Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another tough year for newspapers

Erica Smith, the unofficial keeper of vital statistics for the Fourth Estate in this country, has published some eye-opening 2009 data at her Paper Cuts blog:
  • 14,875+ jobs were lost through layoff and buyout at U.S. newspapers last year;
  • 143 papers stopped publishing print editions in 2009, although 13 stilll remain available online;
  • 34 newspapers tallied layoffs of 100 or more workers last year;
  • 40.7 newspaper folks, on average, lost their jobs each day last year.
The good news? The carnage wasn't as bad as Smith had expected. "The year started off with a lot of layoff announcements — so many that I was sure the 2009 total would easily top the 2008 layoff total ...," she says. But the final quarter of the year didn't see the same "onslaught" that 2008 did, which had pushed that year's total to 15,984.

(To put some of the numbers in perspective, using figures from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism, the workforce in American newsrooms ended 2008 at 46,700; the country had some 1,422 daily newspapers in 2007. Smith's numbers, though, also include weeklies.)

But, of course, there's bad news, too: Smith's layoff/buyout tracker already stands at 321+ just five days into 2010. (She says that's mostly due to her not counting a layoff or buyout until it takes effect.) Others also see some clouds on the horizon for the new year.

Rick Edmonds, a veteran print journalist who now follows the industry for The Poynter Institute at The Biz Blog, told Forbes.com in November that he expects layoffs to continue this year. "The math is that when you cut a bunch of reporters from your newsroom in June, that continues to show up as a savings in January," he said. "But if advertising revenues continue to fall, you will have to cut again. My prediction is that in the coming six to nine months, ad revenues will continue to fall and newspapers will be forced to cut yet again."

Alan Mutter, a former newspaperman who blogs at Reflections of a Newsosaur, also worries about newspaper ad revenue going forward, despite some publisher optimism and the recovery seen in stock prices last year. He's concerned papers may begin to outsource whole departments to keep their books in balance.

So we'd best buckle up for another bumpy ride this year.

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