Reporters will leave The New York Times in this round of cuts, top editors say

Amid protest over planned cuts in the ranks of copy editors, the two top New York Times editors underscored on Thursday in a memo to staff that reporters would be on the receiving end of a buyout program, not just editors.

The memo, which was sent in response to a letter from reporters expressing solidarity with the editing staff, acknowledged that losing "valuable" employees is inevitable during any downsizing.

"We have had cost reductions before and The Times remains very robust," read the letter, from Managing Editor Joe Kahn and Executive Editor Dean Baquet. "But we'd be foolish to undertake one without reflecting on the reality that departures of close colleagues always hurt."

Although reporters will be affected by the oncoming newsroom realignment (which has been the subject of dueling staff memos over the last two days) the paper's editing corps will bear the brunt of the cuts. The long-in-the-works realignment at The New York Times is aimed at shifting the balance of the newsroom toward reporting and away from editing.

Previous cuts, the memo notes, have fallen hardest on the reporting staff. This time, too, reporters will not be immune.

"Several past cost reductions have fallen mainly on reporters. Reporters will leave The Times in this round of cuts as well," the note reads. "But we are going to invest more, not less, in news gathering and creating outstanding digital content. Any other approach at this critical time in our history would be irresponsible."

Earlier this year, the paper announced a voluntary buyout program and noted that reporters would "want to consider" the program as the paper reconstituted some of its major desks.

Here's the note:

Dear Colleagues,

The letter you sent us from reporters today further underscores what we mentioned in our previous letter. There is a deep commitment from all parts of the newsroom to the quality of our report and a strong desire to preserve all the talent behind the excellence of The Times.

The risk of any cuts, no matter how they are targeted, is that we lose some people who make valuable contributions. We have had cost reductions before and The Times remains very robust. But we'd be foolish to undertake one without reflecting on the reality that departures of close colleagues always hurt.

At the same time, we want to stress something we have said before. Even if we were not under pressure to reduce costs in the newsroom, which we are, the newspaper editing system that served The Times well for so long has to change. The digital presentation of our journalism requires full participation of everyone involved in its creation. Sharp distinctions on what reporters and different editors do — reporters to create text, editors to backfield, editors to copy edit, editors to slot, editors to select and insert photos, editors to write headlines and layout pages — worked well for print. That approach is slower, more cumbersome and less creative at a time when our primary focus is on our digital audience.

All of us remember times when copy editors saved us from embarrassing errors or enhanced a story with a headline or turn of phrase that brought it to life. The copy desk is an institution at this paper with a rich history of its own. For that reason, we are determined to find important roles for our best copy editors, and to preserve copy editing as a core part of our new editing system.

While changing editing is challenging, we are undertaking it deliberately. We have been discussing and experimenting with new approaches to editing since late last year. Some desks effectively operate on the strong desk model already, and produce excellent journalism. We have tailored a training and rollout schedule for larger desks based on what we learned from trials. We have confidence this new approach will work, especially if we have the full participation of everyone involved, including reporters.

We did ask a large number of editors, including backfielders, copy editors and web producers, to apply for open positions in this new editing system. Some 14 senior leaders from different parts of the newsroom have talked with them about their goals and their skills, and have sought to find the right fit for them in the new system. Most of them will get new positions, while others will not. But we know of no previous cost reduction undertaken with as much care for the people affected and the structure of the newsroom going forward.

Several past cost reductions have fallen mainly on reporters. Reporters will leave The Times in this round of cuts as well. But we are going to invest more, not less, in news gathering and creating outstanding digital content. Any other approach at this critical time in our history would be irresponsible.

— Dean and Joe

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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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