April 24, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer offered voluntary buyouts to 55 guild members in sales, Poynter learned via a memo on Friday. Another voluntary buyout offer was made to full-time newsroom employees 65 and over after some employees expressed interest in such an offer.

The memo, from publisher and CEO Lisa Hughes, notes the Inquirer lost 25% of sales revenue, or $13.5 million, between 2017 and 2019, “without a significant reduction in sales staffing. So this move is part of a reorganization that was planned and aligns with our strategy for an integrated, multi-platform sales organization. Unfortunately, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will mean an additional estimated revenue loss of 20% this year and have accelerated this reorganization and necessitated more severe cuts than originally anticipated. If about 20 people do not voluntarily apply for the (voluntary separation program) in the Sales department, layoffs on the sales team are likely to follow.”

The buyout offers in the newsroom came after some employees inquired about them, the memo notes.

“A handful of staffers in our newsroom had expressed interest in a potential buyout, so we worked with the Guild leadership to make an offer available to a small percentage of eligible newsroom employees,” Stan Wischnowski, executive editor and senior vice president, told Poynter in an email. “To be clear, the newsroom’s involvement in this program is not tied to a targeted number or potential layoffs.”

The Inquirer is owned by the nonprofit Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Last month, Lenfest, the Knight Foundation, and Independence Public Media Foundation announced plans to give $2.5 million to several Philly newsrooms to help cover the coronavirus. The Inquirer got $250,000.

While the Inquirer’s newsroom isn’t expecting layoffs, local and national newsrooms around the country have been hit hard by the economic impact of the coronavirus. You can see Poynter’s tracking of layoffs, furloughs and closures here.

“While the timing of the economic recovery is uncertain, I want to assure you that we are finalizing a revised strategic plan for our business,” Hughes’ memo continued. “We are planning a town hall event via Zoom within the next few weeks so I can share details of that plan with you.”

Kristen Hare covers the transformation of local news for Poynter.org and writes a weekly newsletter on the transformation of local news. You can subscribe here. Kristen can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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