Bill Keller: “We’ll be there, in dazzling form”

NYT.jpgGawker and E&P have more information on the Times layoffs courtesy of Bill Keller’s memo to staff. As Gawker points out, it is an empathic, sincere and frank note outlining the challenges (“our revenues have not grown sufficiently to keep up with the growing costs of everything the company does”), bracing for upcoming realities (“I won’t pretend that it will be painless”) while lauding his “loyal, hard-working staff” and emphasizing the value of its “collective wisdom and experience.”*

Upshot from the memo:

  • The NYT now has a hiring freeze, until the end of the year at least (exceptions for recent hires and Keller-approved exigencies)
  • They are going to try — try — to do it without layoffs by implementing a similar strategy to the cuts earlier this summer: voluntary severance deals, cutting down on the use of “temporary employees” and by good old-fashioned attrition
  • Ulp: they’ll be “looking hard” at freelance spending
  • They’re going to try to cut dollars instead of people, kind of like Kevin Kline did in the movie “Dave”
  • Keller thinks the Times is tops: “…we’re in better shape economically (and much stronger journalistically) than our competitors.” Snap!
  • But make no mistake: “Relief is not in sight.” Ulp again.

    Unpleasant realities aside, Keller makes no bones about one unshakable truth: it’s the New York Fucking Times, people, and it will not be compromised:

    What I can tell you is that we will not retreat, not one inch, from our commitment to put out every day the best news report in the world. We’ll be there, in dazzling form, for the next Katrina, the next international crisis, the next domestic upheaval. We’ll be there putting faces on the changing course of American life, and digging up the stories that won’t get told unless we tell them, and we’ll be telling them with the insight and grace our readers expect.**

    It’s a great memo, even if it doesn’t have great news. In the meantime, we hope at least that TimesSelect helps. We’ll keep you posted as it all unfolds, to the extent that we have good intel that you send us. Yes, thanks for that.

    Full memo after the jump, courtesy of Gawker.

    UPDATE: Keller apparently knew for months that this shoe would drop, but hope hope hoped he could avoid layoffs. “My heart sank,” he said about hearing the news. Still he considers the Times lucky. Yes, lucky they have him going to bat for them. Raines, not so cuddly. (per E&P)

    *Astute readers will find that that phrase rings a bell: Seth Mnookin used similar phraseology last month in his 92 St. Y interview: “The greatest asset of the Times is the collective brainpower of the hundreds of reporters and editors who work there. Raines made those people—people who were dedicating their lives to this institution—[feel] as if they didn’t matter.” As Gawker points out, Keller is no Howell Raines. If I were a Times staffer reading this memo, I’d be nervous as hell, but also proud.
    ** Yes, we swore, NYT. We are nothing if not meta.


    From: Bill Keller
    To: Newsroom
    Subject: A message to the staff
    Sent: 09/20/2005 04:23 PM

    To the Staff:

    None of you will be surprised to learn that the economic pressures on our business have been unrelenting. While we’re in better shape economically (and much stronger journalistically) than our competitors, our revenues have not grown sufficiently to keep up with the growing costs of everything the company does.

    So this afternoon the company is announcing a significant reduction in staff that will be carried out over the next six to nine months. The numbers are still approximate, but Arthur and Janet estimate that across all of the Times-owned properties the total cut in staff will be about 500 people. As in the past, the deepest cuts will be on the business side. Janet and Arthur are well aware that the journalists make up the great engine of this company’s prosperity and the hope for its future growth. But the newsrooms ­- here, at the Globe and elsewhere ­- are going to take a hit.

    I’ve been told that we will be expected to cut about 45 positions in the Times newsroom. To put that in context: that’s about double the number who took the newsroom buyouts offered earlier this summer.

    This number was given to me yesterday, so I can’t begin to tell you precisely where those slots will come from. I can say a few things about what this means for us:

    First, Janet and Arthur have assured me we will have considerable flexibility in meeting this number. Our aim will be to reduce staff through a combination of voluntary severance deals similar to the ones we did earlier this summer, by curtailing use of temporary employees, and by attrition. This is a serious challenge, and there’s no guarantee, but my hope is that we can bring this off without layoffs.

    As a first step to protect the loyal, hard-working staff we have, we are closing the door immediately on new hiring. This freeze will last at least until the end of the year. Of course, we will honor commitments to people who have been offered jobs and have accepted. And, of course, I reserve the right to make exceptions for cases of high priority to the paper. But you should expect the exceptions will be few, if any, and they will be made in consultation with the department heads.

    As soon as we have information from the business side about what we can offer in the way of separation packages, we will aim to structure another round of voluntary buyouts. The buyout offers earlier this summer were extended to only a fifth of the newsroom ­- areas where we thought the staff reductions would have the least impact. This time we will look at opening the field wider.

    We will also look hard for non-payroll spending cuts in the hope that we can, in effect, offer up dollars instead of staff positions. It’s possible that if we can come up with real savings in non-payroll spending we will not have to cut staff by the full 45 slots. We will be looking hard at freelance spending. We will be working with Foreign, National and Bizday to look for opportunities to postpone major relocations of staff, which are hugely expensive. We will work with the department heads to help keep the lid on spending for entertainment, and to make sure overtime and comp time are closely monitored. And so on. Anticipating that 2006 would be an unusually grim budget year, John and Bill Schmidt and our budget minders had already begun looking hard for ways to change some of the things we do in order to minimize the damage of these cuts. We hope to have a detailed plan to take in this notch in our belts within two or three weeks. In all of this, we will work closely with the department heads to set priorities and to help the newsroom weather this.

    I won’t pretend that it will be painless. Between the buyouts earlier this summer and the demands placed on us by the IHT and the Website ­- not to mention the heroic commitment we’ve made to covering the aftermath of Katrina ­ we don’t have a lot of slack. Like the rest of you, I found the recent spate of retirement parties more saddening than celebratory, both for the obvious personal reasons and because they represented a sapping of our collective wisdom and experience. Throughout these lean years you have worked your hearts out to perform our daily miracle, and I wish I could tell you relief was in sight.

    What I can tell you is that we will not retreat, not one inch, from our commitment to put out every day the best news report in the world. We’ll be there, in dazzling form, for the next Katrina, the next international crisis, the next domestic upheaval. We’ll be there putting faces on the changing course of American life, and digging up the stories that won’t get told unless we tell them, and we’ll be telling them with the insight and grace our readers expect.

    You will have questions, and in the coming days I should have better answers. Probably the easiest way to keep you all in the loop is through Ahead of the Times. If you e-mail questions to me, Glenn Kramon or Grace Wong, I will post answers as soon as I know them.

    Bill