Leaked memo: The New York Times is setting up a new process for approving reporters' newsletters, podcasts, and book deals

  • A committee of Times leaders will approve outside work for journalists.
  • Both paid and unpaid newsletters will require approval from The Times.
  • The move comes weeks after columnist David Brooks’ outside work raised conflict of interest issues.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The New York Times is creating a system to approve work by its journalists that’s done outside the company – such as newsletters, podcasts, book deals, or consulting on TV and film projects — a memo obtained by Insider said.

A committee of Times leaders will rule on whether reporters can conduct outside projects and whether those might compete with the Times’ own ever-expanding news offering. 

The introduction of the system comes weeks after BuzzFeed News reported that the Times columnist David Brooks was drawing a salary for his work for a Facebook-funded Aspen Institute project that he had written about in the pages of the Times. That arrangement raised conflict of interest concerns and Brooks resigned from the think tank.

“As the number and variety of outside projects have grown, we have heard reasonable questions as to whether our policies are always being applied fairly or consistently,” the memo said. “Journalists have also expressed confusion as to how to navigate getting projects approved and ensure they’re operating in accordance with our guidelines.”

Times reporters have long supplemented their income with things like TV contributor contracts and book deals. The feeding frenzy of the Trump years even prompted executive editor Dean Baquet to remind reporters in 2019 that they technically were obliged to let the Times’ in-house publishing unit have a seat at their book-publishing auctions. 

Other opportunities have presented themselves for reporters in recent years, like newsletters and podcasts. Inside the Times, the NYT Audio unit has become a power center thanks to the success of its flagship podcast, ‘The Daily’, and sections across the Times have been eager to win their own podcast resources.

Reporters will also need approval from the new Times committee if they want to create a newsletter, including free ones.

A Times spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.

Here’s the memo sent to Times staffers on Tuesday from Baquet, managing editor Joe Kahn, and editorial page editor Kathleen Kingsbury. 

Colleagues,

In recent years we have been happy to see an increasing number of Times journalists receive external opportunities to appear on television, write books, consult for films and beyond. We have long supported Times journalists’ ability to participate in these outside projects, and in some cases earn outside income, as long as they align with our ethics policies, standards and business strategy, and are signed off on by managers and the Standards editor.

But as the number and variety of outside projects have grown, we have heard reasonable questions as to whether our policies are always being applied fairly or consistently. Journalists have also expressed confusion as to how to navigate getting projects approved and ensure they’re operating in accordance with our guidelines.

At the same time, The Times has been expanding its business in a wide array of multimedia activities, raising the chances that outside projects may compete with The Times itself. And the scale of some outside projects raises the risk that they could conflict with or distract from work for The Times.

Today we are announcing a more systematic process for obtaining the required approvals prior to engaging in outside projects. This process will ensure that we are taking a fair, equitable and consistent approach to applying the existing policies that ensure we are helping journalists avoid outside projects that could be competitive with The Times or conflict with their core work.

Going forward, a new committee of journalism leaders, supported by advisers from Human Resources, Legal and Labor, and in consultation with your department head, will help evaluate requests to participate in outside projects. If you are considering engaging in an outside activity, it is important that you inform your manager or department head and fill out this short form, which will be reviewed promptly by the committee.

Our standards for evaluating such requests — the policies in the Ethical Journalism Handbook, the needs of your department, and principles of fairness, equity and consistency — will remain unchanged. And we will endeavor to approve all reasonable requests, as we do today.

The committee will primarily review outside projects that have the potential to be competitive with our journalism and business, could conflict with or distract from your work for The Times, involve payment or could be covered in any other way by the policies defined by the Ethical Journalism Handbook, such as:

Book proposals and book deals
TV and film arrangements, e.g., consulting, paid contributor arrangements, producing, writing or rights inquiries
Audio projects
Newsletters (including paid and unpaid)
Any activity requiring you to take a leave of absence from The Times

Other requests for speaking or part-time teaching gigs, or that are unpaid or have a low likelihood of being competitive should continue to be brought to the Standards editor or other approvers (see below).

One-off speaking invitations, panels, conferences — paid or unpaid (Standards and Corp Comm)
Freelance article assignments (your department head and Standards)
One-off short-form interviews (Corp Comm)
Part-time teaching gigs — paid or unpaid (Standards, your manager)
Volunteer service/boards (Standards)
Contests and competitions (Grace Wong)
Reporting partnerships (your department head, with Standards and masthead approval)

If you are unsure where to bring a request, consult your manager, department head or Standards. If you are still unclear, err on the side of requesting approval through the committee and it will be routed appropriately. If you have an existing project that may require approval and has not been brought to the attention of your department head or Standards, please submit a request.

The committee will be led by Rebecca Blumenstein and will review requests every two weeks. The rest of the committee will comprise Sharon Chan, Phil Corbett, Sam Dolnick, Monica Drake, Charlotte Greensit, Sam Sifton and Susan Wessling, with two department heads serving six-month terms, starting with Randy Archibald and Gilbert Cruz. Department heads and managers will have a significant voice in the process, and advisers from H.R., Legal, Labor and Newsroom Strategy will help ensure fair and consistent application of policies. If an employee disagrees with a decision, they will be able to appeal it to Dean or Katie.

We are glad to see many of our journalists spread their talents and expertise, and we hope this clarifies confusion about how to navigate doing so while giving you the confidence that these opportunities will be considered fairly.

We plan to hold a handful of information sessions soon where you can learn more about this process, our policies and our broader approach to film, TV and book projects. Please reach out to us or Rebecca with any questions in the meantime.

Best,

Dean, Joe and Katie

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