Journal seeks buyouts amid ‘serious realignment’

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The Wall Street Journal. (The Wall Street Journal)
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Buyouts are underway in The Wall Street Journal newsroom, Capital has learned, signaling a shift in resources at News Corp's U.S.-based broadsheet as it heads into a new budget year.

Voluntary exit packages are not an unfamiliar exercise at the close of the Journal's fiscal calendar, which resets in July. They were on the table around this time last year, and the Journal was additionally forced to implement somewhere between 20 and 40 layoffs to meet its budget requirements for 2015.

This year, the number of staff positions in flux is expected to be significant. "The worst it's ever been," is the language bouncing around certain corners of 1211 Avenue of the Americas.

Sources with knowledge of the matter said there is not a specific headcount being sought for the buyouts, which tend to target high-paid, veteran employees.

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It's therefore unclear how many journalists from the roughly 2,000-person combined global newsroom of the Journal and Dow Jones Newswires stand to exit the company. One source, however, described the process as a "serious realignment" meant not to achieve a net headcount reduction, but rather a repositioning of talent around digital roles like data, graphics, video and—of course—mobile, which is fast becoming the Holy Grail for news publishers.

Ashley Huston, a spokeswoman for the Journal's parent entity, Dow Jones & Company, declined to comment beyond the following statement: "As we continue the digital transformation of the business, including a real focus on mobile innovation, we are investing in core growth areas that are key to a modern newsroom."

Like all newspapers, the Journal is struggling with the diminution of its legacy print business, which has contracted as readers and advertisers increasingly migrate to computers, tablet devices and smartphones. Advertising revenues were down 11 percent in the third quarter of 2015, company executives said earlier this month on a call to discuss News Corp's latest financial results, which included a 9-percent decline in the news and information segment that encompasses the Journal and Dow Jones.

The Journal has meanwhile invested in digital initiatives like a major web overhaul last month. Additionally, in a recent memo announcing a slew of new digital appointments in the newsroom, editor in chief Gerry Baker said the Journal's team of mobile apps editors "will soon expand."

The Journal is not alone in trimming its staff to free up more resources for digital investment. In March, USA Today offered buyouts to 90 employees. At the end of 2014, The New York Times bid farewell to some 100 journalists through buyouts and layoffs.