New York Times copy editors were just told how to (try to) keep their jobs

As The New York Times makes cuts on its copy desk to shift the balance of the newsroom to reporters, it's looking for staffers with all the staples of traditional copy editing plus refined technical know-how and an "interest in changing/developing technologies."

Earlier this morning, an email went out to the staff of The New York Times that outlined how the newsroom will select for its downsized editing operation. It also laid out a new editorial workflow designed to fit the reduced staff.

"Going forward, editors on news and features desks will be responsible for all aspects of a story, through the various drafts all the way to a polished version ready for digital publication," wrote Charlotte Behrendt in a memo to staffers.

Candidates who apply for the retooled editing jobs will interview with one or more members of a newsroom hiring committee, which will make its choices based on aptitude in a series of skills related to news judgement and technical proficiency, according to the memo. They're aiming to finish the process by July 15.

Earlier today, an op-ed distributed by the News Guild of New York, which represents employees at The New York Times, argued that the cuts could jeopardize the credibility of the company.

"It comes down to accuracy, to a news organization’s track record of getting even the smallest details right. When typos and misspellings jump off a page, readers are more likely to wonder what else is wrong," the op-ed read.

Here's the full memo:

To the Staff:

Last week, Joe and Dean announced a new editing system, the “strong desk” model, in which the distinction between backfielders and copy editors will no longer exist. As we transition to this model, desks around the newsroom will be restructured and the majority of editors will see their roles change.

Going forward, editors on news and features desks will be responsible for all aspects of a story, through the various drafts all the way to a polished version ready for digital publication. Editors on the News Print Hub and the new Features Print Hub will be responsible for all aspects of producing the newspaper, including working with designers to plan the daily sections, writing display type like headlines and captions and otherwise ensuring that the newspaper remains of the highest quality. This morning, we will be posting openings on Ahead of the Times in all of these areas for editors capable of bringing a broad range of skills and abilities to the mix as we implement the new system.

Who Should Apply

We want to be clear that not every editor currently on staff will need to apply for one of these positions. Only editors who fall into one of the two categories below need apply:

1) Copy editors whose jobs have been eliminated in the strong desk model, who wish to be considered for one of the open jobs; and

2) Other editors who may not have a continuing role on their restructured desk.

Editors unsure about their status on the desk should consult with their desk heads.

Hiring Process

The job posting will detail the responsibilities of the open editor positions, and all applicants will be given the opportunity to interview with one or more members of a newsroom hiring committee designated for this purpose. The committee will assess candidates based upon the criteria below. Not all of the criteria will necessarily apply to every opening; applicants should be guided by these generally in considering whether their skill set is a good match for the open positions:

Core Skills

  • Attention to detail (in terms of acceptable style, grammar, punctuation, language, word choice, etc.)
  • Accuracy; ability and willingness to check facts
  • Agility and efficiency with respect to all aspects of editing work
  • Understanding and facility with display type on all platforms, including social media
  • Ability to lift stories
  • Ability to assess and discuss with reporters the best “voice” for stories in the earliest stages of story development
  • Ability to guide and work well with reporters
  • Ability to collaborate and communicate well with colleagues

Specialized Skills

  • Subject-matter knowledge or expertise
  • Foreign language skills
  • Other unique skill(s) or experience
  • Strategy/Planning/Forward-Looking Skills
  • Ability and judgment in conceptualizing stories and story lines
  • Ability to think through stories and topics effectively and constructively with reporters
  • Ability to prioritize on a continuous basis and pivot as priorities change based on the news
  • Adaptability to new modes of storytelling as they evolve

Judgment

  • Solid news judgment, including the ability and willingness to identify and drive forward stories with impact and steer away from dutiful, incremental news
  • Solid judgment about what not to cover and the willingness and ability to exercise that judgment
  • Solid judgment about story questions worth raising and pursuing, understanding what can be tackled in any given time frame
  • Clear understanding of and adherence to Times standards, ethics and policies
  • Ability to manage work effectively on deadline
  • Ability to work independently and with minimal supervision

Technology

  • Understanding of our current systems (e.g., the fundamentals of Scoop) and ability to use them effectively
  • Willingness and ability to experiment with, learn and use new technology
  • Initiative and interest in changing/developing technologies

After completing all applicant interviews and reviewing supplemental materials submitted by candidates, the hiring committee will recommend qualified candidates for a second round of interviews with desk heads who have editor openings on their desks. Following the completion of the desk head interviews, the hiring committee will extend offers for the available positions. We hope to complete this process by or before July 15.

If you have any questions, please contact Susan Wessling (redacted number) or me (redacted number).

Charlotte

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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