The media today: Layoffs, shut-downs and salary outrage

Layoffs, firings, shut-downs and other forms of downsizing in the media industry are nothing new, but the pace seems to be picking up speed—or perhaps it is just something that comes in waves, and we are in the middle of a big one. Whatever the case may be, there seem to be more announcements every day, and there are fears that recent news from Facebook about de-emphasizing news on the platform could accelerate the damage, as traffic and advertising continue to dry up.

Just a day after CJR wrote about the difficulties that some foreign journalists are having selling their freelance reporting, the director of the International Reporting Project at the public-policy foundation New America announced that the project is shutting down, effective next month. The IRP has funded reporting for more than two decades in over 115 countries. No reason was given for the decision.

Meanwhile, significant layoffs are under way at Digital First Media, a chain of newspapers, many of which are in California, including The Orange County Register. In a statement, the LA chapter of the Society for Professional Journalists expressed its “sadness, frustration and dismay” at cutbacks at the company’s Southern California News Group. “People often complain about unresponsive, unaccountable local government and vanishing local news is a large part of why this is able to occur,” the SPJ said.

More cuts have also come to The Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, with 11 staffers losing their jobs, in the sixth wave of layoffs at the paper over the past several years. “You’re probably asking yourself, when will these cuts end? I wish I could answer that,” editor Mark Katches said in a statement to staff. “Although we have made progress growing our digital audience while also producing award-winning, and important journalism, the revenue picture continues to pose challenges for our company.”

Here are some more links related to this somewhat depressing cavalcade of bad news:

  • While reporting CJR’s recent story on the problems faced by international reporters, Yardena Schwartz confirmed that Foreign Policy magazine—which has historically been one of the most reliable destinations for freelancers who want to write deeply reported international pieces—is closing its foreign bureaus, something the publisher hasn’t yet announced officially.
  • Charleston Newspapers, a family-owned chain that published dailies and weeklies in a number of West Virginia towns including Charleston, Wheeling, Parkersburg and Elkins, said Monday it has been forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The Charleston Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism last year for a story about the prescription opioid epidemic in the state.
  • Against the backdrop of so many layoffs in the industry, it’s probably not surprising that there’s a considerable amount of frustration (and perhaps more than a little envy) at reports that former Fusion writer Felix Salmon—who recently announced his departure—was being paid $400,000 a year, according to The Awl. Salmon was one of a number of high-profile hires Fusion made in 2014. In a cruel twist, the Awl is also shutting down due to a lack of funds.
  • While BuzzFeed missed its financial targets for 2017 and recently laid off more than 100 people (something CEO Jonah Peretti discussed with CJR in an exclusive interview), Vox Media chairman and CEO Jim Bankoff said in a memo to employees that the company hit its 2017 targets, although he admitted that hiring will slow this year and some projects will be “scaled back.”

Other notable stories:

  • Jeff Good, executive editor of New England’s Pioneer Valley Newspaper group, said in an email to staff that he had been fired for advocating for transparency and equal pay for female employees at the Daily Hampshire-Gazette and other papers in the chain, but the publisher and some former female editors at the group have disputed Good’s characterization of the reason for his departure.
  • New York Times writer Farhad Manjoo has figured out who is responsible for all the bad things on the Internet—the advertising industry. “The online ad machine is a vast, opaque and dizzyingly complex contraption with under-appreciated capacity for misuse,” he writes. “One that collects and constantly profiles data about our behavior, creates incentives to monetize our most private desires, and frequently unleashes loopholes that the shadiest of people are only too happy to exploit.”
  • Notorious alt-right personality Mike Cernovich is reportedly interested in bidding for the remaining assets of Gawker.com, the website that was once the cornerstone of founder Nick Denton’s New York-based media empire before a lawsuit from former wrestler Hulk Hogan forced the company to shut down. According to a pitch letter obtained by Vanity Fair, Cernovich wants to acquire the site for $500,000 and turn it into a destination for “viral content.”
  • Andy Fitch talks to Danielle Allen for the LA Review of Books, about the Harvard professor’s work chairing the Pulitzer board for non-fiction, and how this has shaped her thinking about the methods, forms, and outcomes that investigative journalism needs to function properly in a political environment like the one we are in now.
  • Lauren Katzenberg, co-founder and managing editor of Task and Purpose, the news site published by and for military veterans, announced that she is joining The New York Times as the editor of At War, a vertical the paper is launching soon that will focus on military conflicts around the world.
  • The Village Voice is moving back into the same New York building it vacated four years ago. The legendary alternative weekly just signed a lease for office space in 36 Cooper Square, where it was based from 1991 to 2013. As it struggled financially (it stopped printing a physical newspaper last year) the weekly was forced to move into a new office in the Financial District, but CEO and publisher Peter Barbey said he never stopped looking for a way to move back into the old neighborhood.

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