Off The Record

If New York Times employees are feeling anxious or depressed about the paper’s planned job-cutting campaign, they might want to seek help soon: among the targets for elimination is The Times’ four-person Employee Assistance Program.

The in-house counseling division, best known for having tried to steer Jayson Blair through his substance abuse and other problems, will be shut down by August under the paper’s buyout plan. That news and other details of the first round of buyouts arrived via overnight delivery at more than 100 Times news staffers’ homes on June 7.

In all, the reductions add up to 130 of the 190 job cuts that the New York Times Company announced last month. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.’s hatchet fell most heavily on the business divisions, lopping off 108 positions. Circulation, finance and advertising will all lose staff-along with postal services and the messenger service.

On the news side, Mr. Sulzberger switched to a paring knife, calculating that 22 positions need to go. Though news buyouts are voluntary, invitations to leave the paper were delivered to specific classes of writers and editors: 65 rank-and-file city-room reporters, 28 sports columnists and reporters, five obituary writers, six real-estate reporters and eight Book Review staff editors.

Only two members of each group will be allowed to take the buyout, along with a handful of researchers or news assistants, clerks, art-department photographers and a set of people who were denied a buyout in 1994.

Times staffers who accept the buyout package will receive severance based on their age and standing at The Times. According to Newspaper Guild unit chairwoman Lena Williams, the sums will range from 15 weeks’ pay for the most junior employees to two years’ pay for the most senior employees. Employees who will be receiving the buyout packages will be notified by Aug. 15.

“Because it’s voluntary, I see very little fear and loathing,” Metro editor Susan Edgerley said. ” … The numbers are small. If it presents a great opportunity for somebody who was close to retirement, then Godspeed.”

Still, the delivery amounted to a public declaration of which newsroom departments The Times viewed as untouchable-the sports copy desk, for instance-and which were, well, touchable.

The situation is even less empowering for Patricia Drew, the director of the Employee Assistance Program, and her three-person staff. The program was started in 1976 to provide support to the production department. Today, it offers counseling and sundry services, including child-care referrals, to help Times staff balance work and outside demands.

But in the future, The Times will outsource the job of helping troubled employees. According to Times spokesperson Toby Usnik, the work will be taken over by Corporate Counseling Associates, a Park Avenue South firm that supplies human-resources consulting services to clients that include Time Warner, Viacom and the Museum of Modern Art-and to the Times brass.

So instead of being able to drop in and see an in-house counselor on West 43rd Street, Times staff will need to call Corporate Counseling Associates and schedule a meeting. Employee Assistance Program staffers declined to comment on the change.

With Mr. Blair having publicly announced his own desire to go into human resources, it becomes theoretically possible that future Times staffers who abuse scotch, snack food and anonymous sources could end up being counseled by their disgraced predecessor.

“Part of the reason why I’m going into human resources,” Mr. Blair said by phone on June 14, “is because I want to be able to help people who are having problems like I did with alcohol and chemical abuse …. All of these things-I want to be able to help people.”

Mr. Blair said he disagreed with The Times’ decision to farm out its program.

“I’d be dead right now without Pat Drew,” he said. “I really believe my recovery from drug and alcohol abuse and mental illness would be a non-starter without … an in-house E.A.P.

“An in-house counselor feels a deeper allegiance-she knows the culture of The Times,” Mr. Blair continued. “I think there is a danger in outsourcing.”

Along with the 43rd Street counseling staff, The Times is also eliminating all 11 positions in the cafeteria at its College Point printing plant in Queens, in favor of outside food-service contractors.

An average of 200 workers use the cafeteria each day, according to Mario Salazar, a food-services supervisor at College Point. The eatery offers three meals most days of the week, with dinner hours that stretch till 2 or 3 a.m. Night-shift workers depend on the cafeteria after nearby restaurants and delis have closed, he added.

“Beef stew over rice, chicken cordon bleu, flank steak-these are the popular dishes,” Mr. Salazar said by phone on June 13. That day’s menu consisted of meatloaf ($5.15), crab cakes ($4.50) and chicken fingers ($5.65).

“It’s all about management and the upper levels,” Mr. Salazar lamented.

The Times declined to comment on the paper’s specific plans for the College Point cafeteria.

-Gabriel Sherman

If you like Ramon Castro, you’ll love David Carr! At least, The New York Times hopes so: This month, to push local circulation, the paper is offering readers a chance to buy collectible New York Mets pins.

In the June 13 Times, for instance, fans of Mr. Castro could find a coupon allowing them to purchase a pin depicting the Mets’ .222-hitting backup catcher for $3.25 at designated retailers. With luck, they might also have discovered Mr. Carr’s recently launched column in the front of the business section, or Bob Herbert’s Op-Ed column, or the other highlights of the Monday edition.

Other pin offerings this week include self-loathing first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz (batting .208), injured pitcher Steve Trachsel (inactive all season with a herniated disc) and Shea Stadium.

Suddenly, The Times’ attention has shifted to the far end of the No. 7 train. The same sports section that held the Ramon Castro coupon featured an exultant full-page headline-“A New Ballgame”-hailing the Mets’ sudden agreement to rescue the city’s 2012 Olympic bid by putting a new stadium in Flushing. Even before Mayor Michael Bloomberg ran out of other options, the real-estate section had floated the Mets-stadium Olympic theory, along with the notion of reclaiming Willets Point from the auto-body shops, in a sprawling late-May piece.

