October 23, 2014 Last Updated 7:59 am

Report: NYT staffers band together to protect those interested in a buyout

The latest round of buyouts (read: voluntary layoffs) at the NYT must have many staffers a bit nervous as they are, according to a report from Jeremy Barr of Capital New York, banding together to shield those honestly interested in leaving the paper.

According to the report, more than 300 NYT staffers have asked to look at the severance package the company is willing to offer. Eventually, around 100 positions will be eliminated.

Of concern to the employees is that the impression they will make if they raise their hands and volunteer to look at the package – the thinking being that if they decide to stay they may be targeted in the future by the company for layoffs.

“The reports that people are running for the exits are just plain WRONG,” Richard Perez-Pena, a reporter at the NYT wrote on Facebook.

“Yes, the company asked for 100 people to take the buyout. Yes, 300 people asked to see the buyout paperwork – which means precisely nothing. Some people who were undecided about leaving, or just curious, didn’t want to request the paperwork because they worried (correctly or not) that it would put targets on their backs. To protect those people, some of my colleagues suggested that EVERYONE should ask for it. Suddenly, the number soared, but most of those people have no intention of leaving.”

The post was written in reaction to a story in the NY Post by Keith Kelly that reported on the number of staffers that appeared to want to see what the buyout package would look like – the inference being that a lot of staffers want out.

“It looks as though there may be a veritable stampede for the exits prompted by The New York Times buyout offer,” Kelly wrote (remember, it is the Post).

Having been in newspaper management, and also a union representative (and once, believe it or not, both things at the same time), I can understand the anxiety staffers might feel about admitting that they would like to see a buyout offer. But these things happen at media companies that are not moving in the right direction, and where the future looks far less bright than the past.

The problem is that eliminating 100 positions won’t have a major impact on costs at The Grey Lady and so future layoffs are not out of the question. This drip drip drip of layoffs has an effect inside the building.

As strange as it may sound, though, it is a good sign that the staff would work together to shield its own. Having worked for Hearst in Los Angeles, I can tell you that when things get really bad staff solidarity can sometimes breakdown as staffers begin to feel that it is every man for themselves. Then, staffs can divide into groups of survivors (those committed to staying to be end) and those looking for the first opportunity to exit.

It is doubtful that the NYT is anywhere near that kind of situation, or will be at anytime in the near future. But these buyouts have to be handled right, and one hopes that management at the Times looks at the large numbers of staffers asking for a look at the buyout package as just something that is natural and not to be worried about. An overreaction from management at the Times would be far worse than a misinterpretation of things by those of us looking in from the outside.

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