5, 2008

23. Moses Lucia, “Wenner Media Rocked With Layoffs,” MediaWeek, October 27, 2008

24. Dylan Stableford, “Penton Lays Off 42,” Folio, June 6, 2008

25. Jason Fell, “RBI Slashes 41 Jobs,” Folio, June 4, 2008

26. Jason Fell, “Reed Elsevier Drops RBI Sale,” Folio, December 10, 2008

27. Richard Perez-Peña, “At Reader’s Digest, Layoffs Are Part of ‘Recession Plan,’ ” New York Times, January 30, 2008

28. Richard Perez-Peña, “At Reader’s Digest, Layoffs Are Part of ‘Recession Plan,’ ” New York Times, January 30, 2008