Media Winter Redux: The Daily Dies; Downsizing at The New York Times

ipad-the-daily-2 (1)It didn’t feel much like winter.

It was balmy: 60 degrees and sunny. The holiday decorations felt out of place in the mild breeze. But the frost was creeping in—media winter (as foreshadowed in October by the fall of Newsweek) was in full swing by 9 a.m. on the first Monday in December.

First came the announcement that The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s foray into iPad journalism, was being shuttered after less than two years and many millions of dollars. The news wasn’t wholly unexpected. A third of the staff had been laid off over the summer, and a sense of doom and gloom had hung over the ninth floor of News Corp. HQ ever since. It was a matter of when, not if, the tablet app would disband. But, as with any death watch, just because it’s expected doesn’t make it any less humbling.

The Daily debuted to great fanfare in 2011. It was heralded as Rupert’s pet project and named after Clark Kent’s Daily Planet. But just as Superman recently lost interest in journalism, so too apparently did The Daily’s readers. The app amassed only 100,000 subscribers.
There was small solace in the official memo—some of The Daily’s 100 or so remaining staffers would join editor in chief Jesse Angelo over at The New York Post, where he will take over as the tabloid’s publisher. “Technology and other assets from The Daily, including some staff, will be folded into The Post,” said the News Corp. press release.
Richard Johnson, The New York Post’s former Page Six czar, was one such enfolded asset. Mr. Johnson made the high-profile jump out West to head up The Daily’s Los Angeles bureau back in 2011. “The Daily, the newspaper for the iPad we launched nearly two years ago, will stop publishing Dec. 15. I am now working for the New York Post,” Mr. Johnson explained on his Facebook page. There was no word on whether Mr. Johnson would return to Page Six, although a spokesperson said the scribe would stay in L.A.
But there were precious few announcements from such survivors. Most Daily staffers found themselves with spare time on their hands. Fortunately they got to keep their office iPads.
Then, even before the morning lines had died down at Starbucks, The New York Times announced that it was trimming the newsroom fat.
“As we all know, these are financially challenging times,” publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wrote in an icy staff email. “While our digital subscription plan has been successful, the advertising climate remains volatile and we don’t see this changing in the near future, None of this is easy in these difficult times. Thank you all for your courage, your talent and your commitment to fulfilling our mission. You will be hearing more from your managers.”
Employees were invited to take voluntary buyouts. Or else … layoffs. Inevitable layoffs.
“I hope the needed savings can be achieved through voluntary buyouts but if not, I will be forced to go to layoffs among the excluded staff,” executive editor Jill Abramson wrote in a separate email to Times staff. “I expect that I will have to reduce the excluded staff by about 30 positions.”
But the Newspaper Guild, which just accepted a contract with the paper, wanted to extend the opportunity for buyouts to its members.
“The Newspaper Guild has asked that we offer Guild employees in the newsroom the opportunity to apply for buyouts. Among Guild employees, we are only looking for volunteers, for people who might see this offering as advantageous at this time,” Ms. Abramson wrote. “If you are interested in a severance payout, and leaving The Times, we invite you to pick up a copy of the guild package.”
The cold wafted through the newsroom.
The downsizing news at least gave new Times CEO Mark Thompson one more reason to be glad he had postponed his town hall meetings. Mr. Thompson has not had the smoothest transition into his new job, after all. The BBC Newsnight scandal followed the former BBC director across the Atlantic, raising questions both inside and outside the Times newsroom.
As Off the Record previously reported, Mr. Thompson planned to address the questions in town hall meetings on December 17 and 18. But, even before the cost-cutting news, Mr. Thompson announced he was pushing back the customary meet-and-greets to 2013. “I wanted to address questions about it at the Town Halls once the enquiry was out and all the facts were known,” Mr. Thompson wrote in a memo to staff. “It now turns out that Nick Pollard [who is in charge of the BBC enquiry] will not submit his report at the end of November as originally planned but some weeks later. As a result, I believe it makes sense to move the Town Halls to early in the new year.”
Hopefully, the thaw will have begun by then. Or at least temperatures will stabilize. For now, we are stocking up on long underwear.