June 30, 2017
New York Times copy desk protests Dean Baquet and Joe Kahn’s plans to radically reorganize Gray Lady’s editorial department
by Simon Reichley
At the end of May, Dean Baquet and Joe Kahn circulated a memo to the editorial staff at their paper, the New York Times, informing them of plans to dramatically recalibrate the newsroom, by “significantly shift[ing] the balance of editors to reporters at The Times.” This shift was to be accomplished by a wave of buyout offers, which would include “enhanced cash payouts.” Ultimately, Baquet and Kahn hoped to use savings from the buyouts to hire “as many as 100 additional journalists.”
Yesterday, the Times copy desk weighed in on the decision to reorganize. They wrote a letter to Baquet and Kahn, and it’s withering. They call the decision to reduce the number of staff copy editors by almost half “dumbfoundingly unrealistic”; they call the paper’s inability to translate enormous public support for rigorous journalism into higher workplace morale “a profound waste”; they claim that, internally, the decision to eliminate the independent copy desk is recognized as “a disaster in the making,” they call recent experiments in organization “an open failure”; and they forcefully, openly accuse Baquet and Kahn of “a stunning lack of knowledge of what we do at The Times.”
It is a remarkable document of worker-led dissent, and a courageous defense of a noble, but oft-overlooked profession. In short, it is badass.
Baquet and Kahn responded the same day, defending their decision to reorganize and to eliminate the free-standing copy desk. They claim that “a majority of people currently employed by the copy desk will find new editing jobs,” though that still leaves the door open to eliminating as many as fifty editorial positions. And they reiterate their intent “to reduce separate layers of editing, to have reporters and front-line editors play a bigger role in all aspects of story production and promotion, to create a more natively visual news report, and to speed up production.” Basically, they want fewer people to do more work while preserving a consistent level of quality in their publication.
Which, sure — why wouldn’t you want that if you were trying to make a fuck-load of money and really capitalize on the fear and confusion that lots of Americans are experiencing now? I get it. What’s less clear is why you’d want that if you were interested in the wellbeing of your employees, or the quality of your paper.
In any event, the editorial department at the Times appears willing to walk the walk (wink wink). On Thursday afternoon they staged an organized walkout, gathering outside the Times offices to protest:
@nytimes staff protest in support of copy editors facing #layoffs
#NYT #NewYorkTimes #NewsGuild #WalkOut pic.twitter.com/WSqN7aM1OP
— Yunuen Bonaparte (@_ybonaparte) June 29, 2017
Note: In addition to providing excellent reporting, we had hoped that this piece would include cracks about “ghosting at the Baquet” and “the wrath of Kahn.” This note, in the end, will have to suffice.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.