The Times loses institutional memory

By Christopher B. Daly 

New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who is supposed to be looking out for us readers, acknowledges in her column today what many have long suspected — that is, the current round of staff reductions in the Times newsroom would target the older (higher cost) reporters and editors. That, in turn, means that the newsroom is losing some folks with some special virtues that are hard to make up for in younger hires.

1. They remember stuff. Even while older people start forgetting this and that (and I put my forefront of this trend), we have been around so long that we remember things that are hard to know any other way but by living through them. Does Ed Koch deserve a big send-off? Was he a jerk? Is something that just happened really “unprecedented” or just unusual? Should a newspaper publish everything it can get its hands on, or are some things better left alone?

2. Odds are, the older people are a little less intimidated by the people who hold formal power. They are the kind of people who (might) speak up in a meeting and say “So what?” or “Why?” Usually, the younger people are eager to agree and just want to know how high to jump. Case in point: Jonathan Landman. When he was on the Times city desk a decade ago, he had the nerve to doubt one of the paper’s rising stars — Jayson Blair. He tried to stop Blair from his serial inventions and plagiarism, and that is no easy thing to do in any newsroom.

So as they shuffle off to early retirements, a tip of the hat to some of those newsroom veterans. It will take a long time to replace them.

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Filed under Journalism, New York Times

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