The New York Times scrambled last week to reassure employees that involuntary layoffs were not imminent after Cliff Levy, the editor of the Metro desk issued a blistering email to staffers saying that while the section will always be at the core of the Times’s mission, he felt that it has “lost its footing” and is in need of “urgent fundamental” change.
That earned the immediate rebuke by the News Guild of New York, which represents journalists in the section. The guild called Levy’s memo a “public fragging” by Times management and said his offer of “voluntary” buyouts was “an unexpected threat to our journalism and our jobs,” according to the New York Post.
Top executives appeared at a town hall meeting Friday afternoon and included publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, executive editor Dean Baquet, CEO Mark Thompson, and Levy, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Metro editor.
Sulzberger shocked many of the 125 Times employees in attendance by admitting that he had read the memo before it was issued.
“He said it didn’t land in his brain the same way it landed in the collective mind of the Metro desk,” a source told the Post. “He didn’t see it for what it became — the bomb that impugned our reporting.”
The executives said the voluntary buyouts do not mean that involuntary buyouts will follow.
Baquet apologized for the mixed message, clarifying that “for the people that don’t want to go along on the bumpy ride, here’s a chance to take a buyout,” according to an attendee.
Levy also spoke to the staff, saying that “he did not intend to offend or upset people,” according to one attendee. “He was just explaining change was coming.”
Baquet sought to soothe Metro staffers by telling them that they will not be evaluated on clicks as the section since Levy’s memo mentioned engaging the audience and wanted stories to have more of an impact as the section becomes more digitally focused.
The Metro section’s last staff reduction was in 2013 when it employed around 60 people to the roughly 40 it currently does.