Writing in the May issue of Atlantic Monthly, Howell Raines, the former editor of The New York Times, coins the phrase “Management by Mendacity.” It’s a condition many cubicle dwellers can identify with.
“Great work great praise it deserves, but routine work, too, is praised as excellent at the Times, and sloppy work is accepted as adequate,” writes Raines. “This skewed standard of verbal reward, coupled with the paper’s sometimes mindless job guarantees to the main employees’ union, the Newspaper Guild, has over the years created a huge obstacle to the development of a meritocratic workplace.”
Raines’ description of the newpaper’s culture is of a classic bureaucracy. In this controversial piece, he writes of the “attitudes of entitlement and smug complacency that pervade the paper,” of “its indifference to competition and its chronic slowness in anticipating the neews and marshaling its superior resources.”
It’s surprising, then, why the Times hasn’t gone the way of a U.S. Steel or a Westinghouse and why what the company produces is still remarkably first-rate and often surprisingly creative.