Monday, July 17, 2017

Media workers protest mistreatment---NPR and The New York Times go on the defensive

Media workers at two important news outlets are engaged in labor struggles which you may not have heard about. The News Guild of New York, CWA Local 31003, has organized protests at The New York Times and journalists at National Public Radio represented by the SAG-AFTRA unions, are fighting for their union contract.

The Communications Workers of America has issued the following press release:

New York, NY - After a year and a half of uncertainty about their future, New York Times editors, and the staff at large, have expressed their feelings of betrayal to their newsroom bosses, Executive Editor Dean Baquet and Managing Editor Joseph Kahn. Management has said it will “restructure” the newsroom to streamline the editing process, without any clear explanation of what this downsizing entails.

Copy editors have one simple recommendation to management: increase the number of positions available to them, as well as photo editors, and continue to build upon the New York Times brand.

Below is the letter from the Times’ copy desk:

Dear Dean and Joe,

We have begun the humiliating process of justifying our continued presence at The New York Times. We take some solace in the fact that we have been assured repeatedly that copy editors are highly respected here.

If that is true, we have a simple request. Cutting us down to 50 to 55 editors from more than 100, and expecting the same level of quality in the report, is dumbfoundingly unrealistic. Work with us on a new number.

But after living more than a year and a half under a cloud of uncertainty about our jobs, a cruelly drawn-out period in which we suspended major financial arrangements and life decisions, and carried an ever-growing kernel of fear;

After we were compared to dogs urinating on fire hydrants when we edited stories, in an internal report that called for the elimination of "low-value editing" and made it all but clear which stages of editing this referred to — so much so that it became a running joke among the copy desks for months ("How's the low-value editing going in your section today?") — along with the report's implication that copy editing was merely finding "easily identifiable errors, such as spelling and grammar mistakes";

After some of us were recruited for "editing tests" to streamline the process, or, as it turned out, figure out how to make our own jobs obsolete;

After enduring a newsroom-wide copy-editing overhaul last year that consolidated the desks, transformed the scope of our duties and confused a whole lot of reporters and section editors (but ultimately made us think we would at least keep our jobs);

After learning that this new setup would be undone just months after it was put in place, with the whiplash announcement that our jobs would simply be eliminated;

After we were told that to remain employed, we would have to apply for new "strong editor" positions meant to be a hybrid of the two types of editors at The Times, backfielders and copy editors, and realized only copy editors had to be reevaluated categorically;

After we were told that this "restructuring" would also reduce our numbers by more than half;

After completing a first round of interviews, some held by interviewers who clearly had not even read our résumés and cover letters, and competing against the very colleagues we are leaning on in these times;

After we heard that The Times would soon go on a hiring spree, just as it gets ready to shed jobs, and thought to ourselves that it is particularly ruthless to talk about all the others you intend to court as you break up with someone;

After all of this and more — we are finding it difficult to feel respected.

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 covfefe 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.

This should be a triumphant moment for all Times employees. Everyone from the ground floor up should be thrilled and proud to come to work, and walk into the building feeling valuable and needed.

And that is why it feels like such a profound waste that morale is low throughout the newsroom, and that many of us, from editors to reporters to photo editors to support staff, are angry, embittered and scared of losing our jobs.

You may have heard that the elimination of the copy desk is widely seen as a disaster in the making (including by many managers directly involved in the process), that the editing experiments were an open failure, and that there is dissension even in the highest ranks and across job titles regarding the new editing structure.

But you have decided to press forward anyway, and this decision betrays a stunning lack of knowledge of what we do at The Times. Come see what we do. See the process, what comes in and what actually goes online or to print. See what we do before you decide you can live without it.

We copy editors understand that our roles will have to change, that we must find ways to edit more efficiently, and that The Times must evolve into a nimbler, more visual, more digitally focused news outlet. We will learn and we will adapt. In fact, through many workflow changes, through the adoption of new technologies and platforms, we have already proved we can. We only ask that you not treat us like a diseased population that must be rounded up en masse, inspected and expelled.

After all, we are, as one senior reporter put it, the immune system of this newspaper, the group that protects the institution from profoundly embarrassing errors, not to mention potentially actionable ones.

We are one of the crucial layers of review that you seem so determined to erase, as the sudden removal of the public editor role shows. We are stewards of The Times, committed to preserving its voice and authority.

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.

We abhor your decision to wipe out the copy desk. But as we continue this difficult transition, we ask that you sharply increase the available positions for the 109 copy editors, as well as an unknown number of other staff members, who have effectively lost their jobs as a result of your actions.

We worry that if we do not speak out, you will feel emboldened to make similarly sweeping staff reductions elsewhere in the company without debate. We worry that the errors and serious breaches of Times standards that copy editors catch each day will go unnoticed — until we are embarrassed into making corrections. We worry, in short, that the newsroom has forgotten why these layers of editing were created in the first place. But we still believe in The Times.

We ask that you believe in us.

The Copy Desk


About the NewsGuild

The NewsGuild of New York is the union for print and digital news professionals in America’s media capital. We are the workplace advocate for people in the media business, including some of the best journalists in the country. The majority of our nearly 3,000 members work in newsrooms at media organizations from print to digital to broadcast. We represent workers at the following companies: The Hour, Law360, Amsterdam News, El Diario, The Foreign Policy Association, Hudson News, The Jewish Forward, Jewish Telegraphic Agency/70 Faces Media, Kaplan International Centers, The Nation, The Daily Beast, The New York Times, The Jersey Journal, Standard & Poor's, Scholastic, Inc., Consumer's Union, Thomson Reuters, WPIX-TV, and Writers Guild of America East.

The SAG-AFTRA unions have issued the following open letter to NPR management:


We write to you as NPR’s staff members who have been on teams that won the duPont and Peabody awards in recent years – awards that have demonstrated some of NPR’s finest work and helped place the network among the top media companies in the country. Obviously many of our colleagues have won hundreds of other respected awards, too; others in the newsroom may not be listed on a plaque but they’ve done just as much to build NPR. We’ve done this work with a fraction of the resources of other media corporations.

And we’ve done this work, and NPR’s stature and audience have grown, while most of us were serving under the SAG-AFTRA contract. Members of your management team seem to believe that NPR has become the revered media company it is – a company that they boast about serving – despite that contract. They misunderstand NPR’s history and culture: NPR has become great partly because of our labor-management contract. The contract has ensured proper working conditions, collaboration and collegiality, and an atmosphere of mutual respect. That culture is one of the main reasons we choose to work here. That culture attracts some of our youngest and newest talents, from diverse backgrounds.

Of course, any contract can be updated or improved. We assume that the managers negotiating this contract have good motives and have the company’s best interests at heart. But we’ve been shocked by their efforts to in effect rip it up.

We know that your goal is to leave this company on a sound footing for the future. We’ve been delighted by your focus on promoting NPR’s brand, on expanding the audience, on delivering great journalism, and improving relations with member stations. But if your managers succeed at gutting the SAG-AFTRA contract, as they appear to be trying to do, they will do long-lasting and perhaps permanent damage to the culture that has made NPR, well, NPR. Everybody will lose – most of all our journalism and the public. We are writing to you directly, Jarl, hoping that you will intervene. We need to save the soul of NPR.


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