New York Times Magazine Changes Process Due to Coronavirus

Publication is developing work-from-home contingency plans

the new york times office
The New York Times has encouraged, but not mandated, its employees work from home if possible. Getty Images

Key insight:

The New York Times Magazine is using this week to prepare for what is looking to be inevitable for more offices: what the workflow will look like when employees are working from home because of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

It doesn’t seem like the transition will be straightforward for the more than 100-year-old magazine, delivered in the Sunday issue of The New York Times. “Paper-proofing” and in-person edits remain a large part of the magazine’s current process, the magazine’s editor in chief, Jake Silverstein, told staff Monday night in a memo obtained by Adweek.

“We are skeptical that we’ll be able to produce this week’s issue with an entirely remote process,” Silverstein wrote. “But we expect to implement an all-staff work-from-home plan by one week from today. Our goal will be to use this week’s issue as a rehearsal for producing the entire magazine remotely.”

Beginning next week, the magazine will be on a work from home schedule, sources said.

Publications like The Washington Post have told their employees to say home if they can. Talking Points Memo has closed its offices, with the news site’s executive editor writing, “We started making plans for this two weeks ago today, when the CDC held its sobering press conference warning businesses, schools and other institutions to begin preparing for the inevitable spread of COVID-19.” Other newsrooms have limited who can travel.

The Times, too, has been developing work from home plans for all employees since last week. To prepare, the company has been “stress-testing” its software systems and workflow for remote access, with workers telling Adweek, “We have had successful teleconferences with the entire staff.”

The biggest change for the magazine is migrating from a paper-proofing process, replete with hand corrections and edits, to a full-on digital proofing process. This week, the magazine will “be going paperless” to prepare for mandatory remote working. For the production cycle, this means the magazine will not be circulating paper proofs, instead doing everything digitally.

“This is definitely going to cause some headaches, which is why we’re doing a dry run while we’re still physically present in the office this week and can more easily get technical assistance,” Silverstein wrote in the memo.

A spokesperson for The Times said a “continuity plan” was in place across the newspaper as well, but declined to give more detail as to what that process looked like.

“We’ve encouraged staff who want to work remotely to do so, and many have taken up the offer,” the spokesperson said. “We created a database with resources, updates and new information about the coronavirus for employees to check back regularly.”

The magazine will also be using Google Hangouts, Slack and conference calls to stay connected. So, just like any office!

Sources at the magazine give kudos to the managing editors and editor in chief, who came up with guidelines for how to produce the magazine remotely, while the company has also provided a Coronavirus Information Hub, an internal resource updated with latest news and guidance.

In Silverstein’s memo, he wrote that Dean Baquet, the paper’s editor, said at a department head meeting that the newsroom “would be moving quickly to working remotely where possible. Department heads were advised to communicate to their staff that anyone whose physical presence in the office is not essential to maintain our current operations should begin working from home as soon as possible, and that as quickly as possible, we should implement contingency planning to enable all employees to work from home.”

@joshsternberg Josh Sternberg is the former media and tech editor at Adweek.