ClassicWHO — An Open Letter to NYT Staffers: Leave the Plantation and Join Us

New York Times boss Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

Originally published January 9, 2012 

Recently, New York Times staffers boldly confronted their institution. In a near outright insurrection, published December 23 as an open letter to their boss, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., 561 staffers and a few retirees signed a declaration of frustration.

We’ve got our own declaration to those Times folks—a way out of this mess.

But first, here’s the text of that open letter, in its entirety:

Dear Arthur:

We, the Guild leadership and many reporters, editors, account managers and other Times employees, Guild members and otherwise, are writing to express profound dismay at several recent developments.

Our foreign citizen employees in overseas bureaus have just had their pensions frozen with only a week’s warning. Some of these people have risked their lives so that we can do our jobs. A couple have even lost them. Many have spent their entire careers at the Times — indeed, some have letters from your father explaining the pension system — and deserve better treatment.

At the same time, your negotiators have demanded a freeze of our pension plan and an end to our independent health insurance.

We ask you to withdraw these demands so that negotiations on a new contract can proceed fruitfully and expeditiously. We also urge you to reconsider the decision to eliminate the pensions of the foreign employees.

We have worked long and hard for this company and have given up pay to keep it solvent. Some of us have risked our lives for it. You have eloquently recognized and paid moving tribute to our work and devotion. The deep disconnect between those words and the demands of your negotiators have given rise to a sense of betrayal.

One of our colleagues in senior management recently announced her retirement from the paper, which is reported to include a very generous severance and retirement package, including full pension benefits.

All of us who work at the Times deserve to have a secured retirement; this should not be a privilege cynically reserved to senior management. We strongly urge you to keep faith with your words and our shared mission of putting out the best newspaper in the world.


New York Timesians, welcome to the real world. In the end, the problem is the ownership of the media. In the end, you work on a plantation. Granted, it is a plush plantation, and there are many benefits, not the least of which is the status it accords.

But you’re very much working for the establishment. And the establishment is looking out for their interests, chiefly, not yours, or ours, no matter how much they try and tell us otherwise.

Why not, in this new world, take a risk to create a better journalism, one not owned by rich people or corporations? Why not get involved with journalism whose only agenda is to figure out what is really going on, and then say so? That gets right to the point of what you discovered in your reporting, without pretending to be above the fray and reporting what powerful, self-interested “sources” tell you as if it is the gospel?

You can see what corporate ownership (even the kind dominated by single families—think Walmart and the Waltons, not just the Sulzbergers and the New York Times) does to journalists: it causes them to hold their fire. News outlets are really too important to democracy and the public interest to let them nestle in the bosom of the rich.

Think of all the times The Times has been wrong, pressing you toward the establishment consensus on stories where you knew that was not the right place to be, journalistically.

The Times has exaggerated the importance of things like the Iowa caucuses and primaries in terms of giving the public false confidence they actually have a say in what is an increasingly tenuous democracy. It played a central role in the rush to war with Iraq, and a lack of investigative rigor on the real reasons for intervening in Libya. It has been so terrified of being labeled as “conspiracy theorists” that it has ignored important legitimate reporting on 9/11 and the inconsistent government explanations of the raid that “got” Bin Laden.

It has shown cluelessness on Occupy Wall Street. Its columnists defended a friend instead of investigating him for fraud. It has been excessively soft toward “acceptable” candidates like Mitt Romney and rough on those who would ruffle feathers.

The Times investigates the establishment, up to a point. But in the end, it upholds the establishment. It is a wholly owned subsidiary.

Think of the hoary old discredited memes, like the Warren Report, that the spirit of the place keeps flame for some reason. Think of its preference for bland middle of the road candidates who can do nothing to stop this country’s slide to the bottom. And for “order,” when what we may need, in a country increasingly experiencing corporate-driven chaos, is a little more healthy disorder.

Corporate-owned media has been “in charge” of providing the dominant national narrative, helping us understand where we are and why, and what we can do about it. And how good a job, would you say, it has done, overall? Are things much better after this long reign?

Most of you are fine people—some are my friends—and many of you do great work, or at least the best you are able under certain constraints. But in the end you are on the plantation. You may petition your owner, as you have, but he’s got the upper hand. He certainly isn’t going to give up a lot so that you may keep your pension.

I understand you want to keep your job and your benefits. But does it really feel that good being on the corporate plantation?

Come join us. Ask the deep questions, write whatever you learn. No holds barred. Work in an outfit that takes itself a little less seriously—but takes the truth very seriously indeed.

Help us collect the people and the resources, and build a more perfect journalism.

WhoWhatWhy plans to continue doing this kind of groundbreaking original reporting. You can count on it. But can we count on you? We cannot do our work without your support.

Please click here to donateit’s tax deductible. And it packs a punch.


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  • mijj

    they should be forthright with an ultimatum:

    No more financial security = no more a tool for propaganda

    .. but who are we kidding. There’s a queue round the block for willing propagandists to fill empty shoes.

    • sgtdoom

      Exactly! Those CNN stooges, the former Pentagon PR guy, Brian Williams, the clowns at CBS, NBC, AP, and one should never even mention the Foxtards.

