Last week Buzzfeed, Gannett, and Verizon all revealed that they were making cuts to their media divisions in an effort to make them profitable. This is just the latest haymaker to hit the news industry within the last few years. Job losses that were once thought to just affect the print side, have begun pillaging those within the digital realm as well. One of the publications under the Gannett brand that experienced job cuts last week was The Record newspaper based in northern New Jersey. This hit me particularly hard as The Record was not only my local paper, but the place I interned at when I was 17-years-old.
The news industry has been taken its lumps for awhile, but last week felt different. In a matter of a few days, according to reports, more than 1,000 people had been let go from the companies listed above. These are people who have to find out where their next check is coming from, in an industry that seems to be shrinking every year.
Gannett had been buying up small and medium sized papers for years, essentially creating a conglomerate under one brand. It was a process not all that different from what’s happened to the music industry and individual radio stations. What were once privately held companies or papers owned by a family (like The Record used to be) were now under a brand with the hope of making them profitable. When that didn’t happen, layoffs ensued, further reducing newsroom numbers and making the publications that much weaker in their coverage. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. It’s a viscous cycle.
In regards to Verizon, they’re a special case, as unlike the other two companies in this article, they received a massive cash infusion this past year courtesy of congress. Yes, Verizon got over $4 billion in the form of tax cuts from last year’s congressional tax bill. So for those of you at home, not only did Verizon not hire people with their increased tax windfall, they let people go in the process. So much for trickle down economics.
Then there’s Buzzfeed. Within hours, a number of Buzzfeed’s former employees were tweeting that they had been let go. To make matters worse, Buzzfeed was not paying out P.T.O. for the staff they just laid off. In essence, people who had saved up their vacation time by not actually going on vacations and instead doing work for Buzzfeed, weren’t going to get that time paid out to them. Buzzfeed later relented and switched course, after a massive social media backlash.
All this brings me back to my local newspaper, The Record. Before I thought I could do film, I planned on being a journalist. Interning at The Record allowed me to see the hard work journalists do everyday to not only uncover stories, but keep all of us informed. It was there where I learned the importance of backing up your words with not only research and facts, but by providing context and nuance as well.
I interned at The Record newspaper in 2004 and again in 2006. Even back then, there were signs that that trouble was on the doorstep. The paper was sold. There were budget cuts. The building I worked in as a teenager, today is lifeless and abandoned as The Record downsized and moved to a new location. Many of the people who taught me the ins and outs of the industry have long since moved on.
I can still remember the head editor at the time saying they were still working on figuring out how to manage advertising and revenue streams via the internet. At the time this was 2004 and Facebook didn’t exist beyond Harvard, and Google was just still a search engine. As The Record like Buzzfeed, Gannett, and so many other online based media companies have realized, the advertising revenue never amounted to as much as they thought it would and print media advertisements don’t provide the same dollars they once did. So where does that leave journalism in 2019? That’s a very good question with sadly, no definitive answers at this point.