New York Times to Cut Size 5 Percent; Keller Says Paper Better Off Smaller

The New York Times announced this evening, and in tomorrow’s paper, a change in format. The paper will consolidate its printing at its College Point facility in Queens, lay off 250 employees, and reduce the trim size of the paper to the size of USA Today.

The process will take two years. In a memo, executive editor Bill Keller said the paper would add pages; the shrinkage of paper would, after the addition of more pages, only result in 5 percent less space in the newspaper. “A narrower paper is in some ways more reader-friendly,” Keller wrote.

Keller also speculated that by fighting “flabby or redundant prose in longer pieces” and running more news-digest material, “I could take 5 percent out of any day’s paper and actually make it better.”

Keller’s memo runs to 780 words.

Full memos follow, from Keller and Times president Scott Heekin-Canedy:

JULY 17, 2006
NOTE FROM SCOTT HEEKIN-CANEDY

To the Staff:

I’m writing to tell you about two new and important initiatives underway at
The Times.

First, we plan to consolidate all of our New York area printing into our
newest production facility in College Point, Queens and sublease our older
Edison plant. As part of this consolidation, we will expand and upgrade
the College Point facility. We will add another press and in doing so, be
able to print the same number of papers as the two plants do today, and
still have room for growth. As a result of this move, we plan to reduce
the number of production-related jobs by about 250 full-time equivalent
positions. We will, as we have done in the past, help employees make this
transition by providing severance and buyouts.

Secondly, The New York Times will update its look by moving from a
traditional broadsheet size of 54-inches to a more manageable and
reader-friendly size. We will adopt a 48-inch web width for all editions
of the paper across the country. This is the same size as USA Today and,
at the beginning of next year, The Wall Street Journal. If we just cut the
page size and did nothing else, we would lose 11 percent of the news hole.
That would be a serious loss. But the plan is to add more pages to the
paper so that the net loss of news space is approximately 5 percent, which
our colleagues in the newsroom believe can be absorbed and still maintain
the high quality of our news report. A copy of Bill Keller’s note to the
newsroom is attached.

Both the consolidation and the web-width reduction are expected to be
completed by the second quarter of 2008. And, when completed, we
anticipate that we will reduce costs by more than $42 million a year, a
very significant savings. At the same time, we are confident that our
readers and advertisers will embrace these changes.

Scott

NOTE FROM BILL KELLER

Colleagues:

If you check the Web site this evening (or the newspaper in the morning)
you’ll see a pair of important, related company announcements. One is that
the paper will be adding a new high-speed press to the printing plant at
College Point and thereafter subleasing the Edison plant. The other is that
when this consolidation is complete — in April 2008 — The Times will
adopt the narrower format that is now becoming the industry norm. I
apologize for this last-minute message, but I wanted to hold off until the
news was given to those most immediately affected — our colleagues who
actually turn our journalism into ink on paper. They were briefed this
evening.

So what does all this mean for the newsroom? Glad you asked.

First, the consolidation of our New York area printing into a single plant
means a large annual saving — money that will not have to be cut from
important things, such as producing the world’s best news report. The
company’s production executives have considered the obvious questions that
arise from the newsroom’s vantage point, and answered them convincingly:
If we attract new circulation in the region, will we still have the
capacity to grow? (Yes.) Will this require earlier deadlines? (No.) Are we
providing the backup systems to make sure we can print during a blackout or
other crisis? (Yes.) After detailed briefings, John Geddes and Peter
Putrimas came away impressed that this is a smart, clean way to cut costs
without diminishing our commitment to the region.

The smaller format will affect the newsroom in big ways, but not in dire
ways. In production jargon, we will be moving from a 54-inch web — the
width of four pages — to a 48-inch web. That means pages will be 1 1/2
inches narrower than the current size, and the same length. The narrower
format will mean some reduction in our news hole, and it will require an
extensive redesign. Since this will not happen for nearly two years, we’ll
have plenty of time to adapt. (The long lead time is necessary because we
have to place orders for the new printing equipment.)

News hole: If we just cut the page size and did nothing else, we would
lose 11 percent of the news hole. That would be a serious loss. But the
plan is to add more pages to the paper so that the net loss of news space
is approximately 5 percent, which I believe we can absorb without
significant damage to the report. We will look for ways to report
incremental news developments in digests or other abbreviated forms, and to
police flabby or redundant prose in longer pieces. I’m convinced that, with
good editors and a little time, I could take 5 percent out of any day’s
paper and actually make it better.

A layman might ask, does that mean we can get by with a smaller staff?
But, of course, it doesn’t work that way. We still intend to cover all the
things we cover now. And conveying the news in a bit less space will
require more rigorous editing, not less. Moreover, with the advent of the
Web our responsibility to cover news for our audience has grown well beyond
the columns of newsprint in the paper. In any case, our commitment to
hard-hitting, ground-breaking journalism will not be compromised.

Design: A narrower paper is in some ways more reader-friendly. It’s
easier to handle. It will also be, by the time we introduce it, what
readers expect in a newspaper. The Wall Street Journal will move to a
48-inch web in January 2007. USA Today has already converted about half of
its production to this size. Gannett and the former Knight Ridder papers
have announced they are switching to 48 inches. The Washington Post and
the Tribune Company, which have already reduced to a 50-inch web, are
considering joining the consensus.
You cannot just take the current front page and squeeze it. We need to
think hard about changing the look in ways that preserve the visual power,
the urgency and the dignity of The New York Times. Tom Bodkin is already
at work, along with several other senior editors, on a thorough examination
of the A-book. He will now look for a redesign that we can execute in two
stages — some changes we may introduce earlier, and then a new look to
suit the narrower format when the page size changes in 2008.

The aim of these changes is to assure the continuing economic health of the
newspaper we all love. And I’m convinced we can adapt without diminishing
its journalistic health.

Bill