Extensive NYT Study Calls for Job Cuts, Diversity...Same Old Politics

January 18th, 2017 8:59 AM

If its frantic anti-Trump post-victory coverage hasn't given it away, a new internal report from the New York Times made clear the journalistic organization has failed to learned anything from Trump’s election victory. While the 8,700-word report and an accompanying memo from the brass emphasized the need to improve the race and gender diversity of the paper (but with fewer editors), it said nothing about the ideological groupthink that enabled the entire paper to be blindsided by the Trump phenomenon.

“Journalism That Stands Apart” was put together by a team of seven journalists led by David Leonhardt and boiled down to reporter David Chen’s tweet: “NYTimes recommends fewer editors, more visuals, more diversity.” That includes more women in photos and quoted in articles.

There was plenty of nuts-and-bolts criticism offered, and some warning signs for conventional reporters and editors, but nothing to suggest that the paper needs to expand its political vision to encompass more of America. Instead, expect more graphics and fewer words.

....Stories written in a dense, institutional language that fails to clarify important subjects and feels alien to younger readers. A long string of text, when a photograph, video or chart would be more eloquent.

We devote a large amount of resources to stories that relatively few people read. Except in some mission-driven areas or in areas where evidence suggests that the articles have disproportionate value to subscribers, there is little justification for this. It wastes time -- of reporters, backfielders, copy editors, photo editors and others -- and dilutes our report.

Traditional reporters might be squeezed out as well.

We also need to become more comfortable with our photographers, videographers and graphics editors playing the primary role covering some stories, rather than a secondary role. The excellent journalism already being produced by these desks serves as a model.

Then came diversity. But not the diversity of thought one might expect after the paper spent the campaign cocky about a Hillary Clinton victory -- like the headline over its October 24 lead story, “Victory In Sight, Clinton Presses Beyond Trump” -- but the standard liberal vision of diversity, in race and gender, but not thought. The denial continues:

Increasing the diversity of our newsroom – more people of color, more women, more people from outside major metropolitan areas, more younger journalists and more non-Americans – is critical to our ability to produce a richer and more engaging report. It is also vital to our strategic ambitions. Expanding our international audience and attracting more young readers, which will go a long way toward determining whether The Times meets its audience goals, depend on having a more diversified report and a more diverse staff.

And this particular development looks like a potential field day for those who want to fact-check the Times -- while it “believes strongly” in copy editing, the paper is no longer willing to pay as much for it:

The 2020 group believes strongly in the value of copy-editing. There is a high price for easily identifiable errors, such as spelling and grammar mistakes. An increase in such errors would send the wrong message to readers -- that our product is sloppy and lacks high value. When we publish sloppy stories, readers complain to us in significant numbers. At the same time, The Times spends too much time on low-value line-editing, such as the moving, unmoving and removing of paragraphs, and too little on conceptual editing and story sharpening....

The Times currently devotes too many resources to low-value editing -- and, by extension, too many to editing overall. Our journalism and our readers would be better served if we instead placed an even higher priority on newsgathering in all of its forms.

Editors and copy editors came in for a hard time in the paper’s newsroom survey, as these excerpts demonstrate.

“Hire editors and reporters who don’t need to have their hands held. Honestly, how can we still afford to have five editors arguing for hours over a routine day story?...

“There is too much editing on the copy desks, where editors are adhering to a style that is increasingly becoming far too rigid for the Times.”

There were the standard pleas for liberal-oriented diversity to reduce the “male executive voice” (horrors!) emanating from the paper.

Executive editor Dean Baquet and managing editor Joe Kahn's memo to the newsroom in the wake of the report’s release stated bluntly:

There will be budget cuts this year. We will lay out the specifics in the coming weeks and months. We cannot pretend to be immune from financial pressures but we view this moment as a necessary repositioning of The Times’s newsroom, not as a diminishment.

You don’t have to read too far between the lines to see some anti-Trump hostility. There’s no acknowledgement what the paper missed in the 2016 campaign.

This is not just a story of transformed government agencies. It is also about the stability of the global order that has prevailed since World War II and America’s place in that world. It is about what happens when a group of business moguls who built empires bring their free market philosophy to bear on everything from education to healthcare and national defense, and how that philosophical change will affect people’s lives. It is also a story about power in New York, as one of the biggest names in one of our largest industries actually takes over the country, often running it from from a penthouse on a heavily guarded Fifth Avenue.

Baquet and Kahn brought the pain to the newsroom:

Let’s not be coy. These changes will lead to fewer editors at The Times. One of our overarching goals is to keep as many reporters, photographers, graphics experts and videographers on the ground as possible.

They promised to “prioritize diversity,” at least of a certain type.

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As The New York Times becomes an ever more global operation, diversity in our ranks is paramount. Diversity -- of gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic backgrounds and outlook -- is a moral imperative as well as a necessity for improving our coverage, which, in turn, will expand our audience.

Our news report includes a diverse array of voices and perspectives -- more than it ever has -- but it is still not as inclusive as it could be. Take gender, for example. We write much more often about men than women, and recent interviews of readers have found a perception among women that The Times is primarily run by and written by men. Many interviewed said they would like to see more analysis and opinion by women, more women in photos and more women quoted in articles. Gender diversity issues extend to leadership. There are roughly as many women in the official management ranks of the newsroom as in the staff as a whole, but we want to see more women in positions running coverage in the newsroom.

We are one of the very few publications anywhere with an African-American executive editor, but the rest of our newsroom decision-makers are overwhelmingly white.

Times media reporter Sydney Ember’s story on the report’s release (originally intended for November, before Trump’s shocking victory became the priority) threw in a couple of paragraphs on how Trump’s election blindsided the paper.

At The Times, the election threw the newsroom into a period of self-reflection as it grappled with criticism that it had missed the signs pointing to Mr. Trump’s victory. In the days after the election, Mr. Baquet and the elder Mr. Sulzberger sent notes to the newsroom and readers reassuring them that The Times remained committed to holding powerful people and institutions accountable.

A shame there was no acknowledgement of that in either the report or the memo to the newsroom.