Business

Chasing millennials and profits, Univision restructures and lays off 200

Jorge Ramos is shown in Fusion’s newsroom just days before it launched in October 2013.
Jorge Ramos is shown in Fusion’s newsroom just days before it launched in October 2013. Miami Herald file photo

The Spanish-language media giant, Univision Communications, will lay off almost 6 percent of its workforce — 200 to 250 people — after it slipped into the red last quarter, the company announced Wednesday.

The layoffs, along with a planned restructuring, “are in response to difficult times, challenging times,” said Isaac Lee, Univision’s digital, entertainment and news chief. “We need to position ourselves for the future.”

Univision, which operates WLTV-23 based in Doral, had a third-quarter net loss of $30.5 million, on total revenues of $735 million, down 8 percent.

As its traditional audience of Hispanic television watchers becomes older or cuts the cord, the company will also continue to chase what it sees as its savior: the English-language, digital, millennial audience.

Univision made a surprising move in that direction last summer when it paid $135 million for the media companies associated with Gawker, the Manhattan-based media gossip site. Gawker was forced to file for bankruptcy as a result of a crippling $140 million jury award in the Hulk Hogan sex tape suit. The suit was financed by billionaire investor Peter Thiel, in retribution for Gawker’s outing him as gay in 2007.

After purchasing the Gawker websites, including the sports site Deadspin and the tech site Gizmodo, Univision immediately closed Gawker itself. Last month, Univision drew criticism for eliminating several articles from those sites that were involved in lawsuits.

Gizmodo Media Group will search for a new editor-in-chief to report to Raju Narisetti, formerly of the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and NewsCorp., who was recently named CEO of the group.

John Cook, who had been the top editor both at Gawker and the new Gizmodo group, will head a new 10-person investigative unit beginning Jan. 1.

“Gawker was a bunch of people with machine guns, I hope to have some snipers,” Cook said in an interview Tuesday. The team will include outside hires as well as those already working for the Gizmodo group.

Katie Drummond, formerly of Bloomberg News, has been named executive managing editor of Gizmodo Media Group, Lee said.

Lee said that those working for the Gawker-related sites would not be affected by the staff reductions.

“I’m not touching them,” he said. “I don’t have the right assessment today. It’s been a short time, and they do a great job.” Many of the layoffs will be at Fusion, a site aimed at multicultural millennials.

The majority of Fusion’s editorial staff voted last week to unionize. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that, according to employees, executives had discouraged that development.

Lee said that those employees who had voted to join the Writers Guild of America union, and who were being laid off, would be given the same severance as other union employees within Gizmodo Media Group. He added that he has no objection to employees unionizing.

Lee said that the layoffs involve business-side and editorial employees throughout Univision.

As part of the restructuring, Fusion and the Root will join Gizmodo Media Group, the former Gawker sites: Deadspin, Jezebel, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, Kotaku and Jalopnik.

The Root, oriented toward African-American culture, was formerly part of The Washington Post. Fusion’s staff includes well-known journalists including Felix Salmon, formerly of Reuters, and Alexis Madrigal, formerly of The Atlantic.

Univision is privately held. Its chairman is billionaire investor Haim Saban.

The TV news division is best known for anchors Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas. In a high-profile incident during the presidential campaign, Donald Trump had Ramos removed from a news conference last year after his persistent questions about immigration.

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