Fox News announces layoffs as it undergoes corporate restructuring with record ratings

A source familiar with the plan said it had nothing to do with the pandemic — except for trimming hair and make-up

Published September 16, 2020 10:06PM (EDT)

The News Corp. building on 6th Avenue, home to Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal (Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
The News Corp. building on 6th Avenue, home to Fox News, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal (Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)

Fox News Media will lay off employees across multiple divisions as it undergoes a corporate restructuring of various lines of its business amid a profitable time for the network.

A Fox News spokesperson described the layoffs to Salon as a corporate realignment geared to sharpen several corporate functions and streamline a number of divisions "in order to position all of our businesses for ongoing success."

A person familiar with the plans told Salon that the downsizing will impact employees at all ranks, except on-air talent. While it is unclear if the layoffs will touch every department, in total less than of 3% of the company's workforce is likely be affected. Laid off employees will receive severance and a benefits package, the source added.

The downsizing was not related to the coronavirus pandemic, except for the department which will be hit the hardest: hair and makeup, whose job has been the most disrupted by the pandemic. About 90% of that department has not been working for months but continued to take a salary, the individual said, adding that those artists who stay on will work only with on-air talent — a service previously extended to guests.

Ironically, Fox News has turned in some of its strongest numbers during the pandemic. "Tucker Carlson Tonight," for example, drew the highest cable news ratings of all time during the widespread lockdowns from April to June.

While it remains unclear how the network plans to invest whatever savings it accrues from the cuts, it is worth noting that the media company has expanded its offerings in recent years.

In 2018, the network launched the domestic streaming service Fox Nation, which carries content fronted by a number of Fox News hosts, as well as additional programs not available with a cable subscription.

Last month, it launched Fox News International, a new digital subscription streaming service, at $6.99 per month. The service, which streams existing Fox News content to international markets, requires minimal production overhead.

Fox News has also reported strong advertising gains, clocking an 8.2% increase from 2019 to 2020, according to market analytics firm Kagan. (Advertisers have recently fled Carlson's show amid a series of heavily-criticized race-baiting screeds.) Network executives announced in early August that Fox Nation had more than doubled its subscriptions over the last year, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Taking into account the network's record-breaking success last quarter, as well as the increased consumer appetite for long-form viewing amid lockdowns, the pandemic appears to have altered consumer habits in a way which could incentivize expansion — not layoffs. As the election approaches, with key patron President Donald Trump facing long odds, the network may be bracing itself for a possible political sea change.

Top corporate executive Lachlan Murdoch said in an interview last week during a Bank of America virtual conference that the company believes its business will not be much affected after a possible Democratic victory.

"Look, I don't think it does. If you look at Fox News, you look at how we've not only been strong, but we've grown ratings in multiple administrations from both political parties," he said, saying that Fox News Media's multiplatform setup offers durability. "It's a tremendous business and it's not just around one linear channel, it's how we keep our viewers and fans in that ecosystem," Murdoch said.

But reports suggest that the network might have to worry about more than keeping its viewers and fans.

Fox News primetime host Laura Ingraham, for instance, reportedly has her eyes on the microphone of Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree and former Sleep Number mattress advocate Rush Limbaugh if Trump comes up short in November.

"Laura's really interested in Rush's job," an individual close to Ingraham told Vanity Fair. A Trump loss may compel the Murdochs — the network's more liberal successors to the late Fox News kingpin and alleged sexual assaulter Roger Ailes — to make major changes.

Speaking privately to a group of dinner guests at the Palm Beach mansion of his widow, Elizabeth Ailes, Ingraham reportedly said she had already been in talks to take Limbaugh's place should Stage 4 lung cancer force him to hang up his mic.

"We have to be prepared for Trump losing."

By Roger Sollenberger

Roger Sollenberger was a staff writer at Salon (2020-21). Follow him on Twitter @SollenbergerRC.

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