New Guidelines for Times Expenses

Not surprisingly, the New York Times is following suit with every other news outfit in the country and updating its expenses guidlines. Bill Schmidt, the paper’s Deputy Managing Editor, just sent out a memo to staffers with a list of new requests that require some minor adjustment, but shouldn’t rattle anyone on Eighth Avenue.

Staffers are no longer allowed to expense drinks when they take one another out (they had that? what a life!), and they’ll only be allowed to expense $50 on dinner and $30 on lunch—all in all, a very manageable sacrifice.

The point of the memo, it seems, is to discourage staffers from thinking everything and anything can be expensed. The guidelines emphasize, repeatedly, that many luxuries staffers took for granted over the years will now require approval from someone—in other words, if the new rules force editors and reporters to ask for permission first, the masthead is thinking they’ll feel too awkward to do so, and the travel and expense budget will drop accordingly.

Here’s the hefty memo:

To the staff –

With the New Year, we are once again distributing the newsroom’s rules and guidelines regarding expenses and spending. Please read them carefully. There are significant changes in the way we will be handling some reimbursements, and we will be working closely with desk administrators and department heads to make sure we adhere to them.

The reason is obvious: given the deepening recession and the enormous financial challenges facing The Times and the industry, each of us must be as disciplined as possible in how we use the company’s resources.

Over the past few years, each of you has responded admirably to our earlier admonitions about spending, and your cooperation has contributed considerably to our ability to keep the newsroom budget under control. The dollars we saved as a result of your efforts have spared us broader job cuts across the newsroom, while enabling The Times to continue to invest in the quality journalism that defines our great enterprise.

But the difficulties before us demand ever more vigilance and attention in keeping to budgetary and spending limits. We have highlighted – here – some of the more important points.

· The Times will not subsidize or reimburse business meals or drinks involving only your fellow Times colleagues. In other words, we will not absorb the costs of taking one another out for drinks, lunch or dinner. Exceptions will be made on a limited basis – and editor taking out a reporter, say, to discuss an important transfer or a promotion – but only if the host can persuade us that the outing was vital to company business that could not otherwise be conducted in the newsroom. Otherwise, these expenses will be disallowed.

· Effective immediately, all domestic expenses must be filed within 30 days in order to secure reimbursement. Until now, the newsroom had given reporters and editors 60 days to submit expenses, but this change brings the newsroom in line with the policy in the rest of the company. Expenses submitted beyond the 30 day deadline may not be reimbursed. Exceptions will require written approval, in advance, from News Admin. Absent special circumstances, correspondents abroad must file expenses within 60 days.

· We will not routinely reimburse the cost of individual membership in outside organizations – professional, social or journalistic – without advance, written authorization from News Admin. This includes journalistic organizations like the Investigative Reporters and Editors, any of the various minority journalism associations or the Overseas Press Club, as well as networking or social groups such as university clubs or groups like the Council on Foreign Relations. This does not mean The Times is withdrawing support from such organizations. Rather, the company will choose – on a case by case basis – when and how to support such membership or engagement, as it serves the company’s interests.

· Business meals, including entertainment expenses, must conform to the following guidelines: $15 per person for breakfast, $25-$30 per person for lunch and $45-$50 per person for dinner. We understand that meal costs can vary from place to place, and that the guidelines might seem a bit tight for Manhattan. But expense submissions that consistently exceed or challenge these guidelines run the risk of not being reimbursed, in whole or in part. Receipts, of course, are required for any expense filing of $25 or more.

Finally, in the coming weeks, we will be sending targeted memos to editors and correspondents on certain desks, setting out more detailed guidelines on spending, as it applies to specifically to expenses in those areas. We will be reaching out soon to desk administrators to begin that process.

Meanwhile, if you have questions or — better yet — suggestions on how we can best make use of our shared resources, please get back to me.

Bill

NEWSROOM RULES AND GUIDELINES ON EXPENSES AND SPENDING

TRAVEL

Airfare

Employees traveling on business are encouraged to use the Egencia (formerly Expedia) or American Express Travel Web sites to book flights and hotels. There are also links to both Web sites on the left side of the Navigator page, along with some current travel tips. The cost of any business travel you book on these sites is billed centrally, so you don’t have to lay out any of your own cash first and then seek reimbursement. (While you may avail yourself of discounts available through the Egencia or Amex sites for personal travel, you must be careful to charge the cost of such non-business travel to your personal credit card. Needless to say, billing personal travel to The Times is an explicit and serious violation of company policy.)

