‘NYT’ Coming Out With New ‘Guide’ — Some Writers Wish They Got Paid

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By: Joe Strupp

With some 270 staff writers and freelancers from The New York Times contributing to the paper’s soon-to-be-released “Practical Guide to Practically Everything,” the book appears to boast more Times personnel in a single publication than any other in its history.

“I can?t imagine there has been a book with this many contributors from the pages of the Times,” said Alex Ward, the paper’s editorial director of book development. “It is safe to say it has the biggest use of material from the paper.” Some contributors, however, wish they were getting paid for their re-cycled material.

Ward said the 2002 compilation of the paper’s “Portraits of Grief” stories that ran after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks had about 143 different Times contributors, while some front page collections likely boast a similar number of writers. But he estimated that none have come this close to such a larger listing of authors. “With this many contributors, it probably is a marked difference from the past,” he said.

The 812-page book, due out on October from St. Martin’s Press, includes more than a thousand entries and purports to provide guidance on everything from buying furniture to overcoming erectile dysfunction and finding “The World’s Most Remote Music Festival” (it’s a half day’s drive beyond Timbuktu). The majority of the material comes from items originally published in the Times.

“It has a huge advantage because of the comprehensive nature of the reporting on so many subjects,” Peter W. Bernstein, co-editor with Amy D. Bernstein, said about the use of Times material. He said the approach is based on a similar book he edited about 10 years ago, but without such extensive Times sourcing. “The book is completely updated with fresh material,” he added.

But the extensive use of Times material from so many writers has drawn at least some grumblings among staffers. In addition to not being paid for their work to be re-used, some are miffed that they are not even being told what material from their past is included. Although each item, from single-paragraphs to lengthy article reprints, is fully credited, none of the items are indexed by author.

“Due to the sheer number of entries, we cannot write each one
of you and tell you exactly what yours is,” Ward wrote contributors in an e-mail last month. “Secondly, with very few exceptions, there is no payment. (A handful of writers whose entries formed a significant part of a particular section will be notified separately and receive an honorarium.)”

Anthony Napoli, a representative of the Newspaper Guild of New York, which represents Times staffers, said the paper is not legally obligated to pay for the use of material that has already appeared in print. “If they are doing it as a regular employee, it belongs to the New York Times,” he said about such material. “The content belongs to them.”

Still, some contributors saw the new book as another way to use their work for money-making ventures without compensation. A previous volume, “The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge,” became a bestseller.

“I prefer being paid to not being paid,” said Eric Asimov, a wine writer whose views on vino fill several pages of the new book. “I don’t think anyone would argue with that.”

Columnist Nicholas Kristof, whose opinions on hybrid cars from a previous column span several pages in the guide, said the book is the latest in a growing move to make more money from the paper’s work. “There is certainly more of an effort to use the brand and find ways of taking control and making money off of it more systematically,” said Kristof. “It is nice if they can include some benefit to the writers.”

David Cay Johnston, a Pulitzer Prize winner who had at least one small item in the guide, said he was not troubled by the lack of payment or information on which materials were used, but knew why other writers were. “I understand why some people are and I can see why,” he told E&P. “Some people probably feel they should be paid for it.”

Washington D.C. bureau staffer Adam Nagourney said he did not know which of his materials made the book, but supported the effort to make money off his work. “I applaud them,” he added.

Ward said he had received several concerned responses to his e-mail, but noted that the majority of contributors did not react at all. “Most of the responses were quite friendly,” he said.

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