The Question Too Hot for Dean Baquet to Answer


The New York Times is laying off some of its copy editors in an effort to reshape the staff for the online age. Editor Dean Baquet is answering reader questions about this online. Dean… I think you missed a question, here?

It is unquestionably true that the Times has an absurd number of editors. (Whether or not copy editors specifically are a wise place to cut we will leave for a separate discussion.) The general idea of culling editors and hiring more reporters in their place is not necessarily a bad one. But let’s take a close look at this question to Baquet and its answer. Do you see anything missing?

I understand that this was a financial issue. Did higher level employees such as yourself consider taking salary cuts?— Diana Joubert
Baquet: This is actually not primarily a financial issue we are mostly shifting resources, not cutting them. We are making these changes to modernize an editing system that now has to accommodate many different kinds of storytelling. We will come out of this with a newsroom that is almost the same size.
But I should make clear that this has been difficult for me and the entire newsroom. I’ve spent a big chunk of my life here, as a reporter and as an editor. And I know how much these editors have given to the place. It may be necessary, but that does not make it less painful.

If you said, “The answer to the question is missing from Baquet’s response,” you are correct! Did Dean Baquet—or, perhaps more relevant, the CEO, publisher, vice chairman, and EVPs, who all have multimillion-dollar pay packages—consider taking pay cuts in a real or symbolic effort to mitigate these layoffs? The question is not answered directly. Rather, Baquet’s answer is that these layoffs were “not primarily a financial issue,” which is a rather artful legalistic half-truth in the context of the newspaper industry, where everything is, if not primarily, then at least in large part a financial issue, because resources are thin and growth is hard to find and there are always more good ideas than there are resources. Certainly, a pay cut at the top could save at least a few of those copy editor jobs. Or it could prove to all the employees at the Times that the bosses were willing to share the pain. Or it could fund a few more major investigative stories per year. Or etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. It is hard to think of any company where the employees would not appreciate an executive pay cut during a mass layoff situation.

An editor might tell you to ANSWER THE QUESTION, Dean.

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