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Saturday, March 04, 2006

Tierney's misguided analogy

Like Jonathan Zittrain, I read Tierney’s op-ed, "Free Harvard!"   Tierney suggests that if universities such as Harvard were run like successful businesses such as the New York Times (and Tierney explicitly drew the analogy), everything would be just great.  JZ makes some great points, and I don’t want to hijack his thread.  But I just cannot resist posting this excerpt from Howell Raines’ article, “My Times,” in The Atlantic Monthly (May 2004).

About a decade ago several dozen Times editors convened for a retreat at Arrowwood, a sleek, soulless conference center in Westchester County. Arthur [Sulzberger] had brought along a management consultant named Doug Wesley and introduced him as our coach and facilitator. In his introductory seminar Wesley announced the lesson for the day: how to fire people. Then he divided us into smaller workshop groups. Most of us were department heads or deputies, frontline supervisors on the newsroom floor (I was the Washington editor at the time). …

After several hours of such role-playing we again gathered, so that Wesley could hear our comments and answer our questions. At the appropriate time I asked why we were being given this exercise, since at The New York Times we never fired anyone.

Wesley seemed surprised. What do you do with unproductive employees? he asked.

We just give them less work to do, I said, to a laughing burst of assent from the other editors in the group. …

Wesley was puzzled, seeming to me at that moment like a new employee encountering the series of culture shocks that come with being hired at the Times. For people who have worked at other newspapers, the biggest shock upon coming to the Times is that the level of talent is not higher than it is. Actually, it would be more accurate to say the level of applied talent. Very few unintelligent people get hired at the Times. So what's shocking to the newcomer is the amount of coasting. Newspapers with slimmer resources and no union rules inhibiting dismissal somehow manage to closely monitor productivity. At the Times, as at Harvard, it is hard to get in and almost impossible to flunk out. …

Hiring mistakes are rarely shown the door at the Times, and the paper can be stuck with them for years. After a probationary period of fourteen weeks would-be staff members get tenure for life.

Res ipsa loquitur.

Posted by Bill Henderson on March 4, 2006 at 12:47 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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» Universities, journalists and markets from Ideoblog
Jonathan Zittrain doesn't like NYT's John Tierney's idea, in the wake of the Summers' resignation, that universities should go for-profit. Moreover, he wishes journalists had tenure and were free to pursue stories wherever they led, without fear of fin... [Read More]

Tracked on Mar 5, 2006 8:27:46 AM


Oh, so *that's* why Tierney is still employed.

Posted by: Matt | Mar 6, 2006 9:59:20 AM

Oh, that's a great find. Touche.

Posted by: snowball | Mar 4, 2006 6:44:39 PM

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