Monday, September 21, 2009

Pink slips piling up

The running tally of layoffs at Paper Cuts, the unofficial keeper of stats on personnel cuts made by U.S. newspaper companies, today stands at 13,637+ for 2009. (The plus is for cuts the blog classifies as "unknown": layoffs have occurred, but an exact number isn't available.)

At the pace seen during some months this year -- 2,000 layoffs or more -- the count could easily surpass all of 2008, when, according to Paper Cuts, newspapers laid off at least 15,977 workers, including reporters and other news department folks, advertising salespeople, and printing and delivery personnel.

More and more newspapers have closed this year, or they've shifted to online only, laying off most of the staff needed to produce the printed paper.

January, March and July were particularly gruesome months, according to the Paper Cuts numbers, which are assembled from industry tipsters or announcements from the affected papers (or their market competitors).

I was particularly interested in July, when I was laid off, and scrolling through the numbers was amazed by the rash of cuts that came mid-month. Gannett Co. Inc., parent of USA Today and 84 other daily newspapers (as well as 23 TV stations and 850 non-daily publications), kept showing up as owner of this paper or that with a handful of layoffs here, 50 there, 85 here and 100 there.

In all, I counted 1,055 Gannett layoffs in July, a third of them reported on the Paper Cuts roster for July 15 and 16 alone. (The Paper Cuts data are arranged by date.) The total layoffs I counted on the Paper Cuts site was 2,732 that month.

(On July 15, says Gannettoid, a blog for employees that tracks Gannett layoffs, the company posted a profit in the second quarter ended June 30, but not because ad revenue was suddenly improving. Rather, the profit came by cutting expense through layoffs, furloughs and wage cuts.)

It's well-known that newspaper companies are in trouble, and a number of publicly traded ones have filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors. Editor & Publisher, the industry trade magazine, last week posted an Associated Press update on the cases that have made headlines.

But for some really mind-boggling numbers, take a look at a new report from the alliance known as UNITY: Journalists of Color Inc. The group's 2009 Layoff Tracker Report says that since the collapse of Lehman Brothers a year ago, 35,885 jobs have been lost in the news industry (print and broadcast) -- "almost three times the rate of jobs lost in the (overall) economy each month."

Sounds like a great time to be looking for a job in newspapers, doesn't it?

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