Earlier this week, tech media company IDG laid off a number of US staffers. While the number of employees laid off has not been officially disclosed, estimates range from 90 to 100 staffers, including the editors in chief (EICs) of all of IDG’s publications, as well as writers and senior executives. (Disclosure: my husband and I both once worked for IDG and know people who were laid off.)
I’ve seen this type of layoff before. On paper, it looks great: the company is shedding middle management to save money while retaining the people who produce the content.
Such a move is sometimes paired with reorganizing the publications’ copyediting and production functions, in which all publications share one staff of copyeditors and designers. (Many print newspapers have also reorganized this way.)
While there are downsides to a design hub, especially for publications focused on local news, the reorganization can work with enough staff.
But cutting all your editors in chief? Not so much.
A publication’s EIC sets the tone and ensures that the publication sticks to it. They choose which topics and events are most important to report on based on knowing the industry and readership the publication serves. The EIC guides and mentors the writers and can support them by writing some of their own stories. The EIC and the writers are the face of the publication, representing it wherever they are.
When you get rid of your EIC, you get rid of your publication’s chief strategist. The captain of your ship. Who will step into that void?
It might be a more-senior staffer, such as a chief content officer (CCO) or a director or VP of communications. The question then becomes whether this senior person has enough time or expertise in the publications’ topics to guide several publications. IDG publications cover tech topics as varied as Apple technology (Macworld), IT (CIO), and security (CSO).
For IDG, this solution is a nonstarter. It cut its CCO, John Gallant, several weeks ago. That leaves the publication’s writers. They will have the industry knowledge, but will they have time to captain the ship as well as sail it? That’s going to depend greatly on how big the ship is—and how big the parent company wants it to be. When a publication publishes several stories a day, every weekday, it’s tough to see how writers will have time to develop strategy as well as deploy it. Yet if the story volume is cut to give writers that time, readership could drop. Stories will be missed, and readers will go elsewhere to find the news and information they need. A drop in readership will eventually lead to a drop in ad revenue, which could very well negate the savings of laying off the EICs in the first place.
It’s tough to see how decisions like this benefit the publication or the readers. It seems only to benefit the bottom line, and that only in the short term. While IDG had grown to become a complex company, this isn’t a case of cutting the fat. These layoffs cut into the skeleton of the company. With editorial support, the publications risk not just wobbling but collapsing in an undignified (and unprofitable) heap.
IDG’s beloved founder, Pat McGovern (affectionately known as Uncle Pat to employees), died in 2014, leaving the company’s future uncertain. In January 2017, China Oceanwide Holdings Group Co. became the “controlling shareholder of IDG’s operating businesses and several of its subsidiaries,” according to Boston Business Journal.
With these two rounds of layoffs, IDG’s future is now downright scary.
Copyediting wishes the best for those who remain at IDG and speedy re-employment to those who were laid off.