Holding signs with slogans such as “this sign wsa not edited” and “copy editors save our buts,” The New York Times editorial staff staged a newsroom walkout on Thursday afternoon as a protest over the company’s plan to reduce copy-editing positions, which was first announced at the end of May. According to a spokesperson for the union that represents New York Times employees, more than 450 staffers participated in the 15 minute “collective coffee break.”
“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,” they wrote.
The reporters stressed their dependence on copy editors — and the effects the proposed reduction has had on newsroom morale.
“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,” they continued.
This comes a day after the copy editors sent a strongly worded — and error-free — letter of their own to management about the proposal to reorganize the newsroom and reduce the number of copy editing jobs through buyouts and a reapplication process.
“Dean and Joe: We are your readers, and you have turned your backs on us,” copy editors wrote. “In fact, we feel more respected by our readers than we do by you. We are living in a strange time when routine copy-editing duties such as fact checking, reviewing sources, correcting misleading or inaccurate information, clarifying language and, yes, fixing spelling and grammar mistakes in news copy are suddenly matters of public discourse. As those in power declare war against the news media, as deliberately false or lackadaisical reportage finds its way into social media feeds, readers are flocking to our defense. They are sending us pizza. And they are signing up for Times subscriptions in record numbers because they understand that we go to great lengths to ensure quality and, most important, truth.”
In a written response, Baquet and Kahn made the distinction that the proposed plan would eliminate “a free standing copy desk,” not copy editing. Although they clearly needed someone to copy edit the letter: “freestanding” is actually one word.