On top of everything else, the Globe announces another round of downsizing

As if there weren’t enough turmoil at The Boston Globe, president Vinay Mehra and editor Brian McGrory earlier today announced another round of budget cuts. Mehra and McGrory say they hope to find the savings they need through buyouts, but they won’t rule out layoffs. No word on how many people they are hoping will exit the building. The memos were obtained from a newsroom source.

In addition, the last vestiges of the Sunday zoned editions for local news are being all but eliminated, as Globe North, Globe South and Globe West are being combined into a Sunday section to be called Globe Local.

Both Mehra and McGrory claim the effect on the Globe’s journalism will be minimal. Obviously, though, this is a perilous route to take at a time when the paper is trying to offset an industry-wide decline in ad revenues with high-priced digital subscriptions. McGrory has previously said the Globe is on track to hit 100,000 digital subscriptions by the end of June, and that the paper may approach sustainability if that number can be doubled during the next few years. It’s encouraging that readers are willing to pay — but it remains to be seen if they will pay more for less.

“As to what it all means — well, a lot,” McGrory writes. “It means there was an unanticipated revenue shortfall heading toward the last half of the year and we need to stem it quickly. It means that this business hasn’t gotten any easier…. This does not mean there is a hiring freeze. This does not signal Draconian cuts. It gives us the most options, in the most humane way possible. We are absolutely hiring for key jobs, with a couple of offers out there as I write.”

What follows is the top of Mehra’s memo, minus a detailed explanation of how employees can apply for the buyout.

Every day The Boston Globe produces the best news report in the region and one of the best regional reports in the country. But as the news business changes, and more subscribers seek to read us on digital, our cost structure remains out of line with the realities of the industry.

While we have built a large and growing digital business, we still have an organization built on the profit margins and specific needs of the print era, where the economics continue to be challenging as advertising has shrunk across the sector. We’ve done much to change; we still have more to do. We can’t afford to slow down in our efforts to build The Boston Globe of the future, one in which subscribers play an increasingly central role in our revenue model.

So we are now announcing a buyout primarily designed for people in our newsroom, advertising, and marketing departments. We will use any savings to address the current economic realities and invest in our core strength — great journalism, with an eye toward our digital offerings.

We are optimistic that the buyout, the first in two years, will result in the savings we need to create a sustainable Globe. If we do not get enough takers, we’ll have to consider all other options, including layoffs.

We know the last few years have been a time of dramatic change, and that it has placed tremendous pressure on everyone in the organization. And we know that this latest buyout — like previous ones — will mean saying goodbye to cherished colleagues. But this is a good moment to take stock of how much we have already accomplished in growing our digital audience and telling stories in different ways. We must take this next step – so we can invest in our growth and enhance our stature as a news organization.

And here is the full text of McGrory’s memo.

No doubt that many of you have questions about the buyout, what it means generally, what it specifically means to those interested. I’d like to be helpful, and Jen [managing editor Jennifer Peter] can be as well.

Briefly, I’ll say that we haven’t done one of these in a couple of years, and I would advise against going into it assuming there will be another any time soon. This one, as you’ve likely noted, will differ in a few key ways from past practice. First, people will get two weeks for every year of service, but the total package will be capped at six months. Second, the company is asking that you declare your intentions within the first two weeks of the offer. Third, you won’t get personalized packages sent to your homes; rather, if you’re interested, you’re encouraged to make an appointment with human resources straightaway for a direct discussion.

As to what it all means — well, a lot. It means there was an unanticipated revenue shortfall heading toward the last half of the year and we need to stem it quickly. It means that this business hasn’t gotten any easier. It means that the company has agreed to take the most flexible approach to the newsroom and a couple of other departments. This does not mean there is a hiring freeze. This does not signal Draconian cuts. It gives us the most options, in the most humane way possible. We are absolutely hiring for key jobs, with a couple of offers out there as I write. The success of this organization is going to rise in no small part on the success of this room.

Will it lead to newsroom layoffs? I’m optimistic that it won’t, but can’t make guarantees. I don’t believe it would be a significant number under any circumstance. We need to see who puts in for it. I’ll be as open as possible about the need and our plans.

Cuts are being made elsewhere in the newsroom — and across the organization. We’re making some page reductions that we hope will have no major impact on our readers. These trims will give us cost savings from materials and freelance spending, and free up editing resources that can be devoted to other places. One change worth noting is to our regional editions — Globe North, Globe South, and Globe West. Our editors do great work putting out high quality sections week after week, but revenue-wise, they are on the verge of going under water. We are planning to create one edition that will run across all zones, called Globe Local, and zone the advertising, so that businesses still have a lower cost, more targeted option. In other words, if you’re a bank on the South Shore, you can advertise in the Globe Local edition that only goes to the South Shore, but the journalism in it will come from all over.

Again, feel free to come see me or Jen, individually, in small groups, or however you want. I am truly hopeful that this buyout will work well for a good number of people, and that the faster process will allow us to not lose sight of our vital work.

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