Daily Beast’s John Avlon rallies troops as roughly 20 colleagues lose their jobs

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John Avlon. ()
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On the first day of its new life without Newsweek, Daily Beast executive editor John Avlon rallied the troops with an afternoon memo full of good news, like a 36-percent year-over-year traffic gain and a nomination to Adweek's annual "Hot List" poll.

"This success is due to your hard work during a transitional time and the quality of the stories we’re putting forward in a highly competitive online media landscape," Avlon wrote.

Beast employees could use the encouragement. Morale was said to be low after Tina Brown, the site's high-flying founder and a former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, announced she was leaving to launch a conference business. Insiders said some of her orphaned journalists were already scrambling for new jobs.

And apparently not everyone found one in time: Roughly 20 employees across the editorial and business sides were let go yesterday and today, a person with knowledge of the cuts told Capital.

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The layoffs were a direct result of Newsweek's sale to IBT Media, which recently took the struggling title off parent company IAC's hands for an undisclosed sum.

The Beast and Newsweek had been run as a combined entity since IAC acquired the latter title in early 2011, but IBT only offered jobs to five employees of the joint operation, and only one of those employees accepted, said a source with knowledge of the talks.

The people laid off include both union and non-union employees, according to our source. A union representative did not immediately return a call.

"We don't discuss personnel matters," a Daily Beast spokesman said when asked for comment.

The employee reduction brings The Daily Beast's headcount down to around 65, which is comparable to what the site launched with in 2008, our source said. The site is now running on a scaled-back budget through at least 2014.

Upon merging with Newsweek, the editorial staff had at one point ballooned to somewhere around 300 before being trimmed through a series of cuts as Newsweek's financial forecast failed to improve.

IAC's Newsweek was eventually transformed into a low-overhead digital publication with a skeletal full-time staff. But the new Newsweek has already been staffing up under new editor Jim Impoco. The transition to IBT was completed today.

All of the Newsweek branding has been removed from The Beast's 18th Street headquarters along the West Side Highway and the site stopped counting Newsweek referral traffic a month ago. The Omniture metrics that The Beast makes public showed roughly 13.6 million unique visitors for September, which was an increase from the same month last year if you don't count traffic from Newsweek.com, the spokesman said.

Brown is expected to remain on board through the end of the year, but it's still unclear whether a new editor-in-chief will be named to succeed her or if Avlon will get a title bump.

You can read his full memo to staff below:

Dear Fellow Beasts:

I’m very happy to announce that our September traffic numbers are in and The Daily Beast hit the ball out of the park.

Compared to last September – at the height of a presidential election –The Daily Beast’s unique visitor traffic was up 36% in September 2013. Let that sink in.

This success is due to your hard work during a transitional time and the quality of the stories we’re putting forward in a highly competitive online media landscape. Our top articles included pieces by Jamelle Bouie, Kevin Fallon, Josh Rogin, Peter Beinart, Nina Strohlic, Lizzie Crocker, Lloyd Grove and Andrew Romano – reflecting the diversity of our audience and our site’s core focus on politics and pop culture.

Moreover, The Daily Beast – separate from Newsweek - is currently up 44% year to date from 2012. Our social media community has grown 70% over the past year as well. Looking forward, keep in mind that October 2012 was The Daily Beast’s best month ever – so we have our work cut out for us in the month ahead. But with the upcoming Hero Summit in Washington DC and college rankings, I’m confident we can continue our success, armed with renewed focus and energy.

Finally, don’t forget that The Daily Beast is nominated for hottest news site by Adweek - so if you didn’t vote yet, please do.

Here’s to our success and the continued growth of The Daily Beast.

All the best,

- John