NY Times Fires Off Warning to Staffers After Trans Coverage Brouhaha

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

This reporting is featured in this week’s edition of Confider, the newsletter pulling back the curtain on the media. Subscribe here and send your questions, tips, and complaints here.

The New York Times has left no stone unturned in its quest to crack down on staffers who signed an open letter last month criticizing the paper’s trans coverage.

After weeks of hauling staffers who signed it into meetings with high-level editors Carolyn Ryan and Marc Lacey—meetings described to Confider as intimidating “tongue-lashing” sessions—management sent written warnings to around 20 staffers, accusing them of conspiring against the paper and endangering their co-workers.

“Your colleagues whose work was criticized in the letter, some by name, have carried out their work in a fair-minded, sensitive, and journalistically sound fashion,” Ryan and Lacey wrote in the letters sent earlier this month, according to a copy obtained and reviewed by Confider. “They have endured attacks and threats as a result of the letter. By signing, you have not only amplified that campaign but endorsed it, too. That is harmful to them personally and to our reputation for providing quality, independent journalism.”

The warning memos, which were put on March 9 into each employee’s personnel file, came after hundreds of Times staffers and contributors claimed in their open letter that the paper “treated gender diversity with an eerily familiar mix of pseudoscience and euphemistic, charged language.” The open letter was a point of contention within the staff union itself, as dozens of reporters signed a separate letter lashing their colleagues’ “fundamental misunderstanding of our responsibilities as journalists.”

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In its letter earlier this month, management further warned staffers that should they engage in anything similar in the future, they could be subject to further punishment. “This letter serves as a reminder of the expectations for your conduct generally, as well as under company policies and guidelines,” read the note from Ryan and Lacey.

The stark warning has rankled some Times staffers, who have floated new responses including filing an official grievance through the Times Guild or, eventually, departing the Times altogether. Such a drastic measure, should it occur, could result in a “queer brain drain” at the paper, one staffer told Confider.

Another point of frustration among staffers has been management’s urging for “internal discussion and debate” in their letter despite there having been multiple past attempts to raise concerns about the Times’ trans coverage through internal means prior to the public open letter. Confider previously reported on such efforts, including an ultimately fruitless October 2021 meeting involving Ryan and then-executive editor Dean Baquet.

Other staffers questioned to Confider why those who signed the trans coverage letter have been subject to such scrutiny while those who publicly denounced Sen. Tom Cotton’s infamous June 2020 op-ed calling for troops to quell riots walked away without discipline.

Reps for the Times and the NewsGuild both declined to comment.

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