New York Times reporters plead for copy editors' jobs in letter to bosses

New York Times reporters on Thursday sent a letter to the paper's top editors to protest the oncoming cuts to the newsroom's editing staff.

The letter, addressed to Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joe Kahn, will be followed up by a "collective coffee break" held by the editorial staff at 3 p.m. in a show of newsroom solidarity.

"Dear Dean and Joe," the letter reads. "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."

This morning's letter comes after an exchange between New York Times copy editors and management Wednesday that threw the anxiety over a plan to remake the newsroom's editing processes into public. About two-dozen copy editors approved a letter to Baquet and Kahn that forecasted a dire future for the credibility of the paper if they were removed as part of a plan to shift the balance of the newsroom headcount toward reporting.

Kahn and Baquet responded by noting, in part, that they were not eliminating copy editing and that "a majority" of the people affected by the cuts would keep their jobs.

During this afternoon's 15-minute walkout, New York Times employees will get up from their desks, walk down to the ground floor, walk around the building carrying signs and then re-enter the building, according to a letter from the New York NewsGuild.

Here's the full from New York Times reporters:

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.

Sincerely,
The Reporters

Here's the letter announcing the walkout:

To show our strong feelings about the pending newsroom cuts, we are taking a collective coffee break today at 3 p.m.

As we did in 2012 during contract talks, we will get up from our desks, walk down to the ground floor, walk around the building carrying signs and then walk back in.

All those employees in the business tower – Yes! We want you to join us and those located at sixth Avenue – should meet at the staircase in the newsroom on the 4th floor near the video department. We will file down the stairs of the newsroom starting on 4. Employees who work on the 3rd floor should meet at the red stairs on 3 and join the line of employees down to the 2nd floor. Employees who work on the 2nd floor should gather at the stairs on 2, and join in the walk through the newsroom to the 2nd floor pantry, which leads outside to the stairway on the 40th Street side. We will lap the building by turning right down 8th Avenue. We will reenter the Times building through the 41st St side.

Our coffee break together should only take about 15 minutes.

When we did this five years ago, the utter silence of a suddenly cleared-out newsroom, and the news coverage of the event, sent a powerful message of discontent.

We released a scathing open letter from our copy editors yesterday. Today, we have another from our reporters. Please check out attachment.

Stand in solidarity with your fellow Guild members

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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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