Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Layoff at BusinessWeek

I was intrigued by the reports from Keith Kelly and Jeff Bercovici today that another layoff is imminent at the already depleted staff of BusinessWeek.

Keith says BW, which was hit by a catastrophic 30% decline in ad pages last year, "is bracing for a sweeping restructuring that will see many of the magazine's editorial staff reassigned within Bloomberg LP, while around 30 people are slated to get pink slips." That's interesting, because much of the former magazine staff was already reassigned within Bloomberg.

Jeff reported that the new Bloomberg BusinessWeek will engage in this umpteenth staff defoliation "to pave the way for a sweeping redesign of the magazine, which will debut April 23." (The umpteenth "sweeping redesign," I might add.)
Tyrangiel has been on the job since November -- enough time to figure out which of the holdovers from the BusinessWeek staff he wants to keep around. That said, this batch of layoffs is expected to be far more modest in number than the last, which included 60 employees from the editorial side alone. As it was last time, the news is being withheld until after the magazine completes its weekly close on Wednesday.
I'll be curious to see where those layoffs come from. Under the old regime, layoffs cut meat from the magazine, with line editors and writers laid off while the bloated upper masthead was actually expanded. Most writers at the magazine, such as the entire Finance staff, now report to the wire, which suggests that these cuts will come predominantly from editors. Keith says the photo department will be hard hit, but I'm curious to see if the upper masthead remains intact, as has been the former practice.

There is, meanwhile, an intriguing blog post by a prominent p.r. guy named Eric Starkman that raises a touchy question: is the "Peter Principle" at work in journalism? He cites BW as an example.

Stephen J. Adler, who also held senior editorial positions at the Journal before being named editor of BusinessWeek in 2005, is another example of how journalism rewards failure. BusinessWeek, a once grossly underrated magazine that long eschewed gourmet sizzle for solid meat-and-potatoes reporting and analysis, badly stumbled under Adler’s four-year leadership. Under his tenure, the weekly magazine essentially became the Reader’s Digest of American finance, replete with oversized typeface, condensed stories, and bulky photos and graphics that badly reduced the magazine’s news hole. The magazine was on the brink of failure when Bloomberg picked it up for next-to-nothing last fall. Adler resigned shortly after the deal was announced, subsequently moving on to Thomson Reuters where he was named senior vice president and editorial director of its Professional division. Since the sale, BusinessWeek is fast returning to its previously high editorial standards, which is to Bloomberg’s great credit.

It's a harsh assessment, but one that I've heard frequently over the past few years from journalists and p.r. people alike, as well as from current BW staffers.

I disagree with Eric on one point: I think it's far too early to say that BW has returned to its previous high standards. A lot will depend, I think, on what happens in that layoff.

UPDATE (3/11): As predicted, the layoffs took place on Thursday.Talking Biz News has more on the layoffs. Only two names were in the initial tally, both writers.

Adweek.com
says that twenty-five staffers are being pink-slipped and that another 12 are being offered jobs within Bloomberg--a staff reduction of one-third, it says.

© 2010 Gary Weiss. All rights reserved.

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