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New York Times Offers Buyouts To Trim Edit Ranks, Fires Public Editor And Kills The Position

Deadline logo Deadline 5/31/2017 Jeremy Gerard
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SECOND UPDATE, with comment from inside the Times on the Public Editor decision, below.

UPDATED with NewsGuild statement, info on the buyouts: In a memo to the Times staff that had been expected for several months, executive editor Dean Baquet and his heir apparent, managing editor Joseph Kahn, wrote that “backfielders” and copy editors — who have different tasks before a story is published — will be replaced by a single group of editors responsible for all aspects of a story. Another editor will be “looking over their shoulders before publication.”

“Our goal is to significantly shift the balance of editors to reporters at The Times, giving us more on-the-ground journalists developing original work than ever before,” they said in the memo. No numbers were given regarding how many staffers management hopes will leave voluntarily before layoffs are announced, if necessary.

Grant Glickson, president of the NewsGuild of New York, called The Times‘ announcement “devastating for our members and grave news for the state of journalism.” (See his full statement below).

The Newspaper Guild, which represents the labor force, sent out its own memo about the changes and buyout offers:

“The Guild has negotiated an enhanced buyout package for our members who volunteer to accept this offer,” it said. “Those with 10 or more years of service will receive a 10 percent bonus on top of the standard buyout payment that is part of our collective bargaining agreement.” It also said that for the first time, “Guild members who accept The Times’s offer will not have to pay Guild dues (1.3846 percent of the total) deducted from their buyout payments. This … change in the local’s policy will result in several thousand dollars more in their pockets.”

PREVIOUSLY, 9:10 AM:The New York Times this morning announced the elimination of its Public Editor column, a widely read print and online insider’s critique of the paper that followed a national trend of newspapers creating “ombudsman” positions for readers to address complaints. Liz Spayd, the current public editor, will leave The Times on Friday, according to a memo to the staff from publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

The paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, also announced, as expected, a reorganization of the Times‘ editing procedures that will cut the editing force in the latest buyout plan to reduce staff.

Regarding the Public Editor position, Sulzberger wrote: “Our followers on social media and our readers across the internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be. Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office.”

Reaction outside The Times, however, was swift and mostly negative:

Created in 2003 in the wake of several scandals that shook the foundation of The Times to its core, including plagiarism and reporting on the Iraq war, the Public Editor has had a mixed record. Reporters and editors often felt unfairly attacked in public by their own paper, while readers found it to be a useful resort to address questions about press bias, preferred narratives and other issues of growing importance in a divided and furiously evolving media culture.

The move comes shortly after the Times redesigned its A section pages 2 and 3, which used to prominently include the Corrections and Editors’ Note columns; those are now buried inside the paper, also leading to criticism.

While the previous Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, has gone on to become the widely read media columnist at the Washington Post – which has emerged as The Times’ toughest competitor in the months since the inauguration of Donald Trump  – Spayd has weathered criticism by fellow journalists for squandering opportunities to hold The Times accountable at a time the press is under constant attack from the White House and beyond.

“She was just awful,” a veteran Times newsroom staff member told Deadline. “She killed the job. She just seemed to have animus towards the Times.” This staff member was not alone, however, in expressing the sentiment that Times publisher Sulzberger had erred in eliminating the job, especially when the press is under attack. “I’ve been a real fan of the Public Editor position, and half of them have been great,” the staff member said. “You really want someone there to make sense of it.”

Statement from Grant Glickson, President of the NewsGuild of New York:

The announcement today that The New York Times will be offering buyouts and eliminating editors— including the Public Editor — is devastating for our members and grave news for the state of journalism. The Times is supposed to be a leader in our industry, and though we’re heartened to hear that they intend to invest more in reporters and content, it comes at an unfortunate cost. The Times plans to offer buyouts, and if it doesn’t fill its “quota” management will layoff staff — primarily copy editors. These Guild members don’t simply correct comma splices, they protect the integrity of the brand. They are the watchdogs that ensure that the truth is told. The “Paper of Record” should value their importance. We have asked for a meeting with Times management to discuss how they intend to restructure their editing process, as we fight to keep our members and their institutional knowledge in the newsroom. The Guild will continue to work tirelessly to protect its members and hold New York Times’ management accountable.

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