How the Print-Digital Divide Endures at The New York Times

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On Thursday, Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, announced that the paper sought to eliminate up to 20 newsroom positions through voluntary buyouts.

Unlike the round of 100 buyouts that occurred in 2009, she said in an internal memo, these would not be followed by layoffs.

The story was broken from within The Times, by media reporter Brian Stelter. Additionally, he reported that a number of buyouts will soon be offered to business-side employees, according to an anonymous company executive.

“For this story, I treated The New York Times like any other company,” Mr. Stelter tweeted. “I tried to get the info on the record; I couldn’t; so I granted anonymity.”

(Such bravado has its rewards: At the time of the report, Mr. Stelter, 26, was teaching a course on personal branding in journalism at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg.)

The report specified that Times buyouts are limited to employees under the print contract, a strange vestige of the ’90s, when digital jobs at the Times rarely overlapped with journalists’ jobs (the two teams were even housed in different buildings). The paper still has separate contracts for print and digital employees. The distinction has withstood even the Times’s very conspicuous “newsroom integration,” in 2005, during which Bill Keller announced that the paper planned “to diminish and eventually eliminate the difference between newspaper journalists and web journalists.”

In other words, you’re all bloggers now.

In February, The Times and the Newspaper Guild entered heated negotiations over the drafting an umbrella print-and-digital contract. According to Guild representative Bill O’Meara, The Times wanted to extend the terms of the digital contract—many of them unfavorable—to all employees.

Digital employees have less job security, can be laid off without the paper first offering buyouts and negotiating with the Guild, and work more hours—a 40-hour work week, compared the print side’s 35 hours. In terms of hours alone, the switch would amount to a 16 percent pay cut for print employees. Other contentious items include a freeze in the pension fund and the employer contribution to health care.

The segregated contracts were scheduled to expire at the end of March; negotiations are ongoing, a Times spokesperson told Off the Record.

Offering the buyouts before a new contract goes through gives The Times the ability to target print employees, i.e. those with job security and pay rates they wish to make obsolete, but Guild reps explained the distinction was mostly meaningless in terms of actual work performed, as most Times reporters now contribute to both the web and print operations.

  How the Print-Digital Divide Endures at The New York Times