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New York Times Could Lay Off as Many as Two Dozen if Buyout Offer Falls Short

The New York Times might have to lay off as many as two dozen newsroom staffers by the holidays.

Stuart Monk /

The New York Times is having a tough time financially — all newspapers are — and while its paywall has been a success, its growth is slowing. Meanwhile, its once mighty print empire is deteriorating year after year.

That’s partly what prompted Chairman Arthur Sulzberger and CEO Mark Thompson to trim staff last month, seeking 100 newsroom buyouts of the 1,330 journalists it currently employs.

So far, 29 people have applied for the exit and 14 have been accepted by management, according to two insiders. Applications, due Dec. 1, are still incoming, but based on an informal survey, the Times could fall short of its goal by as many as 25 to 30 positions, according to one person with knowledge of the matter. The Times could also be satisfied with less than 100 volunteers so long as the jobs being eliminated allow the Times to hit their financial goals.

We’ve asked the Times for comment, and we’ll update if we hear anything back.

If the publisher does have to fire people, it’ll do so between Dec. 16 and Dec. 19, just before the holidays, according to a source. In a staff-wide email sent yesterday by deputy executive editor Janet Elder, she said she expects some layoffs will happen, Mother Jones reported.

For those considering the buyout, people with 20 or more years at the paper will get at least three weeks of pay for every year they’ve been with the company, plus an additional 35 percent of that total figure, according to the union that represents newsroom staff. There are varying payouts for people with fewer years at the paper, which the union outlined here.

Floyd Norris, chief financial correspondent for the Times, announced he’ll be taking the buyout, according to Talking Biz News, after having been at the paper for over a quarter of a century. We’ve heard of a few other big-name bylines who are likely to take the buyout, but we’ll wait to hear back from them before we say so.

A big part of the reason for the cutbacks is that the paper’s new subscription strategy, based on the idea of multiple apps, isn’t working. The Times has already planned to shut down its NYTOpinion app, four months after it launched, because not enough people were buying subscriptions for the service, marketed at $6 a month.

And while the Times’ slimmed-down digital subscription app, NYT Now, will continue to operate, it hasn’t seen the adoption the company has hoped for, the Times has said. A food app and a real estate app, both of which recently launched, are free for now.

The situation for the Times could get more serious by the next year or so if it can’t figure out a way to increase sales, especially since it has sold off all its assets unrelated to the Times media brand. For now, it’s relying on digital ads and subscriptions for growth, which have been hard to come by.

The company expects fourth-quarter advertising — print and digital — to fall about four percent to five percent, while total circulation sales will increase around one to two percent. Translation: it’s financially stalled. And there aren’t any other levers the company can pull to boost sales. If the Times’ business is still dragging by this time next year, it’ll have to find another solution, which could include finding a buyer.

Meanwhile, as the staff buyout gets under way, some inside the company have cited the fact that the Times is still paying out a quarterly dividend to shareholders that costs the company about $24 million a year.

In February, Re/code’s Peter Kafka will have the chance to talk to CEO Mark Thompson at our Code/Media conference in Dana Point, Calif.

Updated: More detailed dates on when the Times may have to fire people if it doesn’t get enough buyout offers.

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