Staff layoffs continued to pummel the beleaguered U.S. newspaper industry in 2020. A third of papers with an average Sunday circulation of 50,000 or more experienced layoffs last year, a period complicated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis which examined news articles that cited staff layoffs at these outlets. These 2020 layoffs exceed the roughly one-quarter of papers in the same circulation range that experienced layoffs in 2019 (many were the same papers) as employment within the newspaper industry continued to fall precipitously in recent years. Large-market newspapers – those with a Sunday circulation of 250,000 or more – were the most likely to suffer layoffs in 2020, with more than half of them experiencing staff cuts. That is unlike 2019, when cuts were roughly similar across the different tiers of circulation groups studied. Meanwhile, digital-native news outlets saw a slight uptick in layoffs in 2020 compared with 2019.
The New York-based hedge fund Alden Global Capital – known for slashing its newspapers’ budgets to extract escalated profits – won shareholder approval Friday for its $633 million bid to acquire the Tribune Publishing newspaper chain. The purchase represents the culmination of Alden’s years-long drive to take over the company and its storied titles – including the Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News and major metro papers from Hartford, Conn., to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Alden’s reputation as a “vulture” fund had set off a frantic effort by union members in Tribune Publishing newsrooms. Their organizer, Baltimore Sun education reporter Liz Bowie, dubbed the effort “Project Mayhem.” The journalists tried to secure potential buyers in numerous Tribune markets who embraced the public-minded aspirations of journalism, including the Maryland philanthropist and hotel magnate Stewart Bainum Jr. After a process marked by intrigue and whiplash, Alden dashed all those hopes.