The L.A. Times has furloughed 40 staffers and issued pay cuts for some nonunion managers who remain, the New York Times reported Tuesday, as the paper’s top publishing executive warned of “unprecedented” declines in revenue, particularly from advertising.
The paper’s union confirmed some of the details of the unpaid furloughs for members of the business staff, which will last up to 16 weeks and include the suspension of 401k contributions. “While they are not in our union, they are our co-workers and friends, and it is through no fault of their own that extraordinary circumstances have interrupted the essential work they do,” the L.A. Times Guild said in a statement.
In a memo to staff, Chris Argentieri, president of the publishing company that owns the L.A. Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, blamed the financial fallout of the coronavirus for the cuts. “The decline in revenue from every area of our business is unprecedented. Due to the unexpected effects of COVID-19, our advertising revenue has nearly been eliminated,” he wrote. “While we’ve made significant progress in growing our digital subscriber base and developing other sources of revenue, it is not yet enough to offset the losses. The economy is in crisis and it’s become clear that we need to make some difficult changes in order to meet this challenge.”
The guild highlighted not only the challenges facing the media industry during the coronavirus pandemic, but the importance of the work done by those in it.
“Journalism needs help, and not just in Los Angeles,” the statement went on. “Tens of thousands of local journalists across the country have lost their jobs, seen their pay slashed or been forced to temporarily stop working at the exact moment public interest in their work — and the importance of accurate information — has never been greater.”
Argentieri, too, mentioned the vital nature of the paper’s staff, writing in his memo, “It’s difficult to capture in words the challenges we are all facing, both personally and professionally. Despite the challenges, we’ve continued to produce world-class journalism that fulfills our mission to inform, engage and empower our communities, at a critical time. I have nothing but respect, admiration and gratitude for all of your efforts, across the entire organization.”
The L.A. Times has continued to struggle along with the rest of the newspaper industry even with new investment from billionaire biomedical entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, who bought the paper for $500 million in 2018.
The staff cuts come as more local media outlets are contracting even more quickly amid the pandemic: St. Louis’ Riverfront Times laid off nearly its entire staff last month because of dwindling advertising and a loss of revenue from now-canceled events. California’s Monterey County Weekly, meanwhile, laid off one-third of its staff. C&G Newspapers, a Michigan publishing group, suspended the publication of 19 of its print papers, while D.C.’s Metro Weekly and Las Vegas’ Gaming Today suspended their print editions. And Pennsylvania’s Trib Total Media laid off staffers and combined two Pittsburgh-area editions in what president Jennifer Bertetto called “a temporary adjustment in reaction to extraordinary circumstances.”
Even before the pandemic began, many local papers had struggled to stay afloat following “deep cuts in staffing, in circulation and in advertising,” said Joshua Benton, the director of Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab. According to a 2018 study done by the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, almost 1,800 local papers have shut down since 2004.