EXCLUSIVE: Variety Media‘s Chairman/CEO Jay Penske is planning editorial firings at the top-heavy trade in March. He also is overseeing a redesign of Variety’s website for February March. Penske laid off between 20 and 25 employees last November 15th from the circulation, database and conference departments – but not editorial. Variety had about 120 staffers before Penske took over. I hear editorial morale at the struggling entertainment trade is at a low ebb and anxiety is running high. “There is complete editorial disorganization from the top down,” a source complained. “No one knows if Variety is supposed to be a breaking news organization, an analytical publication, or some as yet undetermined hybrid. Tim Gray keeps pontificating to editorial that things are going to change and Variety will go in a new direction. But nobody knows what that means. They’re totally demoralized.” For instance, Penske ‘conceived’ — Variety’s term, not mine — of a special report to replace last Friday’s regular issue. It was an 80-page perfect bound ’Violence & Entertainment’ examination illustrated with a blood-dripping bullet hole on its cover. It arrived to subscribers without fanfare. And it generated no buzz inside Hollywood, indicating that Variety is still not a must read. (A week later, the special report is not even being promoted on Variety.com’s home page.) Penske announced on October 9th that he bought the once $200 million-valued trade, reportedly for the fire-sale price of $25 million after my PMC-owned Deadline Hollywood pretty much put it out of business. Financing for the Variety deal was provided by Third Point, a hedge fund founded by mega-investor Daniel S. Loeb. Variety is being maintained as a separate profit center outside PMC. Penske now maintains an office at Variety’s headquarters at 5900 Wilshire Blvd as well as at PMC’s Inglewood headquarters. (FYI: No matter what my corporate boss wants, Deadline reports the news.)

Editor-in-Chief Nikki Finke - tip her here.