New York Times readers were stunned last week when Joe Nocera abruptly announced that his popular blog "The Gun Report” had “run its course” and would be discontinued. But in light of a report from Gawker published Friday, it is looking more likely that “The Gun Report” was killed after editorial assistant Jen Mascia asked for a raise to which she was contractually entitled.
As noted by both Nocera in his announcement and Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan in her column that addressed Mascia’s suspicion that her salary dispute led to the cancellation, Mascia had for months been co-writing if not independently writing “The Gun Report,” a daily chronicle of gun-related deaths in the U.S. with accompanying commentary. According to the Times’ contract with the Newspaper Guild union, Mascia’s editorial contributions should have qualified her for the pay upgrade given to union employees in non-writing/reporting positions who write more than 2,250 words for the paper each month. But days after Mascia – backed by the Guild – brought a grievance against the Times, the “Gun Report” was killed.
“I built it each day from scratch, writing a news analysis of a pertinent gun issue followed by 35-40 shootings. I spent about 500 hours of overtime on it during the weekends over the past year, and four hours a day at my desk here in editorial," Mascia told Gawker. “Writing, web producing and editing earns a higher pay bracket [than her hourly rate as an editorial assistant]. According to our contract, doing this work continuously for six months triggers an automatic upgrade."
Gawker calculated a Times' editorial assistant’s annual salary at $40,000 or less a year, paid hourly.
Sources present at Mascia’s June 3 grievance meeting told Gawker “it didn’t go well,” and that the Times’ labor relations director, Chris Biegner, “became angry and insulted one of our [union] members," after the union reps made their case for Mascia’s raise. The meeting ended abruptly without reaching an agreement.
In a statement to Gawker, Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha did not confirm nor deny the role of Mascia’s salary dispute in the blog’s cancellation; instead pointing out that the Times “start[s] and stop[s] features all the time… We have started and stopped numerous features on the Op-Ed page in print and online.”
Whether or not Mascia’s salary scuffle had an impact on the blog’s cancellation, some Times and Gawker readers have criticized Nocera and Editorial Page Director Andrew Rosenthal’s explanations for killing “The Gun Report” as weak and antithetical to journalistic responsibility.
A commenter to the Gawker story took issue with Rosenthal’s insistence to Sullivan that “The Gun Report” “was repetitive, basically a list.”
“Imagine if he had said that about a similar column on the deaths of American soldiers overseas. What a horrible thing to say,” the commenter wrote. “I can only imagine how nice it must be up there in Andy [Rosenthal’s] ivory tower, far removed from the trite suffering of the families of everyday shooting victims.”
Reader Andrea Filkins wrote to Sullivan expressing a fear that “once again [gun violence] victims will become anonymous and their stories will no longer spread.”
Mascia is expected to continue on as an editorial assistant at the Times, but hopes to revive some incarnation of "The Gun Report" elsewhere:
@yenbakas I would love to revive it in some form,under a different name. Any media outlets out there need a dedicated gun violence reporter?
— Jennifer Mascia (@Jennifermascia) June 20, 2014