East Bay Express lays off majority of editorial staff amid financial troubles

Man reads the East Bay Express.
Isabella Ko/Staff

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Oakland-based newspaper East Bay Express laid off almost its entire editorial staff in January and replaced it with freelance workers because of financial difficulties, continuing a recent trend found at several news and media outlets.

The owners of East Bay Express, who also own other local publications, attempted to sell the paper before it was taken to court by a former employee who claimed to have been denied overtime pay while working under former publisher Jody Colley. The court ruling, which favored the employee, prevented the owners from selling the paper, according to Robert Gammon, editor for East Bay Express and the only editorial employee to survive the slew of layoffs, which took place Jan. 11.

Meanwhile, the paper had been losing money. The owners attempted to sustain the publication with their own money, but the funds they provided were not enough, and the paper had to make cuts, according to Gammon.

“The people who were laid off were great people, great journalists,” Gammon said. “It had nothing to do with them personally. It strictly was an economic move.”

Gammon added that the editorial staff was targeted because it does not bring in revenue, unlike the sales department, which financially sustains the organization.

The East Bay Express layoffs are not an anomaly. Other publications, including BuzzFeed, Yahoo News and HuffPost have endured similar struggles. Two other local news outlets, The Mercury News and East Bay Times, faced a similar wave of layoffs in January 2018.

BuzzFeed recently laid off 15 percent of its 1,450 employees, according to BuzzFeed spokesperson Matt Mittenthal. Unlike the cuts made at East Bay Express, the people who were laid off at BuzzFeed worked in a variety of different departments.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said in an email to BuzzFeed employees that the decision to lay off so many employees was “upsetting and disappointing,” adding that person who was laid off made valuable contributions to BuzzFeed.

“This will be a tough week for all of us and I realize it will be much worse for the people losing their jobs,” Peretti said in the email. “To them, I want to say thank you, I’m sorry our work together is ending this way, and I hope we get to work together again in the future.”

BuzzFeed’s decision to lay off a large percentage of its workforce was also financial in nature.

According to Peretti, BuzzFeed’s decision was based on a strong understanding of which teams could be consolidated and which types of content should be prioritized. He added that the cuts will help achieve a stronger cost structure capable of supporting the company’s multirevenue model.

Despite the potential financial growth for these different outlets, many people have lost their jobs. 

“It’s very distressing to see so many good people laid off. Many of those hit had decades of distinguished experience and were at the top of their game,” said Garret Therolf, a reporter for the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Investigative Reporting Program, in an email. “If this is happening even in good times, it makes you wonder what awaits us when the next downturn takes place.”

Contact Mallika Seshadri at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SeshadriMallika.

A previous version of this article may have implied that the editorial staff of East Bay Express brings in some revenue, but not as much as the sales department. In fact, the editorial staff doesn’t bring in any revenue, and the sales department financially sustains the organization.