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A look at the wave of layoffs hitting the news industry


Today we got more tangible evidence of the tough times afflicting the news business. The Los Angeles Times laid off nearly a quarter of its newsroom. Time magazine and National Geographic also let people go, and journalists at magazine publisher Conde Nast staged a one-day strike. NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik is with me now. And, David, talk first about what is happening in Los Angeles.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, it's really rather extraordinary. The LA Times has confirmed - and its employees are letting us know online - that it has laid off about 115 journalists in its newsroom of what had been about 500. And that will represent about 22, 23% layoff happening in a single day.


FOLKENFLIK: You know, and this comes on the wake of just - what? - seven, eight months ago, the LA Times laying off 13% of its force. So that's about a third of its entire newsroom in well under a year. And you see - you're going to see this, you know, take real effect in its pages and what it offers online. But the human toll of all these journalists who clearly loved this institution - you know, talking about having stayed up all night last night in dread of this, finishing investigative projects. Another reporter said she had just spent the night in a lighthouse in Oregon on assignment and has no story to file.

KELLY: Contrast this to what is happening more broadly in the industry, David.

FOLKENFLIK: Well, this is particularly brutal for a newspaper this size, you know, the newsroom - the largest west of the Hudson or Potomac rivers. But we've seen this story to some way before. The Washington Post just laid off 10% of its ownership. Like the LA Times, it is owned by a civic-minded billionaire. In its case, in Washington, that's Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. And it tells you that simply having passels of money doesn't mean that that's financially viable for the organizations themselves even if one can take issue with the way in which these cuts were handled. I also got to say, though, we at NPR went through a 10% cut last year.

KELLY: We sure did.

FOLKENFLIK: We saw Vox Media go through - others as well. This is happening in a lot of places.

KELLY: Well, and people may remember just last week we were here talking about Sports Illustrated. We were talking about Pitchfork.


KELLY: Why? Why is this happening?

FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think there's a confluence of factors here, right? I think that, for a great deal of time, owners sort of were on this quest to extract as much money as possible. And at the same moment, what they really needed to be doing was figuring out how to establish a bond with their audiences to be paying subscribers. The transformation really undermined legacy media, particularly print publishers like magazines and newspapers. People can get what they want elsewhere or get good enough elsewhere. And then there's this promise of podcasts - right? - this - not only for those of us in audio here at NPR but at other places like the Post, like the LA Times. And the advertising industry for that collapsed as their fears of recession overwhelmed people who'd put money into advertisements. And that recession never came, but it led to a media recession, where so many dollars went away that suddenly, you had layoffs all over.

KELLY: David, while I've got you, one other milestone story for the media I want to mark, and that is that Charles Osgood, the longtime CBS News host, has died. He was 91. What will you remember about him?

FOLKENFLIK: You know, he had been host of "The Osgood File" on CBS Radio. And he was a host for more than two decades of "CBS Sunday Morning," his signature show. He was so sharp, so clear-eyed and clear-minded about the prose he offered. He wrote tight. He wrote wittily - not only a sophisticated figure but a fellow who made it a pleasure to tune in, watch, listen to what CBS had to offer.

KELLY: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Thank you.


(SOUNDBITE OF 2PAC SONG, "KEEP YA HEAD UP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.