Buyouts are Changing The New York Times

On May 31, the New York Times announced it would be offering buyouts to its employees in an effort to restructure its newsroom.

A buyout is a cash payout offered to employees, with compensation based on a sliding scale of the number of years they spent working for the employer. Those who take the buyout are essentially fired; however, this “firing” is independent of their job performance.

“Our goal is to significantly shift the balance of editors to reporters at the Times, giving us more on-the-ground journalists developing original work than ever before,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor, and Joseph Kahn, the managing editor, wrote in a memo.

In an ever-changing media landscape, the public is watching an industry trying to stay ahead of the curve.

Why the Buyouts?

The profits from eliminating these editors will reportedly allow the Times to hire about 100 new journalists. The Times is also hoping to produce more original content, a significant finding of its 2020 report, which was issued in January.

These buyouts come as part of a plan to shift the legacy print paper to a more digitally focused publication. As of May, The Times had more than 2.2 million digital-only subscriptions, but it has been harder to move away from its past than the editors originally anticipated.

“A ‘print hub,’ which handles the tasks involved in producing the printed newspaper on a nightly basis, was created in 2015 in an effort to free editors to focus on the digital audience, but the process of shedding longtime habits built around daily print deadlines continues to evolve,” said Daniel Victor in a May Times article announcing the buyouts.

This is the the sixth time that the company has offered newsroom buyouts since 2008. In 2014, employees were laid off when the Times did not receive enough buyout volunteers.

With these buyouts also came the elimination of the public editor position, which was created after a string of false stories were published in 2003.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the publisher, said in a newsroom memo that the role is outdated.

“Our followers on social media and our readers across the Internet have come together to collectively serve as a modern watchdog, more vigilant and forceful than one person could ever be,” he wrote. “Our responsibility is to empower all of those watchdogs, and to listen to them, rather than to channel their voice through a single office.”

Similar Plans

The New York Times is not the only publication offering its employees buyouts. The Los Angeles Times offered its employees a similar choice in June.

“For the Los Angeles Times, and the news industry overall, 2017 has been challenging,” Editor and Publisher Davan Maharaj wrote. “We are weathering the challenges better than most, because of our dedicated staff and several initiatives that have helped our business. However, we need to address the current economic realities as we work to secure our future.”

The L.A. employees were instructed to apply for the buyouts if they were “non-union employees with at least 15 years of service at the company.”

Buyouts like this also hit GateHouse Media newspapers last year, including the Columbus  Dispatch, the Rockford Register Star and the Providence Journal. The goal in this situation was, again, to avoid imminent layoffs while reducing costs in a business-saving attempt.

Buyout Progression

A few staff protests were triggered on June 29 in response to to cuts and changes in the New York Times’ operation, particularly surrounding the firing of copy editors, which some staff members believe will threaten the quality of the publication.

A letter was sent by editors to Baquet and Kahn prior to the protests.

“You often speak about the importance of engaging readers, of valuing, investing in and giving a voice to readers. Dean and Joe: We are your readers, and you have turned your backs on us,” editors wrote in the letter.

Michiko Kakutani, the chief book reviewer for the New York Times, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Risen were among those who took buyouts. Poynter has been building a list of employees taking buyouts since the announcement.

According to the Poynter list, 71 buyout offers had been approved out of 81 offers submitted as of July 28. These included editors, reporters, columnists, art directors, photo editors and others.

With seasoned editors and vets of the Grey Lady leaving with the proverbial “golden handshake,” the readers will judge how this huge reduction of senior positions and larger focus on producing content for the digital era will affect their coverage, content and tone.

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