“In the end, there is always Queens,” experimental metro-desk prose stylist Michael Brick mused in a front-page analysis piece June 14.

Shea hey! Maybe Renzo Piano should add a few semi-abstract neon outlines of copy editors to the sides of the paper’s future tower.

The Mets pins are The Times’ entrée into the world of collectibles, spokeswoman Diane McNulty wrote via e-mail. “We wanted to find creative ways to connect with readers of our sports section and to bring new readers to the section and to the newspaper.”

“Creative” was not the word that occurred to the New York Post at the sight of The Times’ Mets promotion.

“We were the first to run this kind of collectible in the country,” Post circulation boss Geoff Booth said. Mr. Booth’s paper broke into the collectibles market last year, with a set of medallions of the 2004 Yankees, then followed that up this year with medallions of all-time Yankee greats.

“Mickey Mantle seemed to be the most popular player,” Mr. Booth said.

Mr. Booth added that the Post had gotten the idea from newspaper promotions abroad. News Corp., he said, had previously enjoyed Southern Hemisphere success with similar projects featuring Australian-rules football players.

“It’s definitely an unusual project for The New York Times to undertake,” Mr. Booth said.

But at his state-of-the- Times presentation earlier this year, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. identified borough circulation as one of the paper’s major concerns. Ms. McNulty said that because The Times is classified as a national newspaper by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, the paper doesn’t report borough-by-borough circulation numbers. In the metropolitan region as a whole, according to figures supplied by The Times, daily circulation declined 2 percent in the past year, from 576,800 in March 2004 to 564,293 in March 2005.

Ya gotta believe, Mr. Sulzberger!

“We are always looking for interesting programs for readers in the greater New York market, including Queens,” Ms. McNulty wrote. “In addition to Queens, I imagine there are some Mets fans in the suburbs as well as in Manhattan, perhaps even a few in the Bronx!”

Has The Times, which collected World Series rings as a result of its ownership stake in the champion Boston Red Sox, moved another step away from being the Paper of the Yankees? Are the Mets becoming the city’s elite team?

Not so fast: “My opinion is that the Yankees are definitely more aligned to New York Times readers, more than the Mets are,” Mr. Booth said.

“Don’t get me wrong, though,” he added. “The Mets are extremely popular, and we’d love to do a collectible with them. And we probably will at some stage.”


For The New Yorker, the next step into the digital future is coming to terms with its digitized past. Two weeks ago, the magazine announced its plans to release an eight-DVD set in October containing every page of its 4,109 back issues from 1925 through February’s 80th-anniversary edition.

At the moment, though, readers who want to look up past articles electronically can’t go back any further than the David Remnick era. The lone database of New Yorker stories is Nexis, which has holdings only extending to 1999. For Tina Brown’s work-to say nothing of Harold Ross’-the public has to turn to the library or that stack in the folks’ basement.

And if you don’t want to shell out $100 for the DVD set, access won’t be improving anytime soon. In recent months, the magazine has been discussing the idea of creating a searchable online archive for subscribers, but spokeswoman Perri Dorset said that no decision has been made, and that a launch wouldn’t come until 2007 at the earliest.

Other magazines with deep archives have been moving backward more swiftly. The Atlantic has offered its subscribers limited online archives since 1995, plus a link to the Proquest database, which extends back (for $2.95 per article, less for bulk purchases) to 1857.

“The demand is there,” said Katie Bacon, the executive editor of the Atlantic Online. “Readers do like to have access when we make the older articles available.”

Harper’s Magazine will likewise begin to be available to time travelers later this year, offering a searchable online archive for subscribers when it launches its redesigned Web site. The archive will cover one year at first, but will gradually spread back to 1850 after the new site goes live, said associate editor Paul Ford, who was hired in February to spearhead the online effort.

Harper’s is currently in talks with three companies to digitize the magazine’s complete archives, which are currently stored in bound volumes behind glass cabinets in the office conference room. Mr. Ford said it should take 18 months to scan the full catalog once the process begins.

“We’re very conscious we have a legacy,” Mr. Ford said. “Some of the best prose and poetry in the world is residing in there.”


New York Times pundit standings, June 7-13

1. Thomas L. Friedman, score 20.5 [rank last week: 1st]

2. Frank Rich, 20.0 [no rank]

3. Paul Krugman, 18.5 [no rank]

4. Nicholas D. Kristof, 8.0 [5th]

5. (tie) David Brooks, 0.0 [3rd]

Bob Herbert, 0.0 [2nd]

John Tierney, 0.0 [6th]

It’s jet-lag season for the New York Times pundits, as they scatter to the corners of Thomas L. Friedman’s flattened planet. This week’s Op-Ed datelines included Mr. Friedman writing once again from Bangalore, Nicholas D. Kristof writing from Addis Ababa, and David Brooks writing from Xai-Xai, Mozambique-where presumably it’s even harder to spend $20 for a meal than in Franklin County, Penn. For his Kristof-esque exertions covering AIDS in the developing world, Mr. Brooks received a Kristof-esque reward of complete Most E-Mailed List apathy-though Mr. Kristof himself made the charts with a piece about fistula-repair surgery, of all things. Still, in general, the Times e-mailers upheld the usual pattern: Brown people suffering = dull; brown people taking American jobs = exciting. And David Pogue’s guide to digital photography-online subhead: “A guide to things you should ignore and things you shouldn’t”-topped the list.

-T.S. Off The Record