New York Times Staff to Organize Protest Over Proposed Layoffs

The sign on the west side of the New York Times building at 620 Eighth Ave. April 28, 2016 in New York. / AFP / DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

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New York Times staffers have planned a protest at the paper’s newsroom for Thursday afternoon in response to potential layoffs of copy editors.

The NewsGuild of New York union announced that a coalition of “editors, reporters, and staff” will stage a walkout from the newsroom Thursday, the Hill reports. The union on Wednesday addressed open letters to the Times‘ executive editor, Dean Baquet, and managing editor, Joseph Kahn, requesting that management not downsize the editorial staff through layoffs.

“We have begun the humiliating process of justifying our continued presence at the New York Times,” the copy editors’ letter said.

“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,” the letter continued.

The copy editors complained about the lack of respect they receive from management, which has apparently been evident in internal communication.

“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,'” they added.

The union said that the copy editors had feelings of “betrayal,” and the editors’ letter expressed deep misgivings about the direction of the Times.

“Many of us, from editors to reporters to photo editors to support staff, are angry, embittered, and scared of losing our jobs,” they said.

The editors argued that their purpose has taken on increased importance because of recent developments.

“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,” they said, referencing President Donald Trump’s “covfefe” typo. “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.”

Times reporters also wrote their own letter to the newspaper’s management pledging solidarity with the copy editors. They called copy editors their “safety nets” and “friends and colleagues,” and they questioned management’s plan.

“Like nearly everyone we know in the newsroom, we believe that the plan to eliminate dozens of editing jobs and do away with the copy desks is ill-conceived and unwise, and will damage the quality of our product,” the reporters said. “It will make us sloppier, more error-prone. It will undermine the reputation that generations have worked to build and maintain, the reputation that keeps readers coming back.”

“Your plan adds insult to injury by requiring many longtime, highly skilled employees to apply and interview for a greatly diminished number of jobs, in sessions that were instantly dubbed ‘death panels’ in the newsroom,” they added.

The Times already eliminated its public editor position in May. That position also functioned as a kind of internal watchdog, but it was intended to connect with the public rather than edit copy for errors.

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