Newspaper jobs at 15-year low. A Harbinger of things to come.

U.S. media employment in December fell to a 15-year low (886,900), slammed by the slumping newspaper industry. But employment in advertising/marketing-services — agencies and other firms that provide marketing and communications services to marketers — broke a record in November (769,000). Marketing consulting strongly lead that growth.

Companies still invest in marketing, but they have more options now such: digital initiatives, direct marketing, promotions and events, just to name a few. That creates more opportunities for consultants to help define strategies.

Meanwhile, dissident shareholder Harbinger Capital Partners has increased its stake in newspaper publishing company New York Times Co. to 11.8 percent, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Tuesday. The Harbinger investors are going to take control and eventually do away with the two-tier stock that gives all the voting rights to the elitist family while they spend the investors money on global trips and penthouse condos.
Harbinger, working together with Firebrand Partners founder Scott Galloway, a New York University business professor, has criticized the Times for not aggressively building up its digital businesses.

The investors have nominated four candidates for election to the board at the Times’ annual shareholder meeting on April 22.

On Tuesday, Harbinger reported owning 16.9 million shares of the New York-based publishing company. Earlier this month, Harbinger disclosed that it had raised its stake to more than 10 percent from 5 percent.

Ad agencies also have evolved, expanding beyond simply creating and placing ads. Indeed, Ad Age DataCenter research has shown that U.S. marketing-communications agencies collectively in 2005 for the first time generated less than half of their revenue from traditional media and media planning/buying.

Falling stocks

Marketing consultancies over the past year added 14,500 jobs (up 10.8%), nearly matching staff cuts at newspapers (down 16,900 or 4.7%), reported in AdAge.

Funny, that’s what I am, a marketing consultant now.

Meanwhile, back at the Bay Area newspapers the staff of the left over Knight-Ridder papers that were bought by the fire sale specialists, Dean Singleton’s Media News Group. The publisher told the entire staff that this is the first time the Contra Costa Times lost money since 1991, again about 15 years ago. Isn’t that something?

So we’re announcing today that we’re extending to all employees a one-time voluntary separation opportunity, commonly known as a buy-out. Everyone except Operating Directors and me will get the opportunity to apply for a buy-out. Each of you will have the opportunity to apply. We are distributing a packet with all the details. If you don’t get one within 24 hours, by 2 p.m. Wednesday, please contact your department manager or Human Resources.

Here are some of the things I hope you’ll keep in mind as you review the buy-out information:

Your getting a packet is not in any way a reflection on your performance or value to the company. Everyone is getting a packet.

Announcements regarding the need to reduce costs also were made this afternoon in San Jose, at the Mercury News, and in San Ramon, at the Shared Services Center. This is a BANG-wide effort.

This program is part of a general cost reduction program. We also will be taking other steps unrelated to our compensation costs to bring down operating expenses. We’ll have more to say later about these other steps, such as limiting days for inserting and reducing the size of the TV tab.

We are not announcing the number of job eliminations. For one thing, the number can change depending on who applies and is accepted for a buy-out. Second, we are seeking a dollar savings, not a reduction in a specific number of jobs. But I will say this: The number of jobs that will be eliminated will be significant. So each employee needs to give the buy-out opportunity full consideration.

Applying for a buy-out doesn’t mean you’ll get one. The decision whether or not to accept a buy-out application will be made by senior management based on our business needs.

If we do not get and accept enough buy-out applications to reach our cost savings goal, we will have to do involuntary layoffs. We won’t know where we stand on layoffs until after the buy-out acceptance deadline, which will be March 3rd. Very quickly thereafter, we will make a decision on layoffs.

To encourage employees to apply for a buy-out, the severance benefits for voluntary buy-outs are twice the severance benefits for involuntary layoffs. The severance payouts and benefits associated with buy-outs and layoffs are contained in the information packet.

These are very difficult times. They demand that we move quickly and decisively. It is easy to get discouraged, to wonder about the future of newspapers and companies like ours. Personally, I still believe in the power of newspapers and, specifically, the power of our newspapers and Web sites. We deliver the biggest media audience in the East Bay, and that will be the key to our growth in the future as we rebound from these economic challenges. And we will rebound.

The senior management team appreciates your understanding and continued dedication to moving us forward.

John Armstrong, President & Publisher

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One thought on “Newspaper jobs at 15-year low. A Harbinger of things to come.

  1. It seems odd to me that newspapers seem unable to figure out the real reason numbers are dropping — and it’s not just that the Internet is free. I do think that people are tired of the bias, but they’re also tired of the lame news. Pathetic, non-news stories make the front page, or something that has been repeated ad nauseum is run, while important national stories aren’t covered well, if at all. Plus the writing has declined, on the whole. For example, for food reviews, my local papers (Chicago Tribune and Sun Times) both have much less interesting, less researched, less reliable, and less literary food reporting than our top local food chat site.

    Of course, this isn’t a new problem. My current favorite quote is from Thomas Jefferson: “The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

    You hit the nail right on the head. Well said. I love the Jefferson quote.

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