You will need to open an account to access the sites; please get in touch with Suzi Opitz at the Shared Services Center. Suzi’s e-mail is [redacted] and her phone is [redacted]

The Egencia site in particular is nearly identical to the public site, and both Egencia and Amex flag preferred corporate vendors. While these preferred vendors
often offer the most competitive rates, it is also true that sometimes the airlines or car rental agencies or hotels that are flagged as being "in policy" are more expensive than alternatives that are "out of policy." If you have the time to do so, you might be able to do even better price-wise by shopping sites like Kayak or Travelzoo or ITA, or by going directly to the sites of airlines like Jet Blue or Southwest.

One caveat: when you book, make sure that you read the restrictions and understand what the limits are on changes or refunds on tickets. "Nonrefundable" tickets usually mean that you can’t get your money back, but can apply the ticket value to a future flight, usually with payment of a change fee.

Whenever possible, please book flights well in advance. And in all cases, of course, coach travel only.

If you need to talk directly with agents at American Express, you may of course do so. But please avoid calling them outside of their normal business hours — 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Eastern time — to book discretionary or non-deadline travel. We are billed a surcharge for every phone call they handle outside those hours. Use them after-hours only if you are on deadline or must deal with a travel emergency.

In booking air travel, please remember you can often reduce your airfare if you are able or willing to take a one-stop flight rather than a nonstop, or are flexible in the airport you use in the Manhattan area. A flight from Newark to Miami, for example, might be less than a flight from LaGuardia to Miami.

Hotels

You can also book hotel rooms through one of The Times’s corporate online travel services. We have deals with many hotels that can provide a discounted rate for last-minute reservations. But is it also worth looking at online travel services, since each negotiates its own rates with the major chains and certain boutique hotels in major cities. In addition to the major travel sites, Hotels.com can also be a good resource. If you’re traveling to a city handled by Quikbook, which covers mostly North America, its service is worth checking for its low prices and interesting, though limited, mix of hotels. Unlike some of the other services, Quikbook often allows you to avoid prepaying for your stay.

If you’re going to a new city and don’t know where to stay, travels sites like TripAdvisor and our own NYTimes.com Travel site can be helpful. TripAdvisor also links for hotel reservations, and can automatically query many of the major reservation sites for their rates for a particular hotel so you can compare them side by side.

Hotel rooms costing over $250 per night will require pre-approval from News Administration.

 

Rental cars and taxis

In booking rental cars, note that if you book with Hertz or Avis — the preferred company vendors — you should decline the additional insurance (know as CDW or LDW) when renting in the continental United States. The cost of that insurance is included in The Times’s contracts with Hertz and Avis. You should accept collision insurance when renting for business in Alaska, Hawaii and foreign countries and when renting from companies other than Hertz and Avis.

Staffers traveling on business should use the least expensive way possible to travel to and from the airport, whether it is a taxicab or car service. If you drive your own car to the airport, please be mindful that on longer trips, the cost of airport parking can exceed the cost of getting to and from the airport by taxi or other services.

Phones

In making telephone calls while on the road, do not make direct dial calls from your hotel room telephone. Most hotels add very hefty service charges to these calls. Use your cellphone or your company calling card, if you have one, or purchase a prepaid phone card. If you are traveling out of the US, be aware that roaming charges can inflate your cellphone bill enormously. Consider getting a local SIM card for your phone. The cards — which are typically available abroad at airports and cellphone stores — can easily be switched out of the backs of most phones. That way, you have a local phone number for sources in-country to reach you, and can use call forwarding to receive calls made to your normal phone number. News Technology can offer further advice on this.

Miscellaneous

Those expenses that typically fall below the $25 receipt threshold, such as gratuities, short taxi rides, parking charges, tolls and the purchases of newspapers and magazines, should be within reasonable limits. There is no per diem entitlement to such charges, and filings that consistently challenge the receipt limits or appear excessive may not be reimbursed, in whole or in part.

Finally, a reminder to department and section heads. As you know, we maintain an inventory of furnished corporate apartments, near The Times. If you are bringing in a job candidate, or if you have an out-of-town correspondent visiting Gotham, please check first with Barbara Baumgarten (xredacted) before you book a hotel, since we may have an apartment available.

ENTERTAINMENT AND MEALS

Here are some general rules to keep in mind, always.

· The Times will not subsidize or reimburse business meals or drinks involving only your fellow Times colleagues. In other words, we will not absorb the costs of taking one another out for drinks, lunch or dinner. Exceptions will be made on a limited basis — an editor taking out a reporter, say, to discuss an important transfer or a promotion — and only if the host can persuade us that the outing was vital to company business that could not otherwise be conducted in the newsroom. Otherwise, these expenses will be disallowed.

· The Times will not subsidize or reimburse the cost of food delivered to the newsroom for departmental or staff meetings, without approval from News Admin. This includes departments or bureaus charging to their P-cards or to the newspaper the cost of bagel runs, supplies of bottled water, catered luncheons or any group meals for their staffs, whether the department is ordering from outside caterers and restaurants, or the cafeteria on the 14th floor. If a department is having a luncheon meeting, for example, editors should encourage participants to brown bag, bring down their own food from the cafeteria or share the cost of outside delivery.

