Times executives said this year that they did not anticipate — but would not rule out — the news staff shrinking in 2009, except through attrition. In fact, when employees took a 5 percent pay cut for most of this year, it was meant to forestall any staff reductions. But hopes for a year-end turnaround in the newspaper business have faded.
Third-quarter results reported in the last few days by the Gannett Company and the McClatchy Company indicate that the industry’s steep drop in advertising barely slowed in the third quarter. The New York Times Company will report its results for the quarter on Thursday. The ad slump has caused newspapers to consider charging readers for online content, a topic of heated debate within The Times this year.
“I won’t pretend that these staff cuts will not add to the burdens of journalists whose responsibilities have grown faster than their compensation,” Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, wrote in a note to his staff. He added, “Like you, I yearn for the day when we can do our jobs without looking over our shoulders for economic thunderstorms.”
The paper has made much deeper reductions in other departments than it has in the newsroom, but the advertising drop pummeling the industry has forced cuts in the news operation as well. Besides the staff pay cut, the newsroom has eliminated some sections of the paper and lowered its budgets for freelancers.
In addition to the newsroom cuts, The Times said Monday that it would offer buyouts to Newspaper Guild-represented employees in other departments, including advertising. But the paper says it is not seeking to eliminate a specific number of jobs among those workers.
The Times’s news department peaked at more than 1,330 employees before the last round of cuts. The current number of workers is about 1,250; no other American newspaper has more than about 750.
Nearly all metropolitan papers have been cutting their news operations for years, and some have fewer than half as many people in their newsrooms as they did a few years ago. The Los Angeles Times has dropped to about 600 news employees, from more than 1,200; The Washington Post to about 700, from more than 900; and The Boston Globe, which is owned by the Times Company, to close to 300, from well over 500.
The Times will mail buyout packages to the entire newsroom staff on Thursday. The employees have 45 days to decide whether to apply for the buyout. Under the Newspaper Guild contract that covers most newsroom employees, buyouts generally offer three weeks’ salary for each year of service; nonunion employees are offered two weeks for each year.
In a question-and-answer session with Jill Abramson and John Geddes, the managing editors of The Times, several newsroom employees asked about the possibility of using another pay cut, furloughs, part-time work or other measures to avoid layoffs, but Mr. Geddes said such steps could not address the paper’s financial problems in the long term.
He said there was no plan for distributing the cuts among news departments or job descriptions — termination decisions, he said, could be largely dictated by who applies for buyouts.
The announcement and staff meeting came before the close of market trading. Shares in the Times Company rose 5 percent during the trading day and fell slightly after hours.
Also on Monday, Gannett reported third-quarter net income of $73.8 million, down from $158.1 million a year earlier. The company’s newspaper ad revenue fell 28.4 percent in the quarter, an improvement from the 33.1 percent decline over the first half of the year. That was similar to the 28.1 percent drop that McClatchy reported last week.
Industrywide, ad revenue fell 28.6 percent in the first half of this year, and analysts and industry executives recently predicted that the pace of decline would slow to 25 percent or less in the third quarter. The reports from Gannett and McClatchy, two of the largest publishers, suggest that such estimates were a little too optimistic.