It's difficult to overstate the kind of authority Bill Carter brings to the New York Times on the subject of television. For more than 25 years, Carter has been one of the most knowledgable TV writers in the country, having exposed the ups and downs, the brilliance and the folly of the industry for both the Times and in seminal books like 1994's The Late Shift and 2010's The War for Late Night. Carter's a bona-fide savant when it comes to television and his dissections of the business are essential. And soon he'll be leaving the Times for good.
A couple of days ago, Carter announced that he's taking a voluntary buyout from the paper he's spent most of his career working for. The Times put out the word recently that as of Monday it needed 100 people to accept buyouts, with layoffs to follow if that many people wouldn't go willingly. Admittedly, the buyout package was pretty good. Employees not working in management were eligible for three-weeks' salary for every year they put in at the paper and those who were there for 20 years got an additional 35-percent of the total severance amount. Carter figured this was as good an offer as he was ever going to get and he said as much. "I went through a long process, but I couldn’t square passing up what amounts to the best kind of severance at a newspaper job," he said, adding, "I love this job and I love the Times. I would never do this under other circumstances. I feel the economic pressure to do this."
It's all going to work out fine for Carter. He'll find other work and he's contracted for a new book on late-night television, but it's the New York Times that's going to suffer. As his friend and colleague David Carr says, the Times is "losing people with many decades of professional experience, journalists with deep sources and remarkable levels of productivity." Bill Carter isn't just a professional in an era in which almost anybody can write about television -- yes, myself included -- he's an expert. There are few people who know more about the inner workings of the TV industry than Carter and that's what made him so valuable to the Times and its reputation as America's flagship of first-class journalism. Carter leaves and he takes all that expertise, all that time in the trenches, and all those contacts he's made over the past 25 years with him.
The Times, therefore, will suffer -- but so will all of us.
So what is the New York Times investing in if not keeping people with a quarter-century of experience on-staff? As a spokesperson told The Huffington Post last month, "Areas where we see future growth potential," including digital, video, mobile and audience engagement. It raises the question: how valuable is digital outreach when the professionals creating the stories just aren't there?