Memo To Keller: Cutting The ‘Flabby, Redundant’ Prose Out Of Yours


A mock-up of the New York Times cover, April 2008 [actual size]

In a memo to the New York Times staff regarding consolidation at the paper, executive editor Bill Keller wrote:

We will look for ways to report incremental news developments in digests or other abbreviated forms, and to police flabby or redundant prose in longer pieces.

As we’re big believers in improvements through rigorous editing, FishbowlNY has taken Keller’s initiative to heart, offering up a streamlined version of his 780-word memo.

Our helpful comments [in brackets] and cuts:



If you check the Web site this evening (or the newspaper in the morning) you’ll see a pair of important, related [Pairs, by definition, are related] company announcements. One is that the paper will be adding a new high-speed press to the printing plant at College Point and thereafter subleasing the Edison plant. The other is that when this consolidation is complete—in April 2008—Tthe Times will adopt the narrower format that is now becoming the industry norm. I apologize for this last-minute message, but I wanted to hold off until the news was given to those most immediately affected—our colleagues who actually turn our journalism into ink on paper. They were briefed this evening.

So what does all this mean for the newsroom? Glad you asked.

First, the consolidation of our New York area printing into a single plant means a large annual saving—money that will not have to be cut from important things, such as producing the world’s best news report. [Biased] The company’s production executives have considered the obvious questions that arise from the newsroom’s vantage point, and answered them convincingly: If we attract new circulation in the region, will we still have the capacity to grow? (Yes.) Will this require earlier deadlines? (No.) [Move up] Are we providing the backup systems to make sure ensure we can print during a blackout or other crisis? (Yes.) After detailed briefings, John Geddes and Peter Putrimas came away impressed that this is a smart, clean [Is it really “clean” for the 250 people losing their jobs?] way to cut costs without diminishing our commitment to the region.

The smaller format will affect the newsroom in big ways, but not in dire ways adversely [Speculation]. In production jargon, w We will be moving from a 54-inch web—the width of four pagesüto a 48-inch web. That means pages will be 1 1/2 inches narrower than the current size, and the same length. The narrower This format will mean some reduction in our news hole, and it will require an extensive redesign [Again with the lede-burying]. Since this will not happen for nearly two years, we’ll have plenty of time to adapt [Rework to clarify that “adapt,” in this case, means that in the same jobs for identical pay, staffers’ collective workload will likely increase]. (The long lead time is necessary because we have to place orders for the new printing equipment.)

News hole: If we just cut the page size and did nothing else, we would lose 11 percent of the news hole—. That would be, a serious loss. But So, the plan is to add more pages to the paper so that the net loss of news space is approximately 5 percent, which I believe we can absorb without significant damage to the report. We will look for ways to report incremental news developments in digests or other abbreviated forms, and to police flabby or redundant [Ahem] prose in longer pieces. I’m convinced that, with good editors [As opposed to…?] and a little time, I could take 5 percent out of any day’s paper and actually make it better. [Feel free.]

A layman might ask, d Does that mean we can get by with a smaller staff? But, of course No, it doesn’t work that way. We still intend to cover all the things we cover now. And cConveying the news in a bitless space will require more rigorous editing, not less. Moreover, with the advent of the Web, our responsibility to cover news for our audience has grown well beyond the paper’s columns of newsprint in the paper. In any case, our commitment to hard-hitting, ground-breaking groundbreaking journalism will not be compromised. [Speculation]

Design: A narrower paper is, in some ways, more reader-friendly. It’s easier to handle. It will also be, b By the time we introduce it, it will also be what readers expect in a newspaper. The Wall Street Journal will move to a 48-inch web in January 2007. USA Today has already converted about half of its production to this size. Gannett and the former Knight Ridder papers have announced they are switching to 48 inches [Of what?]. The Washington Post and the Tribune Company, which have already reduced to a 50-inch web, are considering joining the consensus.

You cannot just take the current front page and squeeze it. We need to think hard about change ing the look in ways that preserve the visual power, the urgency and the dignity [Bias] of The New York Times. Tom Bodkin is already at work, along with several other senior editors, on a thorough examination of the A-book. He will now look for develop a redesign that we can execute in two stages—with some changes we may introduced earlier, and then followed by a new look to suit the narrower format when the page size changes in 2008.

The aim of these changes is to assure the continuing economic health of the newspaper we all love [Opinion]. And I’m convinced we can adapt without diminishing its journalistic health. [Speculation]


NYT Keller Memo: We Will Look To Police Flabby or Redundant Prose In Longer Pieces
New York Times To Reduce Size Of Paper, Production Staff