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The New York Times Is Outgrowing Itself

In this photo illustration the American newspaper The New York Times (NYT) logo seen displayed on a smartphone with USD (United States dollar) currency in the background.
LightRocket via Getty Images

Staffers at The New York Times are fed up, according to multiple reports this week about faltering contract negotiations between the company's management and its union. More than 1,200 journalists and tech workers—presumably not including at least one who appears to just love the taste of yummy yummy boots, mmm, tasty boots, mummy please give me more—announced this week that they would flout the bosses' return-to-office mandate and instead work from home in an effort to get management to negotiate the policy with the union. Bloomberg reported on the collective action:

“Health and safety policies are a part of contract negotiations and they have to be bargained over,” Times software engineer Carrie Price said in an interview Monday. “Being in charge of our own personal risk assessment is important to our membership... Being asked to give up that ability to be in control of my own personal safety for myself and my loved ones, is something that we don’t want and it hasn’t been negotiated over.”

Staffers, who have been been trying to hammer out a new contract with management since March 2021 and haven't seen a pay raise since 2020, are also mostly upset over the company's refusal to reevaluate compensation tiers and increase salaries to keep pace with inflation, the Daily Beast reported this week:

Hundreds of employees sent emotional letters to publisher A.G. Sulzberger, executive editor Joe Kahn, CEO Meredith Kopit Levien and opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury, railing against the company’s pay structure—including one employee who confessed they’ve had to start doing DoorDash deliveries to make ends meet.

And some of the paper’s heavy-hitter reporters have gotten involved.

“When I started at the Times in 2014, my salary was $128,000,” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Emily Steel wrote in one of the letters obtained and reviewed by Confider. “Since then, I’ve negotiated for two merit-based raises. Yet, adjusted for inflation, my salary now is worth about the same as it was when I started in 2014. And since contract negotiations began in 2020, my salary is worth more than $17,000 less.”

Thursday, New York published a new report on the drama, making sure to emphasize that the crescendo of dissatisfaction isn't just coming from the paper's lowly nameless rabble who, it's understood, don't matter to the company execs (or, apparently, to the writer of the article), but also from "the grown-ups in the Washington bureau." The report, written by a former NYT staffer, advances the notion that workers are closer than ever to going on strike.

I worked at the Times for a few years. I’ve seen a couple of mutinies. This one feels different. It’s not about whiny millennials or “quiet quitting” or ideological schisms. It’s not even about returning to the office, really. It’s about money, and each time the staff is reminded of the boffo subscriber count (9.17 million) and all the flotilla it has afforded their company to buy — Wordle and Serial and The Athletic — it just gets hotter down in the content engine room. It seems to them that the admiralty who run the place— a Sulzberger scion, a CEO who made $5.8 million last year, and an executive editor whose father co-founded Staples — are being awfully miserly. The breaking point came this week when the bosses tried to reward their return to the newsroom with a boxed lunch emblazoned with the Times logo. The lame lunch boxes seemed to taunt them, “Who says you can’t eat prestige?”

The article lays out the reality undergirding the fraught negotiations. The special little family atop the country's leading news organization is building a digital media empire, spending $550 million to buy The Athletic, building out an entire vertical for games, plus another for cooking, setting up a TV studio, and creating a robust if derivative podcast operation, all while touching the tips of their pointer fingers together and making the uwu face whenever the people whose labor makes this growth possible pipe up to ask about getting their share.

In a statement to Axios this week, a Times spokesperson said:

We’re proud to offer among the highest compensation for our industry and we’re also proud to have a large and growing newsroom. Our goal is to reach a contract that not only pays more and reflects our journalists’ contributions to the success of the Times, but also one that is financially responsible as the company remains in a growth mode and continues to take into account the broader challenges in the industry. We look forward to making progress toward an agreement.

The New York Times has long relied on its relative stability and the “privilege” of writing for such an august publication to keep its workers mollified. But as the company continues to grow from a recently struggling newspaper into a multi-billion-dollar tech giant with a vestigial newspaper-shaped appendage clinging to its ass, that strategy looks less and less viable.

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