New York Times wunderkind Andrew Ross Sorkin makes $250,000 a year — including a Wall Street-like bonus based on how his DealBook blog performs — even as newsroom layoffs loom. No wonder everyone hates him.
In a profile of the 32-year-old Too Big to Fail author, New York's Gabriel Sherman reports that, in order to fend off repeated poaching attempts from competitors (Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter says Sorkin has a "standing offer"), the Times has bumped Sorkin up to management to circumvent union pay rules and entered into an extraordinary deal in which Sorkin gets "a bonus that is based, in part, on the financial performance of the various DealBook properties." It makes him, Sherman says, one of the highest-paid staffers at the Times.
So the newspaper that told its staff to take a 5% paycut in order to avoid layoffs, and then announced that it plans to eliminate 100 newsroom jobs anyway, is paying out a quarter of a million dollars and performance bonuses to one of its youngest stars. Sherman doesn't have details of the arrangement—we e-mailed Sorkin last week about it after Sherman previewed that news in a blog post on Friday, and haven't heard back—but it sounds an awful lot like a pageview bonus to us. Which is an ugly practice that distorts news judgment and induces reporters to chase down attention-grabbing and salacious gossip rather than substantive information and is the province of unscrupulous blogs that are killing journalism. And also the New York Times, apparently.
Sorkin's privileged place at the struggling paper enrages his detractors, who call him a callow deal junkie and shill for his Wall Street sources. The publication of Too Big to Fail rustled some of those leaves in the newsroom, but until now, it's consisted exclusively of anonymous sniping. But Sherman got Tim O'Brien, the editor of the Times' Sunday business section—who oversaw Sorkin's column before it was moved to Tuesdays—to grouse on the record about what he regards as Sorkin's sloppy reporting:
"When Andrew had a Sunday business column and he'd drop a thinly reported or loosely written piece on the desk at the last minute on Friday night," O'Brien explained, "it made us concerned about our production schedule and, occasionally, about the credibility of our page. So, yeah, there were frequent tugs-of-war with him."
It's one thing for Times staffers to bitch about one another on background. But to have a senior editor openly questioning the credibility of one of the paper's biggest names is about as close to open rebellion as it gets. We've got to wonder if O'Brien has already decided to take a buyout, because it's clear where the Times' leadership stands: Executive editor Bill Keller told Sherman that Sorkin is a "classic beat reporter" who "develops real inside sources" and has become "essential reading."
A point of personal privilege: Sorkin told New York that Gawker "misquoted" him in an earlier item on claims from some at the Times that he ripped off the reporting of his colleagues Don Van Natta Jr. and Gretchen Morgenson for his book. Van Natta and Morgenson had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's call logs, as well as an ethics waiver Paulson received from the White House allowing him to work directly with his former employer Goldman Sachs. Both documents figure prominently in Sorkin's promotional push for Too Big to Fail, and some at the Times claimed that Sorkin had learned of their existence from the Times and piggybacked on the paper's reporting. Sorkin told Sherman that we misquoted him when we reported that he'd told us that he first FOIA'd the logs and the waiver in June; in fact, Sorkin says, he'd only FOIA'd the logs at that time. Here's what happened: Sorkin told us he'd FOIA'd the logs and—according to our notes of the conversation—"all the ethics documents" in June. We took that to mean the ethics waiver. Sorkin has since explained to us that it did not—he used FOIA in June to try to obtain the logs and the original ethics letter that Paulson wrote when he joined Treasury pledging not to work on Goldman Sachs issues, but not the waiver that later relieved Paulson of that obligation.
Sherman also used FOIA to verify Sorkin's claims, and found that he did indeed file a request in June for the logs. It's unclear whether he also requested the ethics letter, as he has claimed to us. We've requested the same documents, but haven't received them from the Treasury Department yet.
UPDATE: A Times source called to point out that Sorkin isn't alone. Several Times reporters and columnists are treated as management, the source says, and are therefore eligible for performance bonuses—although it's unclear how their performance is assessed or whether anyone other than Sorkin earns bonuses tied to the financial performance of their editorial product. Astonishingly, the source says that the Times paid out bonuses last year, despite the fact that its performance has been dismal.