The Guardian’s ‘digital-first’ push means ‘significant’ layoffs, editor-in-chief says

Dylan Stableford
The Cutline

When the Guardian newspaper announced last week that it would pursue a "digital-first" strategy, editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger assured his staff that it "doesn't mean getting out of print." He did, however, caution that the new digital push "does require a greater focus of attention, imagination and resources on the various forms that digital future is likely to take."

It will also require "significant" layoffs, Rusbridger said on Wednesday.

"Yes, we will need to lose some people and will try to do it in a voluntary way," Rusbridger told BBC Radio. "We will need to lose significant numbers but we don't need to do it tomorrow. We can do it over the next couple of years and have a civilized conversation about that."

He said the company needs "to reduce the cost base" in order to hire more digital developers, as it has watched its print advertising revenue recede.

Rusbridger said the company is looking to save £25 million (or $40.3 million) by 2016. Guardian News & Media, which publishes the Guardian and Observer newspapers and several websites, employs roughly 1,500 total staffers and about 630 journalists. Its newspapers lost an estimated £33 million ($53.2 million) in 2010.

As The Cutline previously reported, Rusbridger intends to go ahead with the launch of a U.S. website with a newsroom staff 20 to 30 editors, reporters, bloggers and web developers. It appears, however, that the launch of the New York-based site will cost the Guardian jobs in the U.K.; according to the Guardian, "any new initiatives would have to be paid for from existing budgets."

The Guardian, of course, is not alone in shedding newspaper staffers. Gannett announced on Tuesday that it would have to lay off 700 employees, or about 2 percent of its U.S. workforce.

"The economic recovery is not happening as quickly or favorably as we had hoped," Bob Dickey, Gannett's U.S. community publishing division president, wrote in a memo to staffers.

Andrew Miller, GNM's chief executive, clearly knows the feeling. "Doing nothing was not an option," Miller said.