Buyouts taken, voices lost at New York Times

Even as reporters at The New York Times produce scoop after scoop in what Vanity Fair recently called “the last great newspaper war,” several of the paper’s legendary voices are headed for the exits. Two months after the Times announced it would offer buyouts to its employees in an effort to restructure the newsroom, the toll of the cuts is becoming clear.

While the buyouts primarily targeted the editing ranks, reporters and others in the newsroom could also apply. An anthology of the best work of those on the way out would measure up against any collection of great journalism. It would include Pulitzer-winning investigations, haunting portraits of New York life, and some of the best arts criticism on record.  Poynter has done a great job tallying those who have chosen to take the buyout, and the list includes several big names.

Below, we’ve gathered examples of notable work from some of those whose bylines will no longer grace The Gray Lady’s pages.


N.R. “Sonny” Kleinfield, joined the Times in 1977


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It kept getting worse.

The horror arrived in episodic bursts of chilling disbelief, signified first by trembling floors, sharp eruptions, cracked windows. There was the actual unfathomable realization of a gaping, flaming hole in first one of the tall towers, and then the same thing all over again in its twin. There was the merciless sight of bodies helplessly tumbling out, some of them in flames.

Finally, the mighty towers themselves were reduced to nothing. Dense plumes of smoke raced through the downtown avenues, coursing between the buildings, shaped like tornadoes on their sides.

ONE YEAR LATER; Still New York, in All Its Pain and Glory, September 11, 2002

New York has not disconnected from itself and devolved into a trembling mass of paralysis. It has not been unmade but remade. Its sense of control and invulnerability is gone, but New York has become a city of regeneration. From its white-gloved neighborhoods to its downbeaten corners, it is a city pulsing with added exertion to be normal — its own kind of normal.

But it breathes a different psychological air, and lives with an indefinite urgency. It is a city with its fingers crossed. Its citizenry hangs in delicate equipoise between faith and fear. Much of the abiding hope of the city is invested in time — the amount of time that passes without something else seismic happening. Every day free of interruptions beyond the anomalies of urban life fosters more faith. Every day an agitated metropolis seems to feel a little better.

This is New York. This is Sept. 11.

The Lonely Death of George Bell, October 17, 2015

They found him in the living room, crumpled up on the mottled carpet. The police did. Sniffing a fetid odor, a neighbor had called 911. The apartment was in north-central Queens, in an unassertive building on 79th Street in Jackson Heights.

The apartment belonged to a George Bell. He lived alone. Thus the presumption was that the corpse also belonged to George Bell. It was a plausible supposition, but it remained just that, for the puffy body on the floor was decomposed and unrecognizable. Clearly the man had not died on July 12, the Saturday last year when he was discovered, nor the day before nor the day before that. He had lain there for a while, nothing to announce his departure to the world, while the hyperkinetic city around him hurried on with its business.


Michiko Kakutani, joined the Times in 1979

A Country Dying of Laughter. In 1,079 Pages. On David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, February 13, 1996

It…shows off the 33-year-old Mr. Wallace as one of the big talents of his generation, a writer of virtuosic talents who can seemingly do anything, someone who can write funny, write sad, write serious, write satiric, a writer who’s equally adept at the Pynchonesque epic and the Nicolson Bakeresque minute, a pushing-the-envelope postmodernist who’s also able to create flesh-and-blood characters and genuinely moving scenes.

Quirky, Sassy And Wise In a London Of Exiles. On Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, April 25, 2000

”White Teeth,” by the young British writer Zadie Smith, is not one of your typical small, semiautobiographical first novels. It’s a big, splashy, populous production reminiscent of books by Dickens and Salman Rushdie with a nod to indie movies like ”My Beautiful Laundrette,” a novel that’s not afraid to tackle large, unwieldy themes. It’s a novel that announces the debut of a preternaturally gifted new writer — a writer who at the age of 24 demonstrates both an instinctive storytelling talent and a fully fashioned voice that’s street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time. This, ”White Teeth” announces, is someone who can do comedy, drama and satire, and do them all with exceptional confidence and brio.

Quoting Himself on His Lofty Dream. On Norman Mailer’s The Spooky Art, January 22, 2003

The effect of reading the book straight through is like going on a very long bus ride over a very bumpy road, sitting next to a garrulous raconteur who never takes a nap and never pauses for breath, and who seems to have no internal editor or censor in his head. There are moments when you’re blown away by your traveling companion’s energy and candor, and moments when you’re utterly benumbed by his self-absorption, his defensiveness, his capacity for wacky mumbo jumbo.


