New York Times staffers were left fuming after their boss turned a deaf ear at a long-sought sit-down to complaints about the Gray Lady’s decision to disband the sports department, The Post has learned.
According to sources, Times chairman and publisher AG Sulzberger agreed to meet with sports journalists on Thursday at company headquarters in Midtown– nearly a month after news leaked he was shuttering its sports division in September and replacing it with coverage from The Athletic, a sports news site it bought last year for a whopping $550 million.
Times higher-ups had outlined a plan to move the roughly 40 unionized sports journalists to different desks — and rely on The Athletic, which employs about 500 non-unionized workers, for daily coverage.
“The entire newsroom is outraged at how badly this has been handled and how poorly the sports staffers have been treated,” a source said.
Staffers at the meeting griped that many journalists have been reassigned to new beats “haphazardly” without much consultation and that some feel their goals and careers as sports writers have been flushed away by the paper.
“AG was very composed [during the meeting],” an employee told The Post. “He said ‘The Times faced a crossroads years ago and found ways to be innovative.’ He said: ‘We can’t be stuck in amber. We can’t keep trying to pursue this one model.’”
“It was a hard message to hear,” the source added, explaining that when staffers pressed the exec to promise that the paper wouldn’t repeat this strategy of acquiring other sites and replacing its journalists, he declined and instead emphasized to look at his “track record.”
“The most recent thing on his track record is he murdered the sports desk,” fumed another Times employee.
The Times declined to comment. A Guild rep did not return requests for comment.
Insiders said the move — which came two months after Times management negotiated a new contract with the newspaper’s union, The NewsGuild of New York — was a sneaky, low blow that caught employees flat-footed.
The Guild already filed a grievance last month, claiming the paper violated its deal by replacing unionized sports reporters with non-union employees at The Athletic.
After the meeting with Sulzberger, The Guild wrote an angry email to management demanding another meeting to “discuss these changes and their impact on our members.”
Staffers had held previous meetings with management, including one contentious powwow with editor in chief Joe Kahn last month.
“Leadership is not holding potemkin meetings for 18 months, saying we compete with The Athletic, and then letting us find out via rumor we are all being replaced,” wrote sports reporter and unit council member Kevin Draper in the memo.
“Everyone is really activated,” a Times employee told The Post, noting that 24 hours before the meeting with Sulzberger, roughly 200 emails from Times journalists flooded the inboxes of masthead editors, criticizing the company’s move.
The majority of the emails came from non-sports journalists, who not only slammed management but also questioned the journalistic standards of The Athletic.
The criticism caused Cliff Levy, a longtime Times editor who now is the deputy publisher of The Athletic, to email those naysayers directly and call them out for questioning the website’s integrity.
One widely-cited email from a Times finance reporter claimed that management has egg on its face from making a bad investment in The Athletic.
The missive claimed management is trying to do some financial sleight of hand to generate revenue for its “loss-making” subsidiary to appease Wall Street.
A source with knowledge said since The Times’ bought the Athletic, it has seen active users grow by 51%. During this time, the site has tripled the number of people with paid access.
Inside The Times, there’s little hope that anything can be done to change the fortunes of the sports desk.
“What’s pissing everyone off is they are savaging their own desk,” an insider concluded. “People have lost confidence in the leadership of the company.”