New York Times offers buyouts for third time in four years

The New York Times
The New York Times has announced it will be offering voluntary buyouts to employees in hopes fewer than 20 people will take the deal. Executive Editor Jill Abramson said there would not be newsroom layoffs. The paper also expects to make reductions in business-side staff, through buyouts and by eliminating some vacant positions. Digital employees — including the website staff — are excluded from the buyout option. The memo reads:

As in previous buyouts, to ensure we do not cut too deeply in our journalistic muscle, we do reserve the right to turn down some volunteers who are in those areas of the newsroom where we feel we cannot reduce our numbers. It is for that reason, in part, that we have excluded those members of the Guild who are covered by the separate Digital contract.

The news org offered voluntary buyouts in October of 2009, when the goal was for 100 employees to take the deal. About 50 people took the buyout initially, then about 25 more opted for it at the last-minute. In February of 2008, the Times also reduced its newsroom staff (then 1,332 employees) through a combination of buyouts and cuts. Longtime Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse left the Times in that round.

Poynter media analyst Rick Edmonds explains:

“The New York Times has a different mix of advertising from most newspapers, but they are having a disappointing year just like the rest. And the third quarter was worse than expected — the company’s ad revenues down 8 percent compared to the period a year ago rather than 4 percent as the company had previously projected. So it is not surprising that the Times is trimming newsroom staff along with many other papers. Twenty positions is a fairly modest nick on an operation with more than 1,100 editorial staffers.”

Memo:

To the Staff:

We are announcing today a limited buyout opportunity to newsroom volunteers, both excluded staffers as well as those members of the Guild-Times bargaining unit covered by the existing print contract.

By limited, that means we are looking at fewer than 20 buyouts across the newsroom, among volunteers who see the offer as being to their financial advantage at this time. The offering to the newsroom is, in any event, wholly voluntary. No matter how many people do or do not raise their hands, no one in the newsroom – either Guild or excluded – will be laid off as a result of this program.

For excluded staff members, the buyout formula effectively works out to two weeks of pay per year of service, with a maximum of one year in salary. The existing formula for Guild members in general provides for three weeks of severance per year, capping at a maximum of two years worth of salary.

The Guild buyout formula is among the issues on the table in the current contractual negotiations between the company and the Guild, and the company has proposed that in the future, the Guild terms mirror those now available to excluded employees. But until the company and the union agree on a new contract and the membership ratifies it – hopefully in the coming months – the current buyout terms remain in effect.

While we remain as loyal as ever to Times journalism and journalists, the uncertain economy has posed a continuing and difficult challenge to The Times: how to rebalance our business for the digital age while remaining steadfast to the quality journalism that defines us?

As you all know, the company has consistently chosen to protect the journalism, even while cutting production and other business-side costs and continuing to demand exacting financial discipline in the way the newsroom itself marshals its resources and controls its spending. Even now, we field a newsroom staff about the same size as it was a decade ago, and continue to invest in new opportunities and new platforms for our content.

In conjunction with this offering in the newsroom, the business side is making a small adjustment in its own budget, mostly by eliminating some open slots. This is consistent with ongoing efforts among our colleagues in the business side departments, who have cut their own staff in half over the past decade.

As in previous buyouts, to ensure we do not cut too deeply in our journalistic muscle, we do reserve the right to turn down some volunteers who are in those areas of the newsroom where we feel we cannot reduce our numbers. It is for that reason, in part, that we have excluded those members of the Guild who are covered by the separate Digital contract.

Anyone who is eligible for this offering and interested in volunteering should contact Bill Schmidt’s office by Monday, Oct. 24, and we will get you a copy of the package. You will have 45 days from then to decide whether or not you want to formally apply for a buyout.

Jill, Dean and John

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Anonymous

    Ted:

    Unfortunately, WSJ revenues are not disclosed. Want to mount an expeditionary hit on News Corp’s waste bins?  I believe staffing is up in the Murdoch era, but I don’t have exact numbers.  Also many writers now do double duty for the WSJ and Dow wires.

    Rick Edmonds

  • Anonymous

    Not sure I get you.

  • Anonymous

    Ok. Well, you might know it when you see it, but, unlike with porn, I don’t think anyone else does.

  • Anonymous

    Not slamming them at all. It’s about their way with words. Like porno … you know it when you see it.

  • Anonymous

    Not sure I get you. Can you map this writing style to something similar published by the Times — actually, it would have to be several, easily found examples since you say it’s “iconic” — and explain how they’re similar? Or are you just making something up that sounds vaguely bad about the NYT for whatever reason?

  • Anonymous

    “Limited buyout opportunity to newsroom volunteers.” Seems the NYT’s iconic writing style extends to layoff notices as well.

  • http://twitter.com/mediainvestors Ted Carroll

    Hmm. Recent revenue stats show it still going down in everything but circ instead of up. That was not what they guided investors to expect.

    Maybe it’s time for a Poynter story comparing NYT 2011 data to WSJ 2011 data? As in trends in revenues and number of employees?