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'The New York Times' Is Dying

Hardly. Brain drain is an indicator of success, a sure sign of a talent refinery at work.
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The New York Times headquarters at 620 Eighth Avenue. (PHOTO: HAXORJOE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The New York Times headquarters at 620 Eighth Avenue. (PHOTO: HAXORJOE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

The New York Times is dying. Over the past nine months, the newspaper has endured a massive brain drain. "Exodus," screams the New York Post. What's wrong with the Grey Lady?  Nothing, explains Jack Shafer:

I’m sure other Times reporters have made the predictable transition from well-paid to fabulously paid after the TV people called. With the exception of a few future candidates for the executive editor job and a couple of eccentrics, I’d wager that given the high wages TV pays, the news networks could collect the byline of almost any Times reporter who has a stomach for the cameras and sweat glands for the lights. You could almost define the New York Times as the TV industry’s finishing school.

The flight of a Times reporter to this or that TV channel says almost nothing about any brain drain from the paper or a lost “aura.” I’m certain that before the Stelter goodbye cake has a chance to go stale, the Times business section will have rediscovered whatever morale it misplaced at the top of the week. By January, the folks in the Times newsroom will be saying, “Does anybody remember Brian Stelter?”

I write this not to denigrate Stelter, whom I have always regarded as a first-rate news donkey, tirelessly ferrying accurate dispatches from his beat to his many readers in the media industry and the general public. I but underscore the twin notions that 1) the Times as an institution still trumps any star it has ever helped create and 2) the next Brian Stelter — possibly a better Brian Stelter! — is out there in the boonies, dying to do Stelter’s old job better. No journalist is irreplaceable, a fact that dawns on some of them too late in their careers to do them any good. Nate Silver, another member of the Donkey Hall of Fame, would probably concede after consulting his spreadsheet that the Times would be wiser to hire three or four young Nate Silvers for the equivalent of what ESPN is paying him than to use that money to keep him. It’s called “moneyball.” (Drop me a line and let me know if I’m wrong, Nate.) The Times pays well enough, but it has never and will never compete on salary alone.

Emphasis added. The New York Times is a talent refinery on par with that of its host city. I understand Shafer's argument as the Times developing journalism talent better than any other workplace. The employees leaving have much greater economic value than those arriving. Stamen Design making the same observation about New York City:

"We realized that if you look at the biggest 'losers,' essentially what you're looking at are the biggest cities in the U.S.," Migurski says. One of those losers: New York county, which lost $1,306,548,000 and 15,100 people. "But does that actually mean New York is a big loser?" Migurski asks. "One of our ideas was that, you're not a loser if you're losing money. You're an exporter." The sort of exporter, he says, that boosts the rest of the U.S. economy.

The New York Times is an exporter that boosts the rest of the journalism economy. Superficially, the newspaper is the biggest loser. Nate Silver left so something must be wrong with the workplace. To the contrary, everything is right. Brain drain is an indicator of success.

Different labor markets tell the same story. A glut of talent in Canada encourages a brain drain of teachers from the country. Ironically, those who leave become the most employable ... in Canada:

Yet, many Canadian teachers abroad appear hopeful their international experience will help them land their own Canadian classroom one day, negating the idea of a permanent brain drain.

Davison's contract expires at the start of the new year and he plans to return to Canada in February with 6½ years of experience that he would have been hard-pressed to get domestically.

"I am going to take this challenge head-on," he says, adding that despite his dramatic growth in experience, he still wishes he had pursued a master's degree to make his application even more competitive.

When Amber Boadway returned to Toronto after five years split between Thailand and Colombia, she quickly landed a job teaching Grade 5 at a Montessori school.

"Most people going into interviews have only been volunteering or doing tutoring and stuff," she says. "So, to have classroom experience? Yeah, they love that."

Canada's low birthrate is creating the demand slack for teachers. The inexperienced can head abroad where supply is restricted. Canada exports raw talent and imports a value-added product in return. Children in developing countries learn English and are better educated. The brain exchange boosts the entire global economy.