The makeup of The New York Times continues to shift as the publication is evolving to the digital landscape. This chapter of the paper’s transition comes in the form of buyouts to middle management editors – a once vital stop in the life of a story before it was published. The Times also said it would discontinue the role of public editor, which was a watchdog sort of job at the paper.
According to a memo from executive editor Dean Baquet and managing editor Joe Kahn, The Times will begin offering buyouts on Wednesday in order to reduce “layers of editors,” as it is “costly and slows” the paper down. Such changes will impact the Business, Metro and Styles desks and will be offered to reporters working those beats as well.
The editors said that the “assembly-line structure held over from a newspaper-only newsroom” was built around “multiple print deadlines,” and that it’s a “vestige” of the past. Buyouts will be offered to reduce the number of editors, in favor of a new model that will “end the distinction between backfielders and copy editors,” the memo said. Essentially, a group of editors will handle “all aspects of a story” and the second group will act as a “separate set of eyes” checking before publication.
Neither The Times nor Baquet responded to inquiries on how many buyouts would be offered. According to a Times 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, “The company expects to incur approximately $17 to $23 million of total charges in connection with this workforce reduction, with approximately $17 million to be recorded in the second quarter of 2017, and the balance, if any, to be recorded in the third quarter of 2017.”
WWD also reached out to The Times’ union, The News Guild, for comment. “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,” said Grant Glickson, New Guild of New York president. “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 lay off 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.”
Baquet and Kahn said the buyouts (and eventual layoffs should the paper not meet its target), would result in savings that will enable it to hire and bring in as many as 100 additional journalists.
“There is a deepening recognition outside the building that The Times is vital to the future of the country, one of the few institutions with the drive and ambition to cover a changing Washington. We see it in the rising subscription numbers and the daily notes from readers thanking us for our work,” the editors said, while also citing important non-Washington stories such as ones on the Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment claims payout, its investigation into dysfunction at Uber and exploratory videos that have solidified its journalistic bonafides.
The Times said it would also accept buyouts, which include an “enhanced cash payout, outplacement services and other benefits,” from reporters on desks such as Business Day, Metro and Styles, among others. Those aforementioned desks are undergoing changes. For instance, both media and Styles are without editors.
“In some cases new department heads will have different expectations and different ideas about coverage. So some reporters no doubt will want to consider the buyout. Everyone should visit his or her department head to have a frank conversation about the future,” the memo said.
The first big change at The Times was the elimination of the public editor role. The public editor, Elizabeth Spayd, will leave the paper on Friday, after a somewhat bumpy ride. The Times said the public editor job will be replaced by The Reader Center, which is a hub for journalists to engage with readers on the paper’s stories.
Behind the changes, of course, is the bigger issue facing all legacy publishers–namely that print advertising dollars are quickly evaporating. Earlier this month, the company said its first-quarter advertising revenues dipped 6.9 percent to $130 million due to deteriorating revenue from print, which makes up nearly 60 percent of the company’s ad revenue. Digital ad revenue grew 18.9 percent to $49.7 million, however.
Overall, net income attributable to the company totaled $13.2 million, or 8 cents a diluted share, compared with a loss of $8.3 million, or 5 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 5.1 percent to $398.8 million from $379.5 million.