Major Layoffs Hit Journalists

It’s a precarious moment for journalism in America.

Last week, Buzzfeed announced layoffs for 15 percent of its overall workforce, resulting in the job loss of around 200 employees, many of whom work in the news division. That same day Verizon Media Group cut roughly 7 percent of its staff, slashing about 800 jobs across outlets like Huffington Post, Yahoo!, and AOL. To round out the trifecta, newspaper giant Gannett continued its years-long downsizing efforts by also making cuts.

In the case of Gannett, the print newspaper industry faces the challenge of decreasing circulation and digital competition. Additionally, hedge fund-owned MNG Enterprises has launched a hostile takeover bid for ownership of Gannett, a move that is largely seen as bad for both journalists and communities. With consolidations mounting and greedy corporations looking to make a profit at the expense of quality reporting, print media is caught in its most dire circumstance yet.

Ironically, digital media—which was believed to have been the saving grace of reporting in the technology age—has not gone unscathed in the profitability squeeze. According to experts in the field, one of the biggest challenges digital media companies are facing is that of advertising. Industry reporter for The New York Times, Edmund Lee, explains that companies like Google and Facebook take the majority share of advertising dollars due to their existence as the two biggest platforms online. Despite the great content produced by smaller outlets like Buzzfeed and Vox, Lee says their audience reach do not match that of Google and Facebook, and therefore causing them to lose out in the competition to attract advertising dollars.

Slate contributor, Mike Pesca, builds on this idea by arguing that despite creating the type of enviable product advertisers see as profitable, Google and Facebook are also killing the news. He poses the question, “Why would an advertiser go with a smallish platform that delivers a solid audience when it could instead target ads to the exact person who would be buying its product?” Building revenue is difficult for smaller news organizations when virtually all ad-based business is controlled by only two entities. Despite the fact that journalists are attracting large audiences, they are making less money. Pesca argues that for this reason, any successful news organization must become subscription-based.

The idea of digital news media moving toward subscription-based outlets is one that has gained momentum in recent years, with many outlets implementing monthly access limits to their online content before a subscription is required. Still, there is evidence that this practice of paywalls alone is not enough to ensure a sustainable business model for journalism.

In what could be considered a deep dive into unraveling these latest layoffs, journalism professor, Jeremy Littau, compiled a thread of Tweets in an attempt to provide context for the industry-wide crisis. Highlights include: the way profit margins of the 20th Century lead to newspaper chains taking on large debts, a lack of product innovation, the rise of the blogger in the ‘90s, decreasing circulations, and a loss of advertisers. In short, this problem did not start with the explosion of the Internet, though the introduction of digital media to the news landscape has only made matters more complex.

All these factors—and many more—have led us to our current moment: one where the news model needs to be fully reinvented. Subscriptions may help, but it is widespread investment in these institutions that are needed more than ever. The journalists who lost their jobs over the past week are talented, hardworking individuals who shed light on the critical information citizens need most. Journalism is essential to a healthy democracy, and it is imperative that a solution be found to continue the tradition of checking power.