May 27, 2019

New York Times to staff: “Cool it with the book deals, guys”


Newspaper journalists and book editors have much to offer one another. Many book projects are born from an editor digging an article and chasing the writer. In other cases the writer wants to expand upon their beat, and pitches a longer-form idea to book editors.

Now, with more folks reading non-fiction, particularly titles that relate to the news cycle, these journalists are scoring more book deals than ever.

So many book deals, in fact, that it has caused a light staffing problem at the New York Times.

As Joe Pompeo writes for Vanity Fair, the Times escalated to threat level memo:

Lately, the newsroom has been buzzing about a memo that landed in people’s inboxes on May 6 from executive editor Dean Baquet and assistant managing editor Carolyn Ryan. It was a stern and comprehensive reminder, described by one source as a “gentle wrist slap,” about the company policy governing book projects. Step one: pitch your book idea to the Times so the company at least has the opportunity to make a competitive bid. (The Times occasionally publishes books of its own). Step two: make sure your department head and the standards editor are looped in on your proposal. Step three: submit a formal request for leave including the number of months that are required and your anticipated return date.

The memo goes on to remind the staff that once they return from leave they must be fully committed to their day-job (noting, ominously, that they may return to see the parameters of their job changed).

Of course, this puts the Times administrators in an awkward position, as high profile book deals for staff journalists are a great brand builder for the Grey Lady (second only to television talking head gigs) and something they’d ultimately like to encourage. Anything in moderation, I suppose.



Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.