NEW YORK -- The New York Times will offer voluntary buyout packages to members of its newsroom and several business departments in order to reduce costs, Times management informed staff Wednesday.
"As everyone knows, we’re living through a period of incredible change in the news business," began the memo from publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chief executive Mark Thompson, executive editor Dean Baquet and editorial page editor James Bennet.
The Times' top brass touted the news organization's successes, including now having "almost two-and-a-half million paying subscribers in 193 countries." The Times has significantly innovated, they noted, by expanding into new forms of storytelling, video and virtual reality.
But, they wrote, "like the rest of the industry, we face long-term pressure in both print and traditional digital display advertising." The Times is looking to double its digital revenue and more than double its audience by 2020 -- goals that they say require more investment. And to pay for such investment, they wrote, the paper has to reduce costs.
While no newsroom layoffs are currently planned, management said they "cannot rule them out in the future."
The Times maintains a robust, 1,300-plus newsroom, which is roughly the same head count as eight years ago and a rarity in an industry that's dramatically downsized. Several well-known bylines were lost when the Times last offered newsroom-wide buyouts in 2014 in an attempt to cut 100 jobs. The company was forced to lay off around 20 people in early 2015 after not hitting its voluntary goal.
In a separate memo Wednesday, Times senior editor Janet Elder wrote that buyout packages would be extended to all newsroom staffers of more than three years, whether or not they're represented by the paper's employee guild. However, newsroom staffers who work in video, graphics and digital design are not eligible, she wrote.
The buyout announcement comes five days after Baquet told staffers that no newsroom layoffs were expected in 2016, an assurance given amid rumors of significant cutbacks.
"I also know there is anxiety about cuts," Baquet said in a memo Friday. "While no layoffs are planned in the newsroom for this calendar year, the company is planning other measures to cut costs, including in the newsroom."
The New York Post reported in April that the Times Company -- which also includes the business side of the operation -- was "preparing to lay off a few hundred staffers in the second half of the year." Days later, The Times announced it was closing its editing and print operations in Paris, resulting in "the elimination or relocation of up to 70 jobs."
The Times' management acknowledged Wednesday that the buyout process is a difficult one, but stressed its necessity.
"We have gone through this buyout exercise before, and we know that it is not easy," they wrote. "But we believe this is necessary for The New York Times to continue as the most ambitious news organization in the world.
Read the memos below:
As everyone knows, we’re living through a period of incredible change in the news business. That change has created great opportunity for The New York Times. Thanks to the quality and impact of our journalism and digital products, our audience is bigger than ever. With almost two-and-a-half million paying subscribers in 193 countries, we’ve built the largest and most successful digital news consumer business in the world. We have also made great progress with innovations in digital advertising, including our new suite of mobile ad products and our fast-growing branded content business. And we’re now recognized as a trailblazer in new forms of reporting and storytelling, with breakthroughs in VR, video and other forms of visual journalism.
But there are real challenges as well. Like the rest of the industry, we face long-term pressure in both print and traditional digital display advertising. More fundamentally though, if we are to deliver on the goals of Our Path Forward by doubling our digital revenue and more than doubling our audience of committed digital readers by 2020, we need to invest heavily in our digital future.
In order to make essential investments while preserving our financial health, we need to do everything we can to contain and - where we can - reduce our costs.
Last week Dean wrote to the newsroom with an update on the 2020 project. Teams in other parts of the company are also at work developing plans for the future. These plans will no doubt lead to new initiatives and investments. At the same time, we will also need to make tough decisions about what to stop doing. Wherever we can reduce costs without damaging the values, and value, of Times journalism, we will do so.
At the end of the month, we plan to open up a voluntary buyout program in the newsroom and other select departments on the business side. Packages will be distributed electronically to all eligible employees on May 31.
A buyout won’t be appealing for everyone. For most, satisfaction with their job or excitement about new possibilities afforded by the changing nature of our business will be powerful reasons to stay. For others, inevitable change is unsettling and accepting a buyout at this time might make sense --- everyone here should be excited about creating The New York Times of the future. As always, we reserve the right to turn down buyout requests.
While we are not announcing layoffs today, our need to reduce costs means that we cannot rule them out in the future. We have gone through this buyout exercise before, and we know that it is not easy. But we believe this is necessary for The New York Times to continue as the most ambitious news organization in the world.
If you have questions about any of this, please reach out to one of us or talk to your supervisor.
Arthur, Mark, Dean and James on behalf of the executive committee
To the Staff:
Earlier today, Dean and the company's leadership announced The Times would be offering employees the opportunity to apply for buyouts.
In the newsroom, this offer will be extended to all employees who have been newsroom staff members for three years or more — both Guild represented employees and excluded staff. People who work in Video, Graphics and Digital Design will not be eligible.
We are looking for volunteers, for people who might see this offering as fitting in with their long-term plans and working to their financial advantage.
While we cannot guarantee we will be able to accept every applicant — some job functions are too critical to our enterprise at this time — we will entertain as many applicants as possible.
As you know, The Times is currently in negotiations with the Guild on a new contract. While we are in discussions with the Guild over the final details for this buyout, the general offer will be as follows:
For Guild staffers:
- Less than six years of service — the buyout payment is 15 times the employee's weekly base salary as of the effective date of the offer.
- Six or more years of service, but less than 11 years of service — the buyout is 30 times the employee's weekly base salary as of the effective date of the offer.
- 11 or more years of service, but less than 35 years of service — the buyout is three times the employee's weekly base salary as of the effective date of the offer multiplied by the employee's complete years of service.
- 35 or more years of service — the buyout is two times the total earnings reported on the staffer's line 1 of 2015 Form W-2.
In addition, Guild staffers who qualify and are accepted for the buyout will receive company-paid COBRA of four months for those with less than 11 years of service, and eight months for those with 11 or more years of service.
For Excluded staffers the terms are:
- For eligible excluded staffers, the buyout payment is one week of pay for every six months of service, with a minimum of four weeks and a maximum of 52 weeks. In addition, excluded staffers who qualify and are accepted for the buyout may elect to continue their health benefits at their current contribution rate for the duration of the severance period.
All eligible staff should receive the buyout packet in their email on May 31, the day the buyout period opens. As you will read, the last day you can apply for a buyout is July 15.
[Employee contacts and phone numbers removed]