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Layoffs continue to pummel U.S. newspapers and digital-native news outlets

Roughly a quarter of papers with an average Sunday circulation of 50,000 or more experienced layoffs in 2018, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

The layoffs come on top of the roughly one-third of papers in the same circulation range that experienced layoffs in 2017. What’s more, the number of jobs typically cut by newspapers in 2018 tended to be higher than in the year before.

Mid-market newspapers were the most likely to suffer layoffs in 2018 – unlike in 2017, when the largest papers most frequently saw cutbacks. Meanwhile, digital-native news outlets also faced continued layoffs: In 2018, 14% of the highest-traffic digital-native news outlets went through layoffs, down slightly from one-in-five in 2017.

The following analysis examines layoffs at large newspapers and digital-native news outlets during the full 2017 and 2018 calendar years. An earlier analysis by the Center looked at layoffs at news organizations covering the period from January 2017 to April 2018.

Roughly a third of newspapers that had layoffs in 2018 saw multiple rounds

About one-in-four U.S. newspapers with an average Sunday circulation of 50,000 or higher (27%) experienced one or more publicly reported layoffs in 2018, according to the study, which examined news articles that cited staff layoffs at these outlets. This is slightly lower than the 32% of newspapers in this circulation range in 2017.

The specific papers with 50,000 or more Sunday circulation can vary year to year, but the vast majority (85%) fell into this category in both years included in this analysis. Of these, 9% had layoffs in 2017 and 2018. In other words, the papers that experienced staff losses in 2018 were for the most part different from those that did in 2017, widening the span of outlets with depleted staff.

Some papers experienced more than one round of layoffs within the same year, particularly in 2018. Among the daily newspapers that had layoffs in 2018, about a third (31%) went through more than one round. This was about twice the rate in 2017, when 17% of newspapers that experienced layoffs endured multiple rounds.

While news reports did not always provide the exact number of newsroom staff being laid off, some broad conclusions can be drawn from the data. Among the newspapers for which the Center could determine the number of laid-off staff, 62% laid off more than 10 people in 2018, more than the 42% that did the same in 2017. This suggests a year-over-year increase in the number of jobs typically cut by newspapers during layoffs.

These findings come amid warnings that the news business is on pace for its worst job losses in a decade in 2019.

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