William Grimes, joined the Times in 1989

It Came. It Clucked. It Conquered. March 21, 2001

The protagonist of this story has no name. It is known simply as the Chicken, a nonname that seems right, considering its obscure origins. How it came to a small backyard in Astoria, Queens, remains a matter of conjecture. The chicken made its first appearance next door, home to a multitude of cabdrivers from Bangladesh. My wife, Nancy, and I decided that they had bought the chicken and were fattening it for a feast. That hypothesis fell into doubt when the chicken hopped the fence and began roaming around our yard. It began pacing the perimeter of the yard with a proprietary air, sizing things up with a shiny, appraising eye that said, I’ve seen better, but I’ve seen worse.

We now had a chicken. Very nice. But what next?


Christopher Drew, joined the Times in 1995

Fear Exceeded Crime’s Reality in New Orleans, September 25, 2005

After the storm came the siege. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, terror from crimes seen and unseen, real and rumored, gripped New Orleans. The fears changed troop deployments, delayed medical evacuations, drove police officers to quit, grounded helicopters. Edwin P. Compass III, the police superintendent, said that tourists — the core of the city’s economy — were being robbed and raped on streets that had slid into anarchy.

A month later, a review of the available evidence now shows that some, though not all, of the most alarming stories that coursed through the city appear to be little more than figments of frightened imaginations, the product of chaotic circumstances that included no reliable communications, and perhaps the residue of the longstanding raw relations between some police officers and members of the public.

SEAL Team 6: A Secret History of Quiet Killings and Blurred Lines, June 6, 2015

They have plotted deadly missions from secret bases in the badlands of Somalia. In Afghanistan, they have engaged in combat so intimate that they have emerged soaked in blood that was not their own. On clandestine raids in the dead of the night, their weapons of choice have ranged from customized carbines to primeval tomahawks.

Around the world, they have run spying stations disguised as commercial boats, posed as civilian employees of front companies and operated undercover at embassies as male-female pairs, tracking those the United States wants to kill or capture.


Lizette Alvarez, joined the Times in 1995

With Anger and Shame, a Child Is Buried, November 30, 1995

Their faces tinged with sorrow, rage and shame over the grisly death of 6-year-old Elisa Izquierdo, 300 relatives, friends, politicians and strangers filed quietly into St. Joseph’s Patron Church in Bushwick yesterday. They watched and listened, some of them unflinchingly, others with downcast eyes, as the Rev. Gianni Agostinelli gazed solemnly at the congregation and posed the heartbreaking questions so many New Yorkers have asked themselves in the last week.

“Who are the silent partners of this tragedy?” Father Agostinelli asked in a soft but stern voice. “Elisa was not killed only by the hand of a sick individual, but by the impotence and silence of many, by the neglect of child welfare institutions and by the moral mediocrity that has intoxicated our neighborhoods.”

In a Corner of the Everglades, a Way of Life Ebbs, June 16, 2016

As the airboat skimmed across the shallow water, scattering blue dragonflies and launching a heron into the air, Keith Price squinted into the sun and relished the isolation of Florida’s unrivaled river of grass.

Then he cut off the deafening motor, making the silence in the park all the sweeter, turned his one working ear my way, and asked, “Isn’t this beautiful?”

No answer was required, but the question itself was a kind of lament.


James Risen, joined the Times in 1998

Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts, December 15, 2005

Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.


Fernanda Santos, joined the Times in 2005

Vindicated by DNA, but a Lost Man on the Outside, November 15, 2007

As a boy, Jeffrey Mark Deskovic could swim the length of a pool underwater without coming up for air. On sultry days at the Elmira state prison, where he spent most of his 16 years behind bars for a rape and murder he did not commit, Mr. Deskovic would close his eyes under a row of outdoor showers and imagine himself swimming.

For months after his release in September 2006, he had been yearning for a chance to dive in, to test his endurance, to feel that familiar sensation of pushing his body through the water, to get to the other side.


Charles Duhigg, joined the Times in 2006

In China, Human Costs Are Built Into an iPad, January 25, 2012

In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers — as well as dozens of other American industries — have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.

However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious — sometimes deadly — safety problems.

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.

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