About Group Restructures Guide Operations Team; 15 Gone, 10 Being Added

The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) Co.’s About Group is reorganizing the way its Guide teams operate, as new CEO Darline Jean charts a path out of spiraling ad declines related to the weak economy and users. In order to create the new structure, a company rep tells paidContent that 15 positions are being cut, but that 10 new jobs are being added to support the new approach.

It’s important to note that the changes announced today reflect members of the Guide Operations team, and not the Guides themselves, an About rep told paidContent, when asked about a report in Business Insider that said the entire editorial team was being dismissed.

About currently has 900 Guide sites, each written by one individual.

About says the point of today’s change is to reduce overlap as more guides are being added. The About.com editorial team – which is part of the larger Guide Operations team — consists of 22 full-time and part-time employees. With the reorganization, 15 full and part-time jobs are being eliminated and 10 new, full-time positions are being added.

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communicopia conference last week, NYTCo CEO Janet Robinson warned investors that digital revenues would be down 2- to 3 percent due in part to About’s continuing struggles following last year’s change to Google’s search algorithm. That change resulted in less users going to About’s guides, which meant that the unit saw less revenues from its cost-per-click revenue model.

The About Group includes the main guide site, About.com as well as sibling properties ConsumerSearch and Calorie-Count, gets about 80 percent of its traffic from search. It also relies on display, and less users meant that those dollars also were diminished.

In July, Jean, an About veteran, was promoted from CFO to CEO. At the same time, About also made some changes, mostly promotions, to its executive sales team. That announcement came two months after Martin Nisenholtz, SVP, digital operations, New York Times Company digital, took over responsibility for the unit — once a star for NYTCo — on a day-to-day basis, replacing previous CEO Cella Irvine.

The trouble for About began roughly a year ago. The unit, which also includes had a pretty strong year in 2010, with revenues rising 12.4 percent at the unit. But despite the continuing ad recovery, Q4 saw a mild decline in revenues of around 3 percent. Things grew worse in Q1, as About revenues dropped 10.2 percent to $31.1 million. That trend is expected to continue into next year.

About has largely continued with the path charted by Irvine before she was ousted, building up its how-to videos on YouTube (NSDQ: GOOG) — an important area, given the competition that 15-year-old company has faced lately from so-called “content farms” and freelance content aggregators. It has also added a Spanish version. Overall, Irvine had planned to add 200 more guide sites for a total of 1,000,with expanded and deepened content seen as a way to attract more users and advertisers. That plan still appears to be in place.