WSJ SCOOP: New York Times Bosses 'Seek to Quash Rebellion in the Newsroom'

April 13th, 2024 9:51 AM

Wall Street Journal news-industry reporter Alexandra Bruell broke a story on Friday about managers at The New York Times struggling with the intolerance of new employees who are "applying ideological purity tests" to stories on "sensitive topics like the transgender community and social justice." Those kids coming out of college don't bow to the wisdom of their elders who may still want to portray themselves as neutral and independent of ideological camps.

The Bruell story was headlined:

New York Times Bosses Seek to Quash Rebellion in the Newsroom

After internal upheaval over coverage of sensitive topics like the Israel-Gaza war, management renews emphasis on independence and neutrality

Bruell began with the internal squabble over Hamas weaponizing sexual-assault on October 7, which ended up being a multiple-story obsession of NPR media reporter David Folkenflik after someone working on The Daily podcast (which airs on hundreds of NPR stations) complained to The Intercept, a radical-left site.

“The idea that someone dips into that process in the middle, and finds something that they considered might be interesting or damaging to the story under way, and then provides that to people outside, felt to me and my colleagues like a breakdown in the sort of trust and collaboration that’s necessary in the editorial process,” Executive Editor Joe Kahn said in an interview. “I haven’t seen that happen before.”  

It's a little funny when newspapers who routinely rely on leakers have to deal with internal leakers. They don't wonder if it causes "a breakdown of trust and collaboration that's necessary in the governing process."

But it's also amusing that Kahn is aware that America's top colleges are sending him employees that think neutrality is an objectionable concept:

Kahn noted that the organization has added a lot of digital-savvy workers who are skilled in areas like data analytics, design and product engineering but who weren’t trained in independent journalism. He also suggested that colleges aren’t preparing new hires to be tolerant of dissenting views.

“Young adults who are coming up through the education system are less accustomed to this sort of open debate, this sort of robust exchange of views around issues they feel strongly about than may have been the case in the past,” he said, adding that the onus is on the Times to instill values like independence in its employees.

Bruell noted some pitched battles over transgender issues, from an internal Slack forum over a trans-related opinion piece by Times opinion columnist Pamela Paul to an open letter signed by more than 1,000 contributors over the article “The Battle Over Gender Therapy,” and the framing of the article “When Students Change Gender Identity, and Parents Don’t Know.” 

She also recalled how editorial-page editor James Bennet and science reporter Donald McNeil were let go after internal staff turmoil.

Finally, we had to love what publisher Arthur Gregg Sulzberger thinks the "emotion-free" stories are: 

Kahn said the Times’ national desk now is bigger and more equipped to cover an unprecedented election. The Times will also be more committed to covering misinformation in the 2024 election, with a team of eight to nine people, he said.

In January, Sulzberger shared his thoughts on covering Trump during a visit to the Washington bureau. It was imperative to keep Trump coverage emotion-free, he told staffers, according to people who attended. He referenced the Times story, “Why a Second Trump Presidency May Be More Radical Than His First,” by Charlie Savage, Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman, as a good example of fact-based and fair coverage.