What media brand CEOs are saying about their companies' layoffs

The industry has been hit hard by a recent downswing in the economy

News Corp building
(Image credit: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The media and news business, like many other sectors, has been besieged by layoffs as the American economy continues to ebb and flow. The layoffs started at the end of 2022, and as Axios reported, have continued to loom large into 2023. Almost every aspect of the industry has been affected, the outlet noted, including online news, television media, and the continually fading print media business. The mass layoffs are partly a result of a "post-pandemic economy [that] has been much weirder than most people anticipated," The Atlantic reported, adding that the slump in media "is really a slowdown in advertising" that saw COVID-era growth halt. But what do the CEOs of these major companies have to say about the layoffs, and what does it mean for the future of these brands going forward?

Vox Media

Vox Media is the parent company behind massive brands like New York magazine, The Cut, The Verge, Vulture, and Intelligencer. However, the conglomerate faced a number of cuts, and it was announced that Vox would be laying off about 130 jobs, or seven percent of its workforce.

In an internal memo to staff obtained by Variety, Vox CEO Jim Bankoff said the layoffs were a result of "the challenging economic environment impacting our business and industry." Bankoff added that in the current economic climate, Vox was unable to "sustain projects and areas of the business that have not performed as anticipated," saying that the company needs "to scale back."

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In a Twitter post, the Vox Media Union reacted to the layoffs, saying it was "furious at the way the company has approached these layoffs, and are currently discussing how to best serve those who just lost their jobs." However, Bankoff seemed to think — at least from his memo — that the future of Vox may not be all doom and gloom, saying that he didn't expect further layoffs "at this time."

BuzzFeed

A large lifestyle conglomerate, BuzzFeed owns brands like Tasty and As/Is, and also runs hard news sites such as HuffPost and the eponymous BuzzFeed News. The organization was not immune to industry layoffs, and initially announced that it would be letting go of 15 percent of its workforce in order to "weather an economic downturn." However, then came the announcement that BuzzFeed News would be shutting down entirely, a shocking end for the one-time Pulitzer Prize-winning tentpole.

In a memo obtained by Ben Mullin of The New York Times, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti wrote that his company "can no longer continue to fund BuzzFeed News as a standalone organization." Peretti seemed to take much of the responsibility, noting that he made the decision to overinvest in the brand and "didn't hold the company to higher standards for profitability." Moving forward, Peretti said, BuzzFeed would invest in HuffPost as its main news-generating outlet.

Peretti also previously noted that the company was also completing its purchase of Complex Networks, a sports and hip-hop brand acquired by BuzzFeed in 2021. Peretti said that the layoffs were partially necessary to finalize the integration with Complex and "consolidate and centralize some areas where we've had duplication." This put BuzzFeed in the unique situation of reducing costs while also working to expand its profile.

Gannett

Gannett may not be a household name, but the outlets it publishes certainly are. The company owns USA Today and over 300 local newspapers, including the Indianapolis Star, Austin American-Statesman, Detroit Free Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and more. Amidst continuing economic woes, Gannett has laid off a total of 600 people since August 2022.

Gannett CEO Mike Reed announced a series of drastic measures to try and save the company money. Per Deadline, this included a mandatory one-week unpaid leave, as well as the suspension of 401K matches and a voluntary severance for those who wanted to leave the company.

These moves make it clear that Reed may have some apprehensions about the future of Gannett's newspapers, though he noted in an employee memo that the moves were "critical for our long-term success." The head of Gannett's British media arm, Newsquest, also blamed the economy, saying that the company's "news cost base is currently too high for the revenues it generates."

News Corp

Another lesser-known name with a large profile, News Corp owns Dow Jones & Company, which publishes The Wall Street Journal and Barron's, and is also the company behind British tabloids such as The Times and The Sun. The conglomerate announced plans to lay off five percent of its global workforce, about 1,250 jobs.

However, News Corp CEO Robert Thomson remained optimistic about the industry's future despite the massive layoffs, and blamed the cuts on a poor fourth quarter in 2022. "Obviously, a surge in interest rates and acute inflation had a tangible impact on all of our businesses," Thomson told employees, though he added that the changes were "more ephemeral than eternal."

News Corp's financial issues may have also been complicated by a potential merger with its sister company, Fox Corp. Chair Rupert Murdoch previously reneged on the massive deal, saying "a combination is not optimal for the shareholders" in the current economic environment.

Warner Bros. Discovery

Warner Bros. Discovery is probably most associated with its entertainment subsidiaries like HBO and DC Entertainment, but is also the parent company of CNN. However, as the conglomerate continues to gel with its recent merger with AT&T, Warner Bros. announced that it would shed staff in nearly every division.

According to Insider, CNN has eliminated 400 positions across the company, with CNN head Chris Licht calling it "a difficult time for everyone." HBO has lost 14 percent of its workforce, while other subsidiaries have seen divisional shrinks by up to 30 percent.

Warner Bros. CEO David Zaslav has reportedly searched for at least $3 billion in cost-cutting measures, in part due to necessity from the Discovery merger, and these layoffs represented a large chunk of that. However, it may be that the employee exodus is coming to an end, with Warners CFO Gunnar Wiedenfels saying that the layoff frenzy would be over in 2023. This could mean that Warner Bros., like many other media companies, has faith that the business will get back to its winning ways in the coming years.

NPR

National Public Radio has been a staple of the media landscape for half a century. However, even it is not immune to the woes of the economy, as NPR announced that it would be laying off around 100 people and closing most vacant positions. While this figure may seem small, it still amounts to nearly 10 percent of NPR's workforce. The company also canceled four of its signature podcasts.

In a memo obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, NPR CEO John Lansing said the layoffs were necessary as the company was projecting "increasing costs and no sign of a quick revenue rebound." Lansing seemed to insinuate that NPR was at an inflection point, adding that NPR had "reached a point where we can no longer protect all jobs" and was projecting a $20 million shortfall due to sponsorship losses, despite previously cutting $14 million in spending costs.

The job cuts and vacancy closings will help keep NPR afloat, Lansing said, because at least 65 percent of the brand's budget is put toward personnel costs. "We will go through this process as we have with other major organizational developments in recent years, with as much compassion, respect, and dignity as we can," Lansing added. The CEO's memo is perhaps the most pessimistic view yet of the media layoffs.

Disney

Even the Mouse House is not safe from layoffs — in March, Disney began cutting the 7,000 jobs it announced plans to shed earlier this year.

In a memo obtained by CNN, recently returned Disney CEO Bob Iger told employees the layoffs would come in three waves, adding that "the difficult reality of many colleagues and friends leaving Disney is not something we take lightly." The layoffs will amount to around three percent of Disney's global workforce, whom Iger said the company must abandon to "continue delivering exceptional entertainment to audiences and guests around the world – now, and long into the future."

The company also said it would be shutting down its metaverse unit, which had about 50 employees. The division was once seen as the next wave in Disney's storytelling future.

Update April 22, 2023: This article has been updated with additional information reflecting Buzzfeed News' shuttering.

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