UPDATE, 8:50 AM: A New York Times spokesperson gave Deadline this response to the latest developments:
EARLIER: Tensions between newsroom employees and The New York Times masthead kicked into higher gear Thursday morning with the announcement of a brief work slowdown planned for 3 pm local time. That’s when reporters and editors will leave their desks for 15 to 20 minutes, according to sources at the paper with knowledge of the plan, and circle through the newsroom with signs supporting copy-desk editors whose ranks are being diminished by half. They will then head down to the street outside the Times building on Eighth Avenue and West 41st Street, before returning to work. The timing of the action coincides with beginning of the busiest editing period of the day at the paper’s HQ.
“I’ve never seen morale so low at the Times,” a veteran senior writer from the Times told Deadline. “And there’s a lot of chaos in the newsroom.”
‘Our editors ask smart questions, engage passionately with our copy, and serve as our safety nets. Editors – and yes, that especially means copy editors – save reporters and The Times every day from countless errors, large and small.’ – letter to management from New York Times reporters
At issue is a Times plan to restructure the newsroom, eliminating what the editorial management of the paper has called redundant, unnecessary layers of editing, in order to speed up the process between story conception and publication. At the same time, the Times has been adding significantly to its reporting ranks during a time of revived competition with the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post and increased readership at both papers. The pressure to report exclusive stories, especially since the election of President Donald J. Trump, has become the most closely watched story in journalism since the heyday of Watergate and the Reagan-era Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandals.
The union is hoping for participation by as many as 400 newsroom staffers, according to sources. But many of the editors whose jobs are on the line are still involved in the interview process, justifying their positions, and others may be reluctant to participate. There also are newsroom staffers who see the management moves as necessary to save the paper in a time of a changing journalistic landscape.
The letter from union members to management announcing the action is careful not to call it a walkout or slowdown, which would likely compromise the union’s position.
“At a time when journalism is under attack, the New York Times should lead by example and protect these good jobs for its hardworking employees,” said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. “The Times is known for balanced, responsible journalism, and we stand with the News Guild in urging the Times to maintain the quality and integrity of its newsroom by maintaining these dedicated careers.”
The Times has not yet responded to Deadline’s request for comment on the latest development.
Here is this morning’s letter from NewsGuild reporters to Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joseph Kahn:
Dear Dean and Joe,
We write to you as the saved – those whose copy, facts and sometimes the intelligibility of a sentence or two have been hammered into shape by our friends and colleagues on the editing desks. Our editors ask smart questions, engage passionately with our copy, and serve as our safety nets. Editors – and yes, that especially means copy editors – save reporters and The Times every day from countless errors, large and small.
Copy and backfield editors, producers and photo editors work in concert with one another and with the rest of us to make The New York Times the best-written and best-edited daily newspaper in the world. As hundreds of thousands of new subscribers join us for the first time, we’re left at a loss by our newspaper’s intent on hacking off one of its own arms.
Like nearly everyone we know in the newsroom, we believe that the plan to eliminate dozens of editing jobs and do away with the copy desks is ill-conceived and unwise, and will damage the quality of our product. It will make us sloppier, more error-prone. It will undermine the reputation that generations have worked to build and maintain, the reputation that keeps readers coming back. You are reducing the number of people doing the work of editing, which would be harmful enough in itself. But you plan to take work away from people who do it well, and give it to people who have not developed the same skills, and who are already over-burdened.
We writers are not in need of a companionable read before someone hits the send button on our articles. We don’t need a stroke and a purr. We want forceful, focused intellects brought to bear on our work. We realize that painful change is afoot. We’ve accepted and borne the brunt of many rounds of layoffs and buyouts. None were as destructive to morale – nor, we fear, as destructive to The Times – as this one. It is something different in kind.
Your plan adds insult to injury by requiring many longtime, highly skilled employees to apply and interview for a greatly diminished number of jobs, in sessions that were instantly dubbed “death panels” in the newsroom. Requiring them to dance for their supper sends a clear message to them, and to us, that the respect we have shown The Times will not be reciprocated.
What’s more, this change has had only the barest pretense of transparency. From where we sit, the editing “experiments” looked like flimsy, brief set-pieces, never truly tested under fire – certainly not something on which to base a whole new system. Nothing we have heard from our editor friends says otherwise. We have no idea what results they yielded; you have not told us what you believe worked, what did not, or why. As usual, management sought little input from outside its own ranks.
You are fine journalists with good values, and we prize your leadership. Please reconsider this process, and the message it sends to every corner of the newsroom and the world.