UPDATED: ALM Lays Off Senior Editors

In a push to become more digital, less top-heavy, and reduce costs, ALM Media, which owns The American Lawyer magazine, has conducted layoffs that affect at least 15 senior editors and employees on the business side.

The news emerged Tuesday, with names of those affected circulating in legal media circles.

Among those affected are Kim Kleman, editor in chief of The American Lawyer, Anthony Paonita, editor in chief of Corporate Counsel, David Hechler, deputy editor of Corporate Counsel, and ALM editorial director George Haj, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist hired from the Houston Chronicle in 2014 to oversee regional news bureaus in Florida, Georgia and Texas.

Others affected include the following editors, journalists and business executives, according to sources inside and outside of the company.

• Michael Goldhaber, senior international correspondent at The American Lawyer

• Erin Harrison, editor in chief, multi-platform content and former editor in chief of Legaltech News

• Walter “Jeff” Storey, executive editor of New York Law Journal

• Peter Dolack, a longtime ALM copy editor

• Judy Lopatin, a longtime ALM copy editor

• Josh Orenstein, general manager of Legal Intelligence

• Dirk Olin, director of Legal Intelligence

• Warren Hirsch, senior editor at LifeHealthPro

• Emily Holbrook, editor in chief of National Underwriter Life & Health, Retirement Advisor and LifeHealthPro.com

LifeHealthPro is owned by ALM and provides news for life and health insurance and annuity advisors and professionals, according to its website. Legal Intelligence, meanwhile, is the data company owned by ALM, which sells financial information about large law firms, including revenue, profits and billing rates.

Attempts to reach some of the affected employees were unsuccessful, although others confirmed their departures, either on or off the record.

“I very much enjoyed working with our talented team to cover the business of Big Law, and I wish everyone the best,” said Kleman, in an email Tuesday evening. “Onward and upward.”

Many of those affected were delivered the news Tuesday in individual meetings and phone calls, the source said.

The moves, as two sources described them, are intended to cut some of the most highly compensated positions in the company’s editorial team. The two sources — one current and one former ALM employee — estimated that top editors at ALM earn between $100,000 and $200,000.

Several sources said the cuts came, at least in part, to reduce payroll expenses after some of ALM’s products failed to meet revenue projections in the fourth quarter of 2016 and faced dim prospects for 2017. Specific financial figures could not be determined.

The cuts have raised concerns among the publications’ reporters about how journalism fits into the ALM company, said a separate ALM employee. Some of the publications’ most prominent legal journalists have left ALM in recent months, including Julie Triedman, who departed for a public relations position at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York; Zoe Tillman, who took a job on the legal team at BuzzFeed News in Washington, D.C.; and Susan Beck, a senior writer whose future plans could not be determined.

ALM is a privately held company, owned by the private equity shop Wasserstein & Co, which bought back ALM in 2014 (for $417 million, as reported by The New York Times) after selling it in 2007. The company, founded by Steven Brill in 1979, covers the business of lawyers, law firms and in-house counsel through a number of publications including The American Lawyer, The New York Law Journal, The Legal Intelligencer, The Recorder, among others. The publications compete with Bloomberg LP, Bloomberg BNA and Big Law Business.

The news comes after ALM last year overhauled its news and information business, with a push to become more digital and publish content under a more streamlined brand, with more stories appearing on the website Law.com.

Last June, ALM chief content officer Molly Miller sent an email, detailing a complete change in reporting structure, which required journalists to report to editors under “themes” such as real estate, finance, insurance and legal, rather than editors for specific publications.

Some of the most senior editors, including Kleman, were shifted to “Brand Editor” positions, which meant that they were more outwardly facing, brand ambassadors for their publications, who chose which stories produced by on-the-ground reporters and “theme editors” would appear in their publication. This meant that the brand editors were not as heavily involved in the line editing.

At least one ALM staffer expressed concern about how this would affect the quality of their journalism, since fewer of the most senior editors would have their hands on their stories.

