Top two editors at New York Times resign

Friday, June 6, 2003

NEW YORK -- The New York Times' top two editors resigned Thursday after a tumultuous five weeks that began with the exposure of Jayson Blair's journalistic fraud and grew into a drumbeat of criticism of the management style at one of the world's most distinguished newspapers.

Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd left moments after speaking to hundreds of staffers in an emotional meeting in the Times newsroom -- the same spot where they celebrated a record seven Pulitzer Prizes just a year ago.

"Given the events of the last month ... Howell and Gerald concluded that it was best for the Times that they step down," publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said in a memo to the staff. "With great sadness, I agreed with their decision."

Joseph Lelyveld, 66, the paper's former executive editor, will come out of retirement to take over as interim executive editor. No one will be named interim managing editor.

"As sad as it is, what happened today is like lancing a boil," said Susan Tifft, a former associate editor at Time magazine and co-author of "The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times." "You've got to have leadership that the newsroom can get behind. Joe Lelyveld can do that with great ease."

Spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the search for new editors would take place "both inside the Times and outside."

None of the executives who spoke at Thursday's meeting mentioned the Blair debacle, which the Times had called "a low point" in its 152-year history.

The scandal engulfed the newsroom in recriminations, and Raines, 60, and Boyd, 52, were dealt much of the blame, particularly for sending Blair to cover the Washington-area sniper case when the paper's metropolitan editor had raised concerns about numerous mistakes in the reporter's previous stories.

The case brought to the surface criticisms of Raines' management style, which many staffers characterized as autocratic and overbearing.

"I hope things settle down and we get a decent executive editor who's reasonable," said Jerelle Kraus, art director for the newspaper's weekend section. "Howell Raines is someone who is feared."

Blair, 27, resigned from the newspaper on May 1. The Times said an initial investigation found him to have "committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud."

As an outgrowth of that investigation, the newspaper said it would form a committee to review newsroom policies, including hiring practices, the use of unidentified sources and freelancers, and byline and dateline practices.

On May 14, three days after the newspaper published a story detailing Blair's serial plagiarism and fraud, Raines told staffers he knew he was considered "inaccessible and arrogant."

"You believe the newsroom is too hierarchical, that my ideas get acted on and others get ignored. I heard that you were convinced there's a star system that singles out my favorites for elevation," he said.

Two weeks later, one of those star reporters resigned. Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Rick Bragg left shortly after being suspended for a story that carried his byline but was reported largely by a freelancer. Bragg declined comment Thursday on the resignations.

In the Times' third-floor newsroom Thursday, Raines told the staff he planned to return to writing and studying history, and would pursue interests in painting and photography.

"It's been a tumultuous 20 months, but we have produced some memorable newspapers," he said. He ended his remarks with a Raines-like exhortation: "Remember, when a great story breaks out, go like hell."

Some staffers were in tears. Minutes later, Raines left the building on 43rd Street.

Raines' tenure, which began just days before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was the shortest since Washington columnist James B. Reston served as executive editor for 13 months in 1968 and 1969.

During the meeting, Sulzberger thanked the editors for their contributions to the Times. His father, retired publisher Arthur Sulzberger Sr., stood silently throughout the gathering.

Boyd, who is one of the nation's highest-ranking black journalists, spoke of his commitment to diversity, and was briefly interrupted by applause. Some critics had suggested that Blair, who is black, had been given second chances because of the Times' efforts to diversify its staff.

After Blair resigned, he boasted to the New York Observer, a weekly newspaper, that he had "fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism" with his tricks.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Blair on Thursday were unsuccessful; his cell phone had been disconnected. CNN quoted him as saying he was "sorry that others have fallen. ... I wish the rolling heads had stopped with mine."

Raines had been editor of the editorial page for eight years and previously headed the newspaper's bureaus in Washington and London when he was named to succeed Lelyveld. He won his own Pulitzer for feature writing in 1992 for a memoir he wrote for The New York Times Magazine about his childhood friendship in Alabama with his family's black housekeeper.

Boyd became the Times' first black managing editor in September 2001 after serving as deputy managing editor for news, and as assistant managing editor. He also served as co-senior editor of the Times' Pulitzer-winning series "How Race is Lived in America."

News reports have speculated that potential successors to Raines could include Bill Keller, a Times columnist and magazine writer and the paper's former managing editor; Dean Baquet, a former Times editor who is now managing editor of the Los Angeles Times; and Martin Baron, editor of the Boston Globe, a Times company.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: