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Tokyo Sports laying off 100 staff amid struggles with digital age, coronavirus

Shukan Bunshun April 22

TOKYO (TR) – For decades, evening tabloid Tokyo Sports has generated laughs from its readership with fantastic front pages splashed with outer space creatures and fish with human faces.

Well, it seems, many inside the paper could now be the ones who could use a few chuckles: A recently announced restructuring push will result in the cutting of about 30 percent of its staff.

Sources tell weekly tabloid Shukan Bunshun (April 22) that the paper’s downfall is due to a misjudgement of the publishing market and the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

According to Bunshun, the move was announced by two lawyers during a staff meeting at the paper’s office in Koto Ward on April 7.

The paper currently has 360 employees. The target for the 100 cuts will be within the 160 who are aged between 45 and 59.

One lawyer explained the financial state of the paper with the use of a projector, but, apparently, the text was too small for many in the room to read.

“Make me laugh with a big headline!” screamed one employee, according to one attendee.

At the end, a human resources representative explained re-employment options. A restructuring plan was not presented.

Tokyo Sports covers have entertained readers since the paper’s founding in 1960

“Collapse in two to three years”

Tokyo Sports, affectionately known by readers as “ToSpo,” was founded in 1960. Like most evening tabloids, it is known for its coverage of sports, entertainment, gambling, the adult video industry and the commercial sex trade.

During its heyday, back in the 1990s, the paper was also known the high salaries it paid to its staff members. But that is no longer the case.

One reporter in his late 40s tells Bunshun that he received a salary of 12 million yen in his second year. “That was the peak,” he says, “but now it is about half of that.”

The reporter says that he was told the paper was 2 billion yen in the red as of May 2019. “The company told us, ‘We could collapse in two to three years,'” he said.

“A drop in the bucket”

Since 1976, the chairman of the paper has been 84-year-old Tsuneo Tachikawa. The same reporter tells Bunshun that one big problem has been the chairman’s slow movement into the digital age.

“We finally started focusing on digital in June of last year,” he says, “and revenue tripled. Executives then started taking credit, but it was just a drop in the bucket.”

That’s not all. The reporter goes on to say that relegating young staff to the digital division is cutting them off from graying management, or those in their 40s or above.

Then came the pandemic.

“The horse racing pages have attracted fans for years, but sales slumped after the Japan Racing Association was forced to close off-track betting sites,” says another reporter.

The “Miss Tokyo Sports” contest is held annually

“It remains to be seen”

According to the aforementioned attendee at the meeting on April 7, restructured employees will receive one year of salary and a retirement package.

Employees interested in the offer must apply by May 14. The cuts will begin at the end of June.

The attendee, however, was skeptical: “It remains to be seen whether they can actually pay a total of 20 million yen to, say, a 50-year-old employee.”

When contacted by Bunshun, a representative of Tokyo Sports said, “We will refrain from answering.”