The Great Media Hiring Thaw

It’s early, and it’s tentative, but the job freeze is over!

It’s springtime, media New Yorkers! The trees are blossoming, the sidewalks are filling up with café tables and if you stake out just the right corner, you might spot the New York University track team racing up Broadway. After what’s been an endless year for the city’s ink-stained wretches, there’s something thawing besides our grim winter: the job market.

For the past 18 months, this column has been home to a lot of unpleasant news. There have been layoffs, premature retirements, editors being forced out, newspapers and magazines closing. But in the past few weeks, jobs in media land, however limited, exist again. Journalists are moving from place to place. Media outfits are replacing people they’ve lost.

It may be boomlet, but for the first time in a long time, there’s a pulse in the New York journalism job market. “I would absolutely say that is the trend,” said Time Inc. human-relations guru Bucky Keady.

“I’ve certainly seen more revolving door stuff,” said Josh Tyrengiel, the new editor of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, who is keeping a careful eye on the market as he trolls for new editors and writers. “People are moving, and places that have people leaving are filling the slots.”

Much of this, of course, has to do with titans such as Rupert Murdoch. Because of his imminent New York section for The Wall Street Journal, 35 new jobs have opened up in the city. The Journal’s poached talent from the likes of the Daily News and Newsday.

But there are other forces at work, too: Yahoo! is hiring at least a dozen people to come up with original content. Bloomberg has been especially active in the market after cutting staffers earlier in the year. ESPN has opened a New York branch and has hired away some of the best print sports journalists in the city. Even The Village Voice has been hiring!

Look at what’s happened in the city—and in D.C.—over the past few weeks. Michael Crowley has left The New Republic to go to Time. He’s on his way to Time, in large part, thanks to Karen Tumulty leaving Time to go The Washington Post. A rising star in mergers and acquisitions, Jeff McCracken, is moving to Bloomberg from The Journal! Sheila McClear, Gawker writer–turned–unemployed, has landed at the New York Post. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For those who kept a job during this difficult period, the utter lack of mobility was obvious—you never saw reporters abandoning one place to go to another. Now it is happening. But it has a caveat. “I’m not seeing growth,” cautioned Tyrengiel, the BusinessWeek editor.

That’s a vital distinction. Thousands of jobs have been lost in the past 18 months. Other than limited examples like The Journal and Yahoo!, there are no indications that new jobs are flooding the market.

John Cook, who is leaving Gawker to go to Yahoo!, e-mailed to say, “I don’t really feel like the generalized sense of terror and panic has lifted, really.”

Yet, there is, undeniably, more movement. Jim Romenesko, the media industry’s humble bearer of all good news and bad, said he noticed that his blog on the Poytner website has been stocked with transactional items these days. “It seems that in the past six or so weeks, I’ve posted an unusually high number of job changes involving staff from the larger papers and sites—WP, LAT, NYT, and Politico,” Romenesko said. “It’s nice, after reporting countless stories of people jumping to unemployment, to link to stories about people jumping to new—and often better—jobs.”

No one liked the unemployment stories! “Last year, was miserable. Miserable!” said Karen Danziger, an executive at the Howard Sloan Koller Group, a media headhunting firm that does work for outfits such as The Atlantic, the Daily Beast and Hachette Filipacchi. “I oversee everything we do on the content side, and I was spending some of my time not doing content searches. There wasn’t enough. Content was grim! There were so many people in the marketplace, and there really was less hiring than I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

And now? “It’s night and day,” she said. “I can say that our business is incredibly up. Just incredibly. It’s an increasing rise in calls, real searches, accepted and signed agreements with clients. … It does feel like, ‘Oh my God, we are so busy with what’s going on here!’”

Even at The New York Times, the changes are noticeable. In 2007, as fitting with the trend of everything media those days, Bill Keller announced the paper was in a hiring freeze. Fast-forward to the spring of this year, and though the same selective hiring strategy is in place, a spokeswoman e-mailed to announce that Bill Keller’s announcement is no longer applicable to this new and better day. “There is no hiring freeze at The Times,” spokeswoman Diane McNulty said.

Outside of the city, the trend is the same. Bloomberg has been staffing up its D.C. bureau, bulking up its already sizable presence. Even the Los Angeles Times, that home of serial cutting, is hiring some reporters for its entertainment coverage.

When we chatted with several editors, reporters and recruiters in recent weeks about the sudden job market activity, they pointed to a few reasons. For one, there are new jobs! The economy, overall, is improving.

We also heard that it’s been about playing a little catch-up. Papers and magazines and websites cut back. While budgets are lower, advertising is inching back up. New budgets for 2010 allow for a hire or a two, or at least for keeping the budget intact. And after 18 months of losing jobs, editors are exhausted at not being able to fill those positions.

“It’s a new year and a new budget,” Danziger said. “There’s a renewed vision of what you want to do—a game plan of how you’re going to confront the marketplace. There’s renewed optimism to create a vision to be competitive.”

Danziger said she expects it to last throughout the year, and we hope so, too.

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