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The enduring allure of conspiracies
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May 15, 2020, 12:59 p.m.
Business Models

“Prior assumptions about our business no longer apply”: Cuts pile up at Vice, Quartz, The Economist, BuzzFeed, and Condé Nast

And that was just this week.

Hundreds of journalism jobs — primarily, though not exclusively, at digital media outlets — were cut this week, piling up alongside thousands of other media job losses that have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic (and joining the more than 20.5 million jobs that have been lost in the U.S. since April).

Vice announced Friday that it’s laying off 55 employees in the U.S. today and about 100 more globally “over the coming weeks.” “The reality is that some tough decisions had to be made around our digital teams,” Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc wrote in a memo to staffers. “Currently, our digital organization accounts for around 50 percent of our headcount costs, but only brings in about 21 percent of our revenue.”

Quartz — owned by Japanese media business company Uzabase — announced Thursday that it is laying off 80 employees, almost half its staff (it had 188 employees as of the end of 2019), and is closing its offices in London, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and Washington, while also trying to find ways to reduce its rent in New York.

In a memo to staff, Quartz CEO Zach Seward said that while Quartz had 17,680 paying subscribers as of the end of April — not bad at all since it launched its paywall just a year ago — “advertising accounts for the bulk of our revenue, and that business has been hit very hard by the effects of coronavirus. Even after the pandemic recedes, the likely recession to follow could hurt ad revenue for years to come. Prior assumptions about our business no longer apply.” (Seward said he’s cutting his own salary by 50 percent for the rest of the year, “and the rest of our executive team — Katie Weber, Tomo Ota, and Katherine Bell — are voluntarily cutting their salaries by 20%, as well.”)

The Economist is laying off 90 employees (from a workforce of 1,300). None of those jobs were on the editorial side, according to Talking Biz News.

BuzzFeed announced another 20 positions would be put on furlough, though The Guardian reported that furloughed staff are “highly unlikely” to return.

The changes mean BuzzFeed UK office is dropping its coverage of UK news — though will continue to report on matters of “global interest” including, apparently, celebrity coverage — and the Australia office has been closed entirely.

Condé Nast — the magazine publishing group once known as “the Vogue company” that also includes Wired, GQ, Architectural Digest, Teen Vogue, and its biggest earner, The New Yorker, among others — has laid off about 100 staffers and furloughed another 100.

The company is providing severance packages to laid off employees and will cover healthcare premiums for those who have been furloughed. At the start of 2020, Condé Nast had about 6,000 employees worldwide.

At one point, an editor (and 2018 Nieman Fellow) said she wished she was in a position to hire her former Wired colleagues — but she’d been been laid off herself from Protocol in an earlier round of layoffs attributed to coronavirus.

Photo of scissors by Kevin Doncaster used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     May 15, 2020, 12:59 p.m.
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