Friday, February 3, 2012

The New York Times Goes All In With The "1 Percenters"

Kyle Smith
Kyle Smith, Contributor

It’s a classic American saga of top hats against hard hats, lions versus sheep, the one percenters and the forgotten 99. It’s a story about fundamental unfairness, corporate excess, and naked greed. There are exploited workers seething in revolt and spoiled plutocrats floating along on clouds of happy oblivion.

Somebody get The New York Times on the story. Wait a second – The New York Times is the story. So never mind.

Image added by Broadcast Union News
New York Times employees plan an “urgent” Jan. 9 meeting to discuss their next move because its staff are incensed by the $15 million (Now estimated at $21 Million as of Feb 1, 2012) failure bonus given to outgoing CEO Janet Robinson. Robinson, whose disastrous tenure coincided with a drop in the parent company’s stock price from $40 to less than $8 in seven years, is getting $4.5 million to serve as a “consultant” this year (so the company can avail itself of 12 more months of that storied leadership).

Plus she gets, ahead of schedule, immediate access to a $10.9 million pension (though she is only 61). Her sudden resignation/ouster/defenestration, announced last month, came just three months after Forbes’ Jeff Bercovici said she conducted “what felt rather like a victory lap” to boast of her digital strategy. Third-quarter ad revenue sagged by 8.8 percent.

Meanwhile, according to the president of the Newspaper Guild, the paper is hectoring the workers with demands for concessions. These include pension freezes, savings in the health plan and curtailing bonuses for working late nights or rearranging schedules to deal with unexpected news events. All this would save the company about $9 million this year, or roughly two-thirds of the amount it is paying to a single non-employee: Janet Robinson.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
An open letter to Times chieftain Arthur Sulzberger Jr. quickly drew more than 500 signatures, many of them familiar bylines from the paper. Wrote one employee, “The disconnect between the praise lavished upon us and the dismissive treatment we have experienced in negotiations has reached grotesque proportions.”

Somehow the Newspaper of Record has missed this hot developing story, limiting its coverage to the closing lines of a blog post, but then again this is the paper that ignored or was unaware of the 2009 controversy that would force the resignation of avowed communist and 9/11 truther Van Jones as White House “green jobs czar.” (The paper’s editors said it was “understaffed” before a Labor Day weekend when there were nonetheless enough warm bodies to produce a 500-word story on a semi-clothed Times Square panhandler called the Naked Cowboy, who announced he was not running for mayor.)

The uproar within The Times is exactly the sort of development it has breathlessly covered when it’s labeled the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has so obsessed its staff that its classical-music critic recently wrote, “As I listened to these students sing, I thought about the issues of economic inequality that the Occupy Wall Street protesters have moved to the center of political discourse.”

Janet Robinson former NY Times CEO
When a failed CEO receives a $15 million golden parachute at the exact moment when Times foreign correspondents who put their lives on the line covering war are having their pensions frozen, isn’t it worthy of comment? And what of the moral implications of a company that extracts ever more concessions from its unions while holding executives to no apparent standard? “I feel that the gap between what Janet Robinson will be leaving with, and what we are being offered, is simply wrong,” wrote the paper’s domestic correspondent Tamar Lewin in a collection of open letters to management.

Shouldn’t proletarian warrior Paul Krugman (whose name at this writing is conspicuously absent from the workers’ petition, weigh in on the injustice? A few weeks ago Krugman wrote, “Wealthy Americans who benefit hugely from a system rigged in their favor react with hysteria to anyone who points out just how rigged the system is.” 

As the 1,200-head Times newsroom staff prepares for more job cuts while Robinson draws a lavish fee for nebulous consulting efforts, doesn’t the Times system seem as rigged as any? Yet the wealthy Americans who run the New York Times simply aren’t interested in publishing any stories about the dispute they’re having with their own worker bees. Maybe we’ll read about the quarrel in the Occupy Wall Street Journal.

Times management will, of course, win this and every other dispute with its employees, who two years ago accepted a five percent pay cut. Unlike mere corporate drones, the priests and priestesses of the Times are fanatics who willingly serve in a holy cause. Company executives could announce a new salary policy in which reporters and commentators pay for the right to work for the paper, and the end product would look about the same.

Consider, for instance, this posting by video journalist Gabe Johnson: “The Times is compensating an executive at the expense of the rank and file, the very behavior that we criticize in our editorial pages. I am confident, nevertheless, that we can all find a way out of this struggle together. This is a wonderful and rare institution and you have made difficult and wise decisions in the past.” In other words: Whatever you say, boss. It might as well be one of the citizen-slaves of Kim Jong-un talking.

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