Katy Roberts, Jody Alesandro to leave ‘Times’ in buyout scheme

The New York Times building. (wallyg via flickr)
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Add two more names to the list of departing New York Times newsroom employees: Katy Roberts, who's manned a variety of high-profile posts during her nearly 30 years at the paper, and Jody Alesandro, a 23-year veteran once heralded by Jack Shafer for contributing some of the arts section's compendious capsule reviews, have both taken buyouts, newsroom sources told Capital.

Most recently, Roberts worked on the "Room for Debate" section online. Her past titles include Week in Review editor, op-ed page editor, national editor and story editor for The New York Times Magazine. Alesandro was most recently an assistant editor on the metro desk who previously served as deputy television editor.

Roberts and Alesandro join a handful of other old-timers, like sports columnist George Vescey and Metro columnist Clyde Haberman, and reporters Sam Dillon and Nicholas Wade, who are bidding farewell to the paper of record in exchange for as much as two-years' pay. A preliminary list of buyout-takers was first reported yesterday by The New York Observer. Roberts and Alesandro did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Faced with a rather grim financial forecast, the Times first announced in October that it would seek buyouts from "fewer than 20" newsroom employees, marking its second attempt in as many years to trim the editorial staff through voluntary attrition.

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When it did so this same time in 2009, only 74 staffers out of a requested 100 took the bait, leaving an unlucky 26 with pink slips just ahead of the holidays.

When these latest offers were proffered several months ago, executive editor Jill Abramson said in a memo: "No matter how many people do or do not raise their hands, no one in the newsroom ... will be laid off as a result of this program."

But it looks like the Times may have met its prescribed quota in any case. A dozen staffers who belong to the the Newspaper Guild of New York, a union that represents about 1,000 Times employees, have taken buyouts, according to a source familiar with the negotiations, which concluded on Friday. (That alone puts Abramson's "fewer than 20" figure closer to 19 than to one.)

Guild members were eligible for a more lucrative package than non-union members: "three weeks of severance per year, capping at a maximum of two years worth of salary" versus "two weeks of pay per year of service, with a maximum of one year in salary," according to Abramson's memo.

A Guild representative declined to comment. Likewise, a Times spokeswoman would not confirm how many buyouts had been negotiated for non-Guild employees.

"We do not comment on any personnel matters," she said.

Several Guild members who applied for buyouts were rejected, a source said. Only those covered under the print contract were eligible in the first place, suggesting that the Times is weeding out some of its old-guard journalists while seeking to retain those it believes will navigate its digital future.

The buyouts are just one bit of business the Times is squeezing in before the New Year. Two top executives from the paper's parent company have announced their retirements in recent weeks—longtime digital chief Martin Nisenholtz and chief executive Janet Robinson, whose exit has been shrouded in whispers that she was not the best person to lead the Times Company's digital transformation.

The Times Company, which has seen advertising revenues and its share price slide in recent years, is also in the process of shedding some of its less essential assets, namely 16 regional newspapers that the company announced yesterday it was close to selling.