NYT Editor to Staff: Happy Valentine's Day! Job Cuts Coming to Newsroom

Talk about a funny valentine - this story, filed on the Times website a couple of hours ago, announced that the job ax is coming to the Times newsroom - the paper will eliminate about 100 newsroom jobs this year. It's just the latest jolt to a paper buffeted by a sunken share price, a shareholder revolt, and the specter of competition from a revitalized Wall Street Journal.

Publishing reporter Richard Perez-Pena writes:

After years of resisting the newsroom cuts that have hit most of the industry, The New York Times will bow to growing financial strain and eliminate about 100 newsroom jobs this year, the executive editor said Thursday.

The cuts will be achieved by "by not filling jobs that go vacant, by offering buyouts, and if necessary by layoffs," said the executive editor, Bill Keller. The more people who accept buyouts, he said, "the smaller the prospect of layoffs, but we should brace ourselves for the likelihood that there will be some layoffs."

The Times has 1,332 newsroom employees, the largest number in its history; no other American newspaper has more than about 900. There were scattered buyouts and job eliminations in The Times' newsroom in recent years, but the overall number continued to rise, largely due to the growth of its Internet operations.

The New York Times Company has made significant cuts in the newsrooms of some of its other properties, including The Boston Globe, as well as in non-news operations. Company executives say the overall headcount is 3.8 percent lower than it was a year ago.

But with the industry's economic picture worsening, the company is under increased pressure from shareholders - notably two hedge funds that recently bought almost 10 percent of the common stock - to do something dramatic to improve its bottom line.

For 2007, it recently reported earnings of $209 million on revenue of $3.2 billion.

Newspaper industry ad revenue fell about 7 percent last year, and 4.7 percent at The Times Company, and executives around the industry have projected that 2008 will be equally bad.

Other large newspapers have made much bigger cuts, proportionally, than those The Times is planning; some newsrooms are more than 20 percent smaller than they were early in this decade.

Even so, eliminating jobs has grown harder "because the low-hanging fruit is gone, and so is some of the higher-hanging fruit," Mr. Keller said. And he suggested that the cuts could not help but affect the newspaper's journalism.

"To meet our budget goals, we will have to do a little less, and every time we do less, we cede a bit of advantage," he said. "Our challenge will be to set our priorities in such a way that we do less in the areas that damage our competitiveness least."

The Times also cited expenses generated by "an unusually long and competitive presidential campaign" and tipped its hat to the Wall Street Journal and its ambitious new owner Rupert Murdoch, who is pushing to make the paper an alternative to the Times by branching out from its traditional business coverage to tackle more politics.