In 2018, media companies announced 15,474 job cuts, according to a report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas. That was 281% more cuts than in 2017, and it made 2018 the worst year of media layoffs since 2009.
For its report, Challenger defines the media industry as film, television, publishing, music, and broadcast and print news. But three quarters of those 15,474 jobs cut in 2018, or 11,878 of them, were from news organizations.
If it felt like 2018 was characterized by doom-and-gloom headlines about the media business, that’s because it was.
Vox Media announced it would cut 5% of its staff in February 2018. Gizmodo bought out 44 people, about 20% of its staff, in June 2018. New York Daily News cut half of its staff in July 2018. GOOD Media Group—the owner of Upworthy and GOOD Magazine—cut about 31 jobs in August 2018 and its editor-in-chief resigned, saying the layoffs hit “almost my entire team.” Iowa-based Meredith Corp. cut 200 employees in September 2018. Mic laid off 113 staffers—the majority of its staff—in November 2018.
Vice Media announced in November it would look to cut 15% of its workforce—it ended up cutting 10% in February. It also folded half of its many subject verticals.
Verizon Media Group (parent company of Yahoo Finance) announced 800 job cuts from its divisions including AOL, Huffington Post, and Yahoo. Conde Nast publications Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Glamour all cut a handful of writers in 2018.
McClatchy newspapers cut nearly 140 employees across the country. In October 2018, Gannett offered buyouts to staff age 55 and over with at least 15 years of experience at the Detroit Free Press; and a couple months later 10 people took buyouts at the Gannett-owned Record in Bergen County, N.J.
And perhaps most notably, BuzzFeed announced it would cut 15% of its workforce—its biggest round of layoffs in its history—and came under fire for initially not giving accrued PTO (paid time off) to the laid-off workers. The company eventually reversed course and agreed to pay it. BuzzFeed editorial staff voted to unionize this month following the brutal round of layoffs.
Many of these media jobs, says Challenger, Gray & Christmas VP Andrew Challenger, “were already in jeopardy due to a business model that tried to meet consumer demand for free news with ad revenue. As media outlets attempted to put news behind pay walls, in many markets, consumers opted not to pay. The result is a loss of great journalists, leading to more work for the few that remain.”
But Anna Jones, former CEO of Hearst UK, has a different take. She says a lot of the growing pains at legacy media companies aren’t just about a flawed business model, they’re cultural.
“These are usually large companies with entrenched cultures,” Jones says, “and it is hard to reframe a culture of innovation and disruption when you are still basing a declining print brand at the heart of what you do.”
2019 is already looking like it could be even worse. In January, media companies announced 1,279 job cuts, up 49.6% from the number announced in January of last year.
Max Zahn contributed to this story.
Daniel Roberts is a senior writer at Yahoo Finance covering media, sports and tech. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.