Despite the economic meltdown, and despite having its debt downgraded to junk status, the New York Times Company does not plan any more layoffs, Times editor Bill Keller told staff. There had been rumors of a 20 percent headcount reduction, but according to Keller's prepared remarks, as presented by the Observer, the paper thinks it can get by with some extreme belt-tightening. "There will be no luxuries and little comfort," Keller said rather darkly in the midst of a sugary pep-talk. That still doesn't explain how the Times Company will pay the half-a-billion dollars it has coming due over the next couple of years.
The company could try selling off assets like the Boston Globe or About.com. But now would seem just about the worst possible time for corporate dealmaking.
More likely, it will cut its $132 million annual dividend to shareholders, of which roughly $25 million goes to the controlling Sulzberger family. It's possible members of the clan will dutifully give up lifetstyles now subsidized by the company without raising much fuss. Also possible: They'll oust publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and replace him with someone who will impose the layoffs he had hoped to avoid.
An excerpt of Keller's remarks:
Let me answer the question that I assume is on many of your minds: No.
No, I do not see another round of newsroom staff reductions on the horizon. In fact, we are entering into the budget discussions for 2009 with a determination — shared by Arthur and Scott — to protect the journalistic team that is the engine of our long-term success.
A deep, sustained recession will mean the search for savings and the quest for new revenues continues, that there will be no luxuries and little comfort. It will mean, as the company announced last week, that for management there will be some cuts in future pension benefits and retiree medical insurance.
... It will mean, I'm sure, that our hiring is even more selective than before. It will mean some new projects get delayed. It may mean we get more exotic and garish species of advertisements.
What it will NOT mean, I most fervently hope, is a surrender to the short-sighted, serial staff cuts that have hollowed out some of the nation's great news organizations. There are no guarantees, especially since we have such limited visibility into the future. But as of now, even with the growing misery of the global economy, our aim is to move forward without another wave of newsroom buyouts or layoffs. If I learn that such a staff reduction is on the table, I will tell you, and I will tell you promptly.