The New York Times and its union, organized under NewsGuild of New York, began negotiations on their next contract in March. Now, the union has given a peek into their battle: among other policies, according to an email from the NewsGuild shared by Times media columnist Ben Smith, Times management refused to consider was a seemingly simple request to correct the bylines of trans journalists to their correct names, calling it “fraught.”
Denying journalists the right to be correctly credited for their past work plays into the reductive ideology that who trans people were “before” is any different than who they are in the present. The same thinking motivates newsrooms to cover the murders of trans people with explainers on who they were “born as,” including names they did not go by. It an altogether grossly transphobic stance for management at the Times to take, and one I cannot spend any more length of time puttering around. Changing a trans journalist’s byline would allow them to be able to search their name and find their own work, be correctly identified by readers, future jobs, even and to include past work in their own archives.
What is, in fact, fraught, is that trans people have such little refuge in this hellish country, as Republicans make it their agenda to push at least 100 anti-trans bills across the country. In recent weeks, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Florida have successfully passed bills restricting medical care for trans people, as well as access to sports; the remaining bills are on the table in 33 states this very moment. In the shadow of this monumental wave of criminalization efforts, I find it hard to be even a bit surprised the Times would create a hostile battleground in its newsroom for the few trans people it employs. The shape of its editorial standards and newsroom practices, which trans journalists and watchdogs have warned about—in March, GLAAD gave it a failing grade for its coverage of the Equality Act, for one—now come into sharp focus.
Jezebel reached out to the Times to ask about their policies on other situations where journalists might change their name—a person who gets married, for instance—and to ask for clarity about what might be considered “fraught” about the request. Neither the Times nor the NewsGuild immediately responded, but we will update this story when then do.
While Times management has yet to give publicly available details about their reason behind their discomfort with the proposal, it isn’t legally problematic to correctly identify a writer’s past work. In the Times’s estimation of objectivity, which forbids its journalists from taking political overtures in public, scrubbing bylines of “deadnames” might seem, to top brass, like the paper had taken a concrete stance. At worst, this implies that management never considered their trans journalists fully realized people to begin with, and so why retroactively change their names?
Of course, the Times isn’t just an active battleground for the few trans journalists who work there. In that same meeting, NewsGuild claimed that “the company didn’t want to implement any concrete diversity goals because managers could misinterpret them as quotas and make ‘race-based decisions.’” Proposals to recruit “underrepresented employees” were similarly met with outright refusal or avoidance, as was the proposal to “commit to gender-neutral restrooms on every floor.” These proposals are exceedingly simple and innocuous to enact, yet the Times apparently finds them impossible nonetheless.