The media sector keeps taking it on the chin, with fresh rounds of layoffs landing in early 2024. In January alone, hundreds of jobs were cut at numerous outlets, as the media sector at large continues to contract across the spectrum. Here is a roundup of some recently announced layoffs in the media space:

  • The Los Angeles Times laid off 20% of its newsroom in January.
  • NBC News and MSNBC laid off around 75 employees in January.
  • Sports Illustrated laid off most of its staff (around 100) after it failed to pay licensing fees to its parent company in January.
  • Time laid off 15% of its staff, or roughly 30 employees, in January.
  • Business Insider CEO Barbara Peng announced a staff reduction of 8% in January.
  • Forbes reduced its staff by 3% in late January.
  • TechCrunch laid off a handful of staffers and is going to end its paid subscription options.
  • The Messenger, a news startup, shut down entirely at the beginning of February after less than a year in operation, leaving more than 300 employees jobless.
  • The Wall Street Journal let 20 staff members go at its Washington, D.C., bureau in early February.
  • CBS News also cut 20 jobs at its D.C. bureau in early February, as a larger round of 800 cuts at Paramount.
  • The Intercept laid off 15 staff members, including its editor-in-chief, in mid-February.
  • NowThis cut half of its editorial team in mid-February, a loss of 26 jobs.
  • BuzzFeed sold one of its sub-brands, Complex, this week, and subsequently announced a 16% reduction in staff. This comes after shuttering its entire news division last year.
  • Vice Media will stop publishing on Vice.com and will lay off hundreds, per recent reports.

Data supplied to Fast Company from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement firm that tracks layoffs and other data points, shows that the media sector (including news, film, television, and streaming) shed 836 jobs in January.

And for 2023 as a whole, more than 21,400 media jobs were lost, the highest (excluding 2020) since 2009, when more than 22,300 jobs were cut, and 2008, when 28,800 or so jobs were cut—both in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis and Great Recession. 

For comparison, less than 4,000 media jobs were cut in both 2022 and 2021, so the uptick during 2023 is evident. Extrapolating January’s data out across all of 2024, and the media sector could lose an estimated 10,000 jobs this year.

Additionally, the data shows that 3,087 jobs were cut in the “digital, print, and broadcast” news subset of the media sector in 2023, the highest since 2018, excluding 2020.

And this year is shaping up to be even worse: As of the end of January, there were already 528 news layoffs—higher than last January’s 360 jobs. Given the news from Vice Media and others this month, it’s possible that the uptick could continue in February

Another element to keep in mind is that 2024 is also an election year—a year during which media companies may typically beef their staff numbers up. Early this year, that doesn’t appear to be happening, although the trend could reverse in the months ahead.

Why the news media is struggling

While 2023 and early 2024 have certainly been grim for the news and media industry, it’s nothing the sector isn’t necessarily accustomed to, according to Gabriel Kahn, professor of professional practice of journalism at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and a former newspaper correspondent and editor. 

“In a way, what we’re seeing is a cluster of headlines that are the consequence of a problem that’s been happening for ages,” Kahn says. Overall, the media is grappling with—and has been grappling with for decades now—finding a sustainable business model, and clawing money back from Big Tech firms that not only hoovered up advertising dollars but also trained generations of people to expect content for free.

“It’s an industry that was built off of two major revenue streams: advertising and subscriptions,” Kahn says. “For more than 20 years now, Big Tech has drafted a blueprint of the business plan for the news media, and that’s never worked out for the news media.” 

He adds that changes to search algorithms and social media platforms are also reducing traffic to news sites, hurting them further, but effectively amounting to “one more cut in a patient that’s hemorrhaging.”

What can the news media can do to fix itself? There is no simple answer, although some news organizations are finding success and scale in the 2020s.

Some globally recognized newspaper brands like the New York Times have managed to stay profitable, largely by growing their paid digital subscription base and diversifying their non-news offerings, such as games, while the biggest cable news networks still attract a lot of eyeballs and ad revenue. But it’s the smaller, more specialized, or locally focused media outlets that are in more serious trouble.

Still, Kahn says that he’s “optimistic” about evolving or new business models (newsletters have proven successful for some brands, for example) and locally focused outlets that may find their footing in a changing media environment.

For now, subscriptions, advertising dollars, and even donations are still keeping traditional news outlets afloat, but many are increasingly operating with skeleton crews.

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