Shortly after sending out my latest private email about the talent emigration at The New York Times, Timesism & Its Discontents, it occurred to me that I may have buried the lede. My reporting, which included conversations with around two dozen current and former journalists at the paper, had unearthed a pervasive sense of restlessness with Timesian bureaucracy. Many reporters felt boxed inside their respective beats and limited by the institution in their ability to pursue (and profit from) extracurricular activities.
The Times was perhaps a victim of its own success in this regard: over a decade, it had recruited many of the most ambitious journalists of the era to work almost exclusively in service of the paper; now it was being forced to reckon with those ambitions—a new title or assignment, more leeway, et cetera—which didn’t always align with what was best for the Times. In the old days, the Times could, and often did, tell reporters to putter off when they came clamoring for the aforementioned extras. At times, this led to significant management mistakes. Imagine what Nate Silver could have built inside 620 Eighth Avenue if Jill Abramson hadn’t played such hardball. Anyway, notable names sought fame and fortune elsewhere. In some cases, they were managed out.
Within minutes of hitting send on the email, I received texts and DMs from many Times journalists—some of whom I had spoken to for the piece, many of whom I had not—alerting me to a shared grievance. Yes, freedom mattered. Yes, many desired more creative opportunities. But at the end of the day, as seems often the case in life, the most significant source of internal frustration was the detail I concluded the article with: the money. As I reported, the Times payscale is very compressed, with virtually every writer making more than $100,000 a year but very few earning over $200,000. This may be decent by the standards of journalism—which, unlike being a hedge fund manager, is often a higher calling—but, as several Times sources pointed out, even $200,000 ends up feeling pretty tight, if not altogether unsustainable, when you’re trying to raise a family in Brooklyn or Washington or San Francisco.