Schadenfreude alert: readers, and especially those who don’t much like the New York Times, should make sure they are not eating soup or holding hot liquids before viewing the video below. Uncontrollable gales of laughter stemming from excessive levels of schadenfreude may cause spilling and staining.
New York Times staffers, like suffering proles all over the world, belong to a labor union, and over the years the union has negotiated a very comfy defined benefit retirement plan. The staffers love the plan.
But economic reality is intruding. Times management, perhaps reading the coverage in its own pages about the companies and cities going bankrupt due to unsustainable union-bargained pension systems, wants to make a change. It wants to offer a defined contribution plan, instead. Workers and the company pay into a 401(k) plan, workers invest it, and when they retire, that is the amount they have towards their income.
It’s an entitled blue deer, meet onrushing truck kind of moment. The Guild is talking about a strike, and an array of Times staffers, including some famous bylines that are well known in news circles, worry aloud that the new plan could make them eat cat food and sleep in boxes on the street in old age. (Or late middle age, anyway; not one staffer talks about working past 65.)
Nobody in the video talks about the changes in the news business that threatens to drive the Times into a deep dive. Nobody talks about the prospect of future significant staff cuts if costs can’t be contained. None of them discuss the incongruity between their own naive sense of entitlement and what is going on in the cities, companies and countries they cover.
They just want the money.
Some writers allude to the prospect of leaving the paper if the pension change goes through, but a quick check of the newspaper business suggests they don’t have all that many options. Certainly with the exception of a handful of superstars the New York Times would have less trouble replacing its current staff than the current staff would have in replacing their jobs. And if those new jobs are in journalism, good luck finding a company with a generous defined benefit pension plan.
I sympathize with the Times staff about living in tougher economic conditions, but that is what people are adjusting to all over the world; I’m not sure what gives them an exemption. Newspaper reporters of all people should have seen this coming long ago, and have made savings and retirement plans on the assumption that their defined benefit plan would be going the way of the passenger pigeon and sooner rather than later.
If anything, their feelings of regret and chagrin should be tinged with at least a soupçon of relief. In the end, a defined benefit plan is only as solid as the company behind it, and given the turmoil on today’s media landscape it’s not at all clear where the Times will be or how it will be restructuring its debt 20 years from now. The good thing about a defined contribution plan is that you don’t lose the money if your ex-employer goes broke.
For readers, this is a fascinating and revealing glimpse inside the Times bubble. I am not sure which is more disconcerting; the deeply embedded sense of blue entitlement so palpably on display or the poor political judgement that led the union brass to think that releasing this video to the public would be good PR. Either way it serves as a powerful illustration of just how fundamentally out of touch many of the people working at America’s most famous newspaper have become.
I like and admire many of the people who write for the Times. Some of them I have known for years and, happily, the judgment and sensibility behind this video doesn’t characterize everyone who works there. But I suspect that most viewers around the world are going to find this video funny and revealing rather than heartfelt and convincing.