As noted earlier, staffers seeking reimbursement of meals, including entertainment expenses, should adhere to the following general guidelines for individual meals: $15 for breakfast, $25-$30 for lunch and $45-50 for dinner. We understand that costs can vary from city to city, but filings that consistently challenge or exceed these limits may not be reimbursed, in whole or in part. And once again – receipts are necessary for any meal of $25 or more.

HOLIDAY PARTIES AND OTHER FETES

The Times will not routinely reimburse the costs of any holiday party or any other gathering – inside or outside the building – to mark, say, a promotion, a retirement or an award. In some instances, we may agree to offer a small subsidy or to contribute a bottle of champagne or two, depending on the circumstances. Requests must be made in advance to News Admin.

In addition, desk editors or individual staffers should not reserve tables or seats at award dinners or other professional gatherings without written approval, in advance, from News Admin.

MEMBERSHIPS AND DUES

The Times will not reimburse the cost of individual memberships or dues in any professional, social or outside organizations, without written advance approval acknowledging that the membership directly serves the interests of the newspaper. This includes journalistic organizations that require annual dues, such as — for example — the Overseas Press Club, any of the minority journalistic associations or the American Copy Editors Society. The injunction also covers the dues of university or professional groups. Before you submit an expense account seeking membership or dues reimbursement, please contact News Admin. The Times will choose which memberships to support, in the interests of our journalism. Otherwise, the request for reimbursement will be denied.

Similarly, The Times also will no longer support travel costs — airfare, meals, rental cars or hotels — for individuals serving on the boards or leadership committees of professional or journalistic organizations, without written advance approval from News Admin acknowledging that the work directly serves the interests of the newspaper.

OFFICE SUPPLIES, EQUIPMENT, SUBSCRIPTIONS AND SOFTWARE

Absent a specific written approval in advance, The Times will not reimburse individual employees for the purchase of any software, communications or computer equipment or office supplies for use at home or in the office. The same applies to fees for various services delivered at home, such as internet or cable television connections. Please talk to your desk administrator, News Admin or News Technology if you are contemplating such purchases. Without advance authorization in writing, such purchases will not be reimbursed.

The Times believes the use of mobile devices like cellphones and PDA’s extend the range of our reporters and the connectivity of our editors. The newsroom has an equipment policy (redacted) in place that covers the purchase and support of mobile equipment – standard items like aircards and BlackBerries, and not-so-standard, like iPhones and Treos. You might want to take a look before you spring for the newest, hottest gizmo – it could save you some cash and heartache.

Wherever possible, department and section heads should ask editors to share magazine and newspaper subscriptions. We have been reviewing subscription accounts desk by desk, with an eye to reducing the number of publications coming into the building or into bureaus and have already begun cutting back on some desks. We will continue this process in the coming months. Also, whenever possible, desk administrators should use Ebsco for all subscriptions; they are a fraction of the cost we pay to the news dealer. Subscriptions should not be ordered through a P-card. Any subscriptions on P-cards will be disallowed, unless there has been some prior discussion with Bernie Espina or one of her associates.

In order for a staff member to be reimbursed for newspaper or magazine subscriptions, the subscriptions must be ordered through the desk administrator. Subscriptions and book purchases that appear on individual XMS expense filings will be disallowed, unless there is a note from the department or section head justifying the purchase.

COURIERS AND MESSENGERS

Courier and messenger services should be used only when there is a demonstrated need that speed is critical. Even then, desks and individuals should be mindful that FedEx, for example, offers several delivery options, at different prices. If two-day delivery is sufficient, please use it. It is much cheaper.

GIFTS AND FLOWERS

It is appropriate for a department manager to send a staff member a modest floral arrangement, on the company tab, as a gesture of condolence or congratulation. But we should not be using company money to purchase gifts, under any circumstances. In such instances, we suggest you take up a collection and share the cost of the gift among your colleagues.

FILING EXPENSES

In order to more closely track our costs, we are requiring – effective February 1, 2009 – that all domestic expenses be filed for reimbursement within 30 days of being incurred. This brings the newsroom filing policy in line with the company’s, which similarly sets a 30 day deadline. Until now, we had set a 60 day limit. Remember, this is your money. The sooner you put your expenses into Concur/XMS and file them, the sooner you get your dollars back. The 30 day limit does not apply to people abroad, who should strive to file expenses within 60 days. Exceptions might also be granted to individuals involved in running national stories. Otherwise, expenses that are filed beyond deadline run the risk of being denied, in whole or in part.

January 16, 2009

New Guidelines for Times Expenses