(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The COVID-19 crisis in journalism is making inroads into the businesses of some of the biggest and most secure titles in the global media.

Names such as The Economist, Conde Nast and the Financial Times have been announcing job cuts and pay freezes, and smaller digital players have joined BuzzFeed with cuts of their own — Quartz and Vice both cut jobs last week.

All up nearly 400 jobs were lost just last week, and a 100 or more sent on leave, possibly never to return if business conditions don’t improve quickly. Hundreds of managers had bonuses and pay cut amid warnings of multi-million dollar revenue gaps.

There have been no job losses at the Financial Times which revealed its second round of cuts in a month last week with CEO, John Ridding revealing in a staff memo that it was cutting spending on non-staff contributors and making further reductions to pay and working hours.  

All non-editorial staff on the FT earning £50,000 or more a year will lose 10% or more in both working hours and salary from July 1 until the end of the year “at the latest”, according to the memo.

Ridding said the FT had gained 50,000 new digital subscribers in the past two months, with high levels of website engagement. Its newspapers had a daily readership of 1.1 million people, he said. With daily sales of just over 146,300 in March (down 16% in the past year), the FT has around 950,000 digital subs.

In its April statement the paper revealed that the Japanese owner Nikkei had agreed to guarantee all jobs at the FT this year, but cuts and other savings had to be made.

Ridding told staff in April that “even if economic activity rebounds later in the year, we still face a revenue gap that stretches into double-digit millions and which we need to manage”. That’s a story every media company — legacy and digital — is now sharing.

The big shock though was at The Economist where 90 non-journalist staff will lose their jobs. That’s 7% of its 1300 staff, and the first job cuts in the top tier of global English-language print media (The FT, Economist, New York Times, Washington Post, The Times and Sunday Times and the Wall Street Journal).

The other top-tier papers have all reportedly introduced cost controls, accelerated staff holidays, shorter working weeks, and bonus and executive pay cuts.

Life has been made tougher for The Economist by its system of central publishing. As airlines have slashed services (especially Singapore Air and Qantas), its distribution has been disrupted. For example, it prints in Singapore and flies print copies each Friday into other Asian capitals as well as Sydney and Auckland. That has also impacted the delivery of subscriptions as well in these markets.

The Economist’s cuts were made across events, its client solutions business and the marketing communications agency TVC, with no cuts made to editorial. Executives took voluntary pay cuts. Its bimonthly print lifestyle magazine 1843 will go digital-only beginning with the August/September issue. That move was planned before the eruption of the pandemic because it was not performing.

Vice cut 55 US staff and 100 outside the US just days after BuzzFeed News closed its UK and Australian newsrooms with the loss of more than 20 jobs.

Quartz slashed its staff by nearly 50% by getting rid of 88 jobs on Friday.

Conde Nast (which owns The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue and Wired) revealed a second round of cuts last week, sacking 100 staff and sending another 100 on enforced leave. In April Conde Nast revealed wholesale pay cuts and job hiring freezes across all of the group.

The future of the New York Daily News is up in the air with its owner Tribune Publishing expected to report a big loss this Friday. Tribune Publishing also owns the Chicago Tribune and the Baltimore Sun, among other publications. Last week Tribune Publishing and the main journalists’ union agreed to send all unionised Chicago Tribune newsroom employees on holidays to save more than US$40,000 over three weeks.