Blogger Ethics Alert

Via Romenesko, from which all my outrage comes these days, some blogger ethics questions desperately needing answers:

In December, a New York Times Washington bureau staffer posted a Securities Exchange Commission document on the bureau’s bulletin board.  

The document, however, was promptly removed by bureau chief Philip Taubman. According to a source, Mr. Taubman told a staffer that he “didn’t want to see it on Romenesko,” meaning the journalism news Web site maintained by the Poynter Institute and Jim Romenesko.

  This S.E.C. document declared the 2005 stock package for Times chief executive Janet Robinson. Ms. Robinson’s stock award, the document shows, was 74,000 shares of New York Times stock—worth nearly $2 million as of this week’s trading. Ms. Robinson also received 149,000 stock options worth about $4 million.  

Other Times employees won’t make out nearly as well.  

Around Christmas, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller sent a memo regarding annual bonuses to the paper’s senior editors. The information he shared wasn’t much of a surprise to those who might have been paying attention to the company’s performance in 2005, as the bonus amount is—at least in part—dependent on the paper’s financial performance in that year.  

A year ago—on Jan. 3, 2005—Times stock closed at 47.2. On Jan. 3, 2006, the stock was trading at a day’s low of 26.16. Also, in 2005 the New York Times Company announced the layoffs of approximately 700 positions.    

According to Times sources, the yearly bonuses—given to section editors and selected senior staff—can be equivalent to 20 percent of their salary or even more. Mr. Keller’s memo informed the senior staff that the 2005 bonuses, which will be issued in February, will be lower than the potential maximum.  

So the real surprise to staffers was, instead, the generous holiday handouts on the paper’s 14th floor.

  In addition to Ms. Robinson’s 74,000 shares of free Class A stock, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. received 30,000 shares, worth a bit less than $800,000, plus stock options worth about $4.1 million.

  Other stock-package recipients include senior vice president Martin Nisenholtz (8,000 shares, a bit more than $200,000) and vice president for corporate communications Catherine Mathis (1,750 shares, worth just under $50,000). Chief financial officer Leonard Forman, president Scott Heekin Canedy, and vice chairman and International Herald Tribune publisher Michael Golden all received 12,000 shares, worth a bit more than $300,000.  

The news of executive stock gifts rankled some Times newsroom staffers, who are still smarting from the paper’s layoffs, hiring freeze, reduced expense policy and—most galling—the cancellation in December of The Times’ 15 percent discount for employees on stock purchases.  

Until media outlets and their corporate owners start addressing shit like this, the entire debate over the future of newspapers is absolute crap and nobody should devote another minute to listening to it, much less participating in it.

You know why that is? Because it’s mostly bullshit designed to manipulate CEOs into feeling better about firing people.

Oh, our readership declined, our stock price is in the tank, better lay off some reporters.

Really? And you’ll be cutting back your own salary and perks how, exactly, Mr. CEO, sir? Maybe by dropping the luxury box at your local major league ballpark?

Shut up, plebe, newspapers are losing customers to the Internet, so now I have to go and make blogger a dirty word and oh, yeah, lay off some reporters. We don’t have money to cover crime, public housing, entire swaths of the city or state or country in which we’re based, no siree, not without X number of advertisers guaranteed in advance, not if I want to bill the company for drinks at my wife’s birthday party.

You there, pull my Porsche around, I’ll need it to haul home my $5 million bonus. Not to mention some of the coin we’re throwing back to our shareholders this year, what was the number? $600 million? $700 million? Hey, they deserve a 20 percent return on their investments. Don’t we all?

So never mind your investment. Employees don’t count in the “corporate responsibility” discussion. You’ll take your salary and you’ll feel lucky to have a job at all, because this is a calling, son, a priestly vocation we undertake for the good of the community. It’s not about the money.

(Full disclosure: Here at First Draft Media Inc., we often skimp on cuts of meat to provide fine scotch and warm tortillas to the chinchillas. Because that’s what we believe is the right thing to do.)