      Best book to describe the “free press” events in America:

      Into the Buzzsaw, edited by Kristina Borjesson

  • Carine Clary

    Sulzberger Jr. is having a garage sale (in this case, of pensions) because he’s trying to prop up a failing enterprise. He’s too clueless to comprehend the nature of the changes that are transforming traditional journalism, so he can’t accommodate them and survive – he’s kinda like the kid at the deep end of the pool who doesn’t know that those leg cramps will shortly do him in. But they will. Safe to say that the Times will continue with these half assed efforts to scrounge funds till the bankers cut them off. If they’re lucky they can salvage something by selling out and little Pinch can take a teary cross town cab ride home where the phone will nevermore ring and he’ll be promptly forgotten.

    • sgtdoom

      The main change in journalism, usually conveniently ignored in such comments, is the concentration of ownership, when in the 1960s over a thousand companies owned the media outlets, today essentially five, heavily financially interlocked corporations, control the media.

      ‘Nuff said……

  • Teace Snyder

    The only people who care about journalists being thrown under the bus anymore are journalists themselves. From the general public’s vantage point, this apathy is due to contemporary mainstream journalists fundamentally betraying what the news should be and, instead, transmogrifying it into a sensationalized emotionally exploitative exercise in stupidity.

    Yes, a big part of the reason this has happened is because the news is corporately owned and, yes, it’s gone on for so long because when a journalist does decide to fight for the truth they find themselves in the crosshairs of anyone who stands to suffer from the revealing of that truth. An impossible situation, rife for making excuses and selling out–two hobbies well known to anyone who’s sold their soul to the Times.

    These Times journalists come off as fundamentally naive–as if their high horse has finally been rattled and they’ve gotten a cold chill of people’s true sentiments and the harsh reality that has already befallen so many legitimate journalists, fighting for the truth outside the ego stroking, lacklustre, self-reighteous walls of the NY Times. Soon they’ll be in for an even harsher dose of reality–the way the world looks to everyone who has the balls to stand for the news, without the establishment holding their hand and whispering in their ear along the way.

  • Orangutan.

    Amber Lyon, Ben Swann, Keith Olbermann, and Dan Rather are probably other journalists looking for outlets and other opportunities. I just found out about this place run by a former employee of the Miami Herald-Tribune.

    They just got mentioned in this article by a former colleague.

    Journalism may make another rise after all : )

    • Russ

      Ummm…Dan Rather is currently working: We mentioned Broward Bulldog long ago, see lead paragraph of . And the Miami paper is called the Miami Herald. The Herald-Tribune, to which you refer, is a Sarasota paper, on the opposite side of the state. (Whew! There really is a reason to count on professional journalists for facts!) LOL

      • Orangutan.

        LOL. Luckily the internet has crowd sourcing!! Thanks for the correction : )

    • sgtdoom

      Many would not agree that Dan Rather was or is a journalist, for too many years he simply read what was placed in front of him, much of it pure garbage, and that one time when he finally did speak some of the facts (anyone who bothered to research Geo. W. Bush’s “military record” prior to his run at the Texan governorship knows that Bush only completed four weeks of enlisted basic training at Lackland before washing out, then returning to Houston where his daddy pinned officer’s bars on him, later his record would be thoroughly discombobulated, much the same as Leo Oswald,s was, but in the opposite direction), he was completely and easily snookered, as a true investigative journalist never would have been.

      Negative on Rather…..

  • sgtdoom

    It requies a spine and backbone to report on the facts: a Keysha Cooper and an Armando Falcon, what the banksters have done, are doing and the vast number of paltry criminal penalties for financial fraud they pay on a consistent and routine basis.

    It takes guts to report on the pandemic-level “accidental” releases of a Baxter International, or the nefarious crimes of a GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly and HCA.

    It takes fortitude to question something so blatantly obviously riddles with contradictions, omissions of facts, obviously never followed-up questions, as the Warren Commission Report (and any soul who has actually read it never would bother discussing the Kennedy murder with aliterate stooges, etc., the Report exposes a good deal of and by itself and it’s criminal authors).

    While we still have Russ Baker, Pam Martens, Nomi Prins, the occasional Taibbi, etc. the lack of any number of true journalists in America today is both stunning and incredibly depressing.

  • corvair969

    hey russ that is kind and brilliant

  • corvair969

    ps this weeks names that might and should have been in the news; Sacco & Vanzetti – Cambridge MA dupes & wrongly accused – how illiterate our media, as in, un-read

  • Kevin

    Russ – Sharyl Attkisson of CBS news might be someone to look into. I pasted the first paragraph of the story below:


    The biggest Benghazi-related story that took place outside of the House Oversight Committee’s hearing room today is this item in Politico, regarding CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson. She’s the reporter who famously drew White House officials’ profane ire
    over her unapologetic pursuit of the Fast & Furious scandal story;
    now she’s apparently facing searing criticism from another source: Her
    own bosses. Why? Because she’s been covering the Benghazi story too aggressively. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you media bias:

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