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Journalists at the New York Times: Not Going Quietly

June 29th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Journalism, Newspapers

This seems quaint.

Print journalists are making a case to management that a planned layoff of dozens of veteran copy editors … is a very bad idea.

It seems like such an Aughties thing, this push back. From 2007, 2008, 2009 — the opening years of the Great Newsroom Layoffs.

Of late, in an industry featuring lots of empty desks and beaten-down morale, the dissed and dismissed in newsrooms across the U.S. have, mostly, gone quietly.

(Part of that was newspaper management perfecting techniques for heading off dissent by tying severance packages to an orderly, complaint-free exit — see espn.com)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that it is journalists at the New York Times, historically one of the best-edited newspapers in the world, who are raising a ruckus.

It started yesterday, when copy editors at NYT sent a letter to the newspaper’s two top editors, questioning the wisdom of eliminating the copy desk and suggesting that the subsequent departure of 50-plus editors would harm the product.

Fewer eyes on stories … well, yes, it seems inevitable that more errors of fact as well as style and grammar will creep into New York Times stories.

NYT is renown in the industry for its thorough editing and nearly mistake-free stories.

I can vouch for this.

NYT published more than a dozen stories I did for them in the first half of 2009 (including this one, and this one), and editors asked good questions and sometimes requested additional reporting. But they did not make changes for the sake of change; they did not tear up my stuff and I felt the final story was the best version. The way good editing is supposed to work.

Later yesterday, the top newsroom executives — Dean Baquet and Joe Kahn — responded to the copy editors, saying they “take those concerns seriously” but not offering any relief.

Instead, they talked about how NYT will still have “far more editors relative to reporters or to the number of stories we publish than any of our traditional print peers or our newer digital rivals. After this restructuring, we will continue to invest far more in editing than any of our competitors do.”

(So, what is the target here? Is management’s goal to be just-enough-cleaner than everyone else? Is it about comparisons rather than an approach to head off as many mistakes as possible?

It has been a commitment to staffing that has made NYT the best-edited major newspaper in the country. The suggestion from Baquet and Kahn that NYT will still outnumber its competitors on the editing front is tone deaf — it was quantity as well as quality that made the newspaper what it is and “not being as bad as the others” is not a rallying cry that is likely to be picked up.

Today, NYT reporters jumped in with a letter to Baquet and Kahn to protest the planned cuts among copy editors.

“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 also called for Times staffers to leave the building for 15 minutes at 3 p.m. to demonstrate solidarity with the copy editors.

Anyway, yes, it is nice to see a newsroom fight back. It’s been a long time. At the least, Baquet and Kahn will not be able to lay off 50 editors under cover of darkness — or employee fatalism.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Judy Long // Nov 19, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Even leaving aside style, and ego, I suspect that copy editors have saved many a publisher from libel suits.

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