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There appears to be some drama between New York Times staffers and those from the recently acquired The Athletic.
A new Washington Post article delved into the structural changes taking place within the company. It’s leading to some serious tension between both entities, despite the fact that they’re all supposed to be on the same team.
Pulling a move straight out of something one would see in Mean Girls, apparently some Times’ employees are acting so petty that they are complaining about the damn building they’re all working in.
Forget paying for Netflix, this drama is going to play out in front of all of us… and it’s free!
Soon it’ll go from “don’t take photos of our building,” to “you can’t sit with us” in the cafeteria.
And just like a cheap movie, we already know how this is going to play out; with both sides attacking each other. Wait for the leaks and the passive aggressive comments to continue building up. Eventually it’ll get so bad that the actual talented writers will leave. It will not be worth the chaos, confusion and effort anymore.
THE TIMES WANTED THE ATHLETIC FOR ONE REASON: SUBSCRIBERS
When the Times acquisition finally went thru this past February, those in the media industry saw it for exactly what it was, a money-grab. The higher-ups wanted to add The Athletic’s subscriber-based revenue. Their motivations were clear as day, especially when they took away one of the things the Athletic was proud of, which was ad-free content. According to a May earnings call for the company, the new owners have already planned to do away with that.
There’s two major things at hand here.
One, nobody at either side knows what is going on. There’s clearly a lack of communication happening on all levels. Nobody knows what they are allowed to do, thus stifling creativity and content. The Washington Post article’s author, Ben Strauss, details this in his piece.
The Times has started to promote the Athletic on its homepage and in its Twitter feed, which has sapped morale among the sports department of around 40 to 50 people, according to multiple staffers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal company business. (The Times declined to confirm how many staffers were on its sports desk.) The sports staff has had a series of meetings with higher-ups at the Times, including Perpich and executive editor Joe Kahn, asking questions about how work is promoted and how and whether they are supposed to compete with the Athletic on stories. This summer, the Times and the Athletic ran identical stories about a Yankees pitcher in the span of a few days.
Essentially with too many people trying to cover the same exact thing, some Times staffers are beginning to get defensive. They realize that many of them are going to get screwed and pushed out.
WILL THE ATHLETIC UNIONIZE?
The second issue at hand involves unionization.
Some staffers for the Athletic are reportedly pushing for a union. The parent company wants no part of that for the Times side of things, especially if people or departments eventually get squeezed out. They don’t want to give anymore rights to people that may be getting canned.
If the Athletic’s newsroom were to unionize, it would almost certainly be its own bargaining unit, separate from the Times newsroom. And Times management would want it that way, rather than grow the current bargaining unit by hundreds of members. That is another reason that the Times would never want Athletic staffers to be able to say they are Times sportswriters, according to a person familiar with the Times-NewsGuild dynamic.
POLICY CHANGES AT THE ATHLETIC
It’s clear that the Times owners really don’t know what to do with their $550 million purchase. They are trying to be pro-active with some of their moves, but that may backfire.
Case in point, when The Athletic was bought out, staffers were apparently told that not much would change as far as the publication’s vision. Well you know how that was going to go – within 6 months there was a major policy shift as writers were told to stick to sports and cut out the political talk.
The Athletic even changed their official editorial guidelines into whatever the hell this is supposed to mean:
Journalists have no place on the playing fields of politics even if those journalists cover sports, which increasingly intersects with politics. Staff members are entitled to vote, but they must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality or that of The Athletic. In particular, The Athletic staff members should not express their political beliefs on social media or any platform. Staff members may not themselves give money to, or raise money for, any political candidate.
I think I understand what the Times was trying to do, but it’s how they did it that has already laid the groundwork for backlash (and the push for unionization, which may be a headache for the new owners).
Also to not even realize that the sports world and politics are so frequently intertwined, you’re essentially hurting yourselves from the start. Think about MLB moving the All-Star Game from Atlanta last year, or Lebron’s silence on China. The rise of social media means athletes and leagues are pretty much supposed to have an opinion on everything, including politics.
WHY BUY SOMETHING ONLY TO CHANGE IT AND RUIN IT?
I’ll never understand why companies purchase something because they like it so much, only to then change it and eventually ruin what made it special to begin with. You’re literally sabotaging oneself.
(It’s part of the Times MO though, they destroyed Wordle of all things after they bought it!)
I just started out at OutKick a few weeks ago and reading this Times / Athletic situation makes me appreciate working here even more. We literally are allowed to write and say what we please. Instead of being told no, we are actively encouraged to give our opinions. My bosses want me to write and pursue what I’m passionate about. They know I’m going to deliver that much better content.
The New York Times should take advice from how we do things here at OutKick.
Don’t hinder your worker’s creativity. Embrace it.