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Times layoffs reflect recent media changes

On Oct. 19, The New York Times, the newspaper with the largest staff in the United States, announced it will cut 100 newsroom jobs, or about 8 percent of its total newsroom workforce, by the end of 2009. The newspaper giant will offer voluntary buyoffs, but will resort to layoffs if enough staff members do not take this option.

Layoffs have already occurred several times in non-newsroom departments. In the newsroom itself, fewer freelancers are being hired, and the newspaper has “trimmed other expenses,” according to the Times’s own article about the layoffs.

This sort of mass staff layoffs also happened in the spring of 2008, but in that case, other jobs were created — this isn’t the case now. We thought the economy was finally recovering — why are ad revenues continuing to drop?

We have to wonder — what will happen to Times’ journalists who, while not being technically laid off, are just not given stories or other opportunities to research and write? The newspaper and overall media industries are fickle ones for sure, and we’re worried that layoffs of all but essential personnel will squander the creativity and intellectual freedom so essential to the success of a newspaper.

It’s a well-known fact that, in hard economic times, the arts are among the first to suffer. But world news, especially from The New York Times, employs more than hobby writers and storytellers. The individuals that will be laid off or will take buyoff packages are professional researchers and writers. They have honed their craft; as readers, we will be worse off without them.

The New York Times, and runner-up newspapers like The Washington Post, do not currently charge for online subscriptions, although a log-in identification and password is necessary to read a handful of articles on each newspaper’s website. It is quite possible — and, in fact, likely — that the newspapers will start charging for online subscriptions, which have risen while printed subscriptions have dropped as a result of both the economic recession and the digital age in general. But if readers have to pay to read the newspaper online, or put in any extra work at all, will they even remain readers for long, or will we see the newsrooms dwindle further?