“They had to come to theme editors for, oh god help me, CONTENT (I still call ‘em stories),” said another ALM staffer, who was not affected by the layoffs but requested anonymity in fear of losing employment.

“I really hope the strategy, if there is one, isn’t to make us become more like Law360,” said the staffer, who referred to a legal news site known for requiring its journalists to produce large volumes of stories, covering a breadth of topics. The company, which also competes with Bloomberg BNA and Big Law Business, says in job ads that its reporters write four stories per day.

“There is a Law360 already, we have to be something different. We have to do something else, which is provide in-depth analysis that we’ve always done.”

Big Law Business shared the above quote with a Law360 spokesman, who did not immediately offer a comment.

The layoffs also follow ALM’s commissioning of John Wilpers, a media consultant, who conducted interviews with its journalists last year about the June changes at the company, and sent a report of his findings to ALM’s editorial staff in August. Wilpers declined to comment.

In his “ALM Global Newsroom Status Report,” Wilpers laid out a number of challenges facing the company, including concerns about 17 items, including productivity, communication, speed and efficiency.

One bullet point said: “Breaking news has become more difficult to publish quickly due to ‘too many chefs in the kitchen,’” while another said, “There are concerns that while most writers are still producing a healthy volume of content, there are some who appear to be taking advantage of the new supervisory arrangements to slack off.”

Another criticism took aim at the company’s daily analytics reports, which looked at patterns in website traffic.

“Numbers need context, comparison, and conclusions,” Wilpers’ report said. “Daily numbers, even in comparison to last year, are not actionable. Most editors said they glaze over when the numbers are being read every morning. Or they say the numbers are interesting but have no impact on what they do. We need numbers that inform our actions.”

George Haj, the ALM editorial director who is among those departing ALM, said the Wilpers report was incomplete and that Molly Miller, chief content officer, conducted follow up interviews with journalists to provide a fuller picture. Haj said that the changes the company undertook were in keeping with a modern newsroom.

“I can understand how people were thinking, ‘What the hell are all these numbers? But I think it was important to start each day with the discussion of, ‘How did we do on the Web?’ That’s what modern newsrooms do. You start your day with a digital discussion. I know this was radical for some people. We were clearly trying to drive a lot of culture change in a short period of time and it was a little tumultuous.”

ALM CEO Bill Carter did not respond to multiple requests for comment. However, an ALM spokesperson provided a statement:

“Transitions are always difficult, especially ones as broad, deep and fast as what we are aiming to do. For that reason we’ve frequently touched base with our team for their feedback, which has been an important part of our ongoing transformation, officially launched just 7 months ago.

We believe we’ve accomplished a lot so far but we have a lot more work to do. In 2016 ALM transformed four print publications into digital-only enterprises: Texas Lawyer; InsideCounsel; The Connecticut Law Tribune and The Recorder. There will likely be more of the same in 2017.

The ALM spokesperson called its transformation “major” with an increased focus on social, mobile, and events, “where our customers are” and said web traffic has improved as a result of the changes.

“We are prioritizing content development and have tried to ensure that reporters and line editor roles are protected to be able to provide the daily news and insights that our readers expect. We are posting more jobs for reporters with the digital and data journalism skills our readers demand.”

Additionally, yesterday Carter sent an internal email to employees, which was obtained by Big Law Business, alerting employees of the changes without going into details.

“We’ve all been working hard to transform ALM into a fully integrated information, intelligence and events company, as the publishing industry continues to shift from print to digital media. As part of our transformation, we must adjust our staffing levels and talent composition.

Unfortunately, that means several positions have been impacted. Affected employees will be offered a severance package. We regret having to take this measure but it’s necessary for the next phase of ALM’s digital evolution.

We deeply appreciate the talent and contributions of all ALM team members.”

The news comes after previous reductions in staff. In May 2015, the company also laid off 61 employees, according to a Warn Act notice with the New York State Department of Labor, as reported by Crain’s at the time.

UPDATED: The list in this story has been corrected to exclude an employee who resigned voluntarily.

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