New York Times employees are at odds over another sensitive editorial decision, marking the latest flare-up within the paper of record that has been roiled by internal strife over the past several months.
Late on Monday, the science and philosophy writer who founded the blog Slate Star Codex announced that he was shutting down his widely read site over what he said was a forthcoming story in the Times that would share his real identity.
Scott Alexander, the psychiatrist who helms the blog and writes under his first and middle name, said that he did not want to reveal his full name because of past death threats made against him, as well as fear that it would put his psychiatric clinic and patients at risk. Instead, he asked his readers to spam The New York Times demanding the paper not publish his full name.
“After considering my options, I decided on the one you see now,” he wrote in the only post now atop the scrubbed website. “If there’s no blog, there’s no story. Or at least the story will have to include some discussion of NYT’s strategy of doxxing random bloggers for clicks.”
The blogger’s supporters immediately followed through, slamming the Times and claiming the publication was unnecessarily “doxxing” the psychiatrist and writer. And within the paper’s ranks, Alexander has some apparent allies—particularly among non-editorial staffers.
The Slate Star Codex incident set off a tense conversation in the Times’ “newsroom-feedback” Slack channel, an internal message board in which staff have felt increasingly emboldened to criticize and raise questions about the paper and, inevitably, the work of their own colleagues.
Following Alexander’s blog post, several non-editorial newsroom staffers from the paper’s tech and product teams asked why he was being “doxxed,” and pointed out that the blogger’s cause was gaining traction on the computer-science site Hacker News. Another non-editorial staffer said they flagged the not-yet-published story for the paper’s customer care department “in case this snowballs into a spike in cancellations.”
“One of our developers is asking about a tech blogger who took their blog down rather than be doxed by us,” one employee wrote. “Is this something arising because of our standards? Can someone from the technology desk provide some insight?”
“I sincerely hope that the reporters did not intend to print the full name of someone who seems to have several damned good reasons to blog with a pseudonym,” fumed another non-editorial Times staffer, echoing a sentiment reflected by other tech and product staffers.
Several Times staffers pushed back, noting that the paper was not “doxxing” Alexander, as that term is widely used to describe situations where the goal of revealing a person’s identity is specifically to encourage harassment.
The dust-up is just the latest in a series of internal tensions that have roiled the Times in recent weeks. Many editorial staffers openly revolted earlier this month after the paper’s opinion page published a column from Republican Sen. Tom Cotton calling for President Donald Trump to “send in the troops” in response to nationwide protests against police brutality. Dozens of employees openly admonished the paper on social media, saying the op-ed put Black Times staffers in danger. That internal uprising led to a town hall in which the paper’s executives took turns apologizing to irate staffers for running the senator’s column; and it resulted in the ouster of opinions editor James Bennet, who admitted to having not reviewed the piece before its publication.
Other recent incidents have further exposed fissures at the paper, with Slack channels often playing host to the conflicts.
Insiders told The Daily Beast that over the past few weeks, some non-editorial staffers at the Times have become increasingly active in raising issues in the newsroom-feedback room, a channel with more than 2,000 Times staffers that has already provided a convenient forum for feedback but has sparked controversy and internal headaches as well. While some editorial staffers have appreciated and accepted the criticism, other reporters and editors in the newsroom have bristled at the zealous incursion by non-newsroom staff into the newsgathering, reporting, and editing process.
Earlier this month, New York Times media columnist Ben Smith noted that immediately following Bennet’s departure, two employees reacted in Slack with an emoji of the word “guillotine,” prompting internal complaints and a public reprimand from a Times spokesperson. The emojis were initially shared in the newsroom-feedback room.
Many of the Times beefs have played out in the room for weeks on end. While some employees debated the Slate Star Codex decision on Tuesday, one staffer also raised issues about opinion staff editor Bari Weiss, saying that when she posted on Twitter about her dismay over the anger about Cotton’s column, she “straight up lied about a nonexistent battle within the new york times because she knew it would be a juicier tweet.”
Some employees have appeared to tire of the constant back-and-forth in the channel, particularly among employees with no direct involvement in particular decisions being debated.
On Tuesday, one person chimed in to remind staff that their comments were widely available for thousands of people to see. “I’d like to gently remind people that there are two thousand people in this slack channel and we should be mindful of that,” the